The United States (U.S.) Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday, recognizing the early 20th century killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey a century ago as a genocide.
The move came in defiance of both US President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The measure officially recognizes the systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.
The Senate’s act followed another step on Wednesday when the Foreign Relations Committee passed a sanctions bill on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in response to its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system and offensive in northern Syria.
Turkey denounced the Senate’s moves on Thursday.
Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s communications director, posted a series of tweets, denouncing the two recent Senate’s moves.
“History will note these resolutions as irresponsible and irrational actions by some members of the US Congress against Turkey. They will go down in history as the responsible party for causing long-lasting damage between two nations,” Altun wrote.
The director added that the behavior of some US Congress members was damaging the ties between the two NATO allies.
In October, America’s Democratic-led House of Representatives, the lower chamber which makes up the US Congress together with the US Senate, had passed a bill recognizing the killings as genocide with overwhelming support by 405-11.
However, the vote in the Republican-led Senate had been blocked until recently by Trump’s three fellow senators, Lindsey Graham, Kevin Cramer, and David Perdue.
Instead of imposing stiff CAATSA sanctions on Turkey and genocide recognition, Trump had argued for negotiations with Ankara in order not to exacerbate an already tense relationship with Turkey’s strongman.
On Thursday, Trump was no longer able to persuade any of the three senators to oppose the measure.
“The president just ran out of Republican senators. He put the first three guys in a difficult spot because they did not want to do it. Now it is time of the president to defy Erdogan’s gag rule,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
Turkey had so far used its leverage as an ally to stifle the genocide recognition by threatening consequences for bilateral relations.
“Today, by passing my Armenian genocide resolution, the Senate finally stood up to confirm history: What happened in Armenia was – most assuredly – genocide. There is no other word for it. There is no euphemism. There is no avoiding it,” tweeted Democrat Senator Robert Menendez, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
The 1915 incidents began on April 24, with arrests of tens of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul by the then Ottoman Empire government, which later deported them to eastern Anatolia.
There previously settled Armenians were soon forced to join the “death marches” through the Mesopotamian desert. During the marches, Armenians were exposed to attacks by the Ottoman killing squads, committing massacres.
According to Armenians and historians, only some 400,000 Armenians were left in Turkey by 1922, down from two million in 1914.
A total of 31 countries and many international scholars recognize the incidents as genocide. Turkey, however, sees the brutal process as not genocide but massacres, referring to the tough times during World War I when the empire was falling apart.
Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron recognized April 24 as a national commemoration day of the Armenian genocide, causing a diplomatic row between the two countries.
During an official visit to Washington in November, Erdogan reiterated his call for historians to investigate the incidents.
“If the US side really wants to act fairly, it should refrain from taking a political stand on a matter that historians should decide,” Erdogan said at the time.