The Senate on Thursday passed a resolution formally recognizing the mass killings of Armenians from 1915 to 1923 as genocide, a move the Turkish government has long opposed.
The resolution states, “it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance,” describing the genocide as “the killing of an estimated 1,500,000 Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.”
It passed by unanimous consent after Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brought it up for consideration on the floor. Under Senate rules, legislation can pass by unanimous consent without a roll call vote as long as no senator objects.
The designation as a genocide by Congress is a significant political development as Turkey maintains to this day the killings did not constitute genocide and disputes the death toll, putting the figure closer to 300,000.
Turkish presidential spokesperson Fahrettin Altun tweeted after the vote “The behavior of some members of the U.S. Congress is damaging the Turkish-American ties.”
“In every previous attempt to politicize history by some members of the US Congress, we reiterated our position to form a group to study it,” Altun said. “We expressed that history should not be something that divides nations but unites them,” he added in response the passage of the bill. Turkey denies that the events of 1915 that led to the mass killing of Armenians constitutes a genocide. Ankara’s official position is for historians to independently evaluate the events of 1915.”
The Trump administration had asked Republican senators to block similar requests to pass the measure several times in the last few weeks on the grounds that it could undercut negotiations with Turkey. On Thursday, however, there were no objections, clearing that way for the resolution’s approval.
In remarks on the Senate floor after the measure was adopted, Menendez said the “Senate stands on the right side of history” because the resolution “commemorates the truth of the Armenian genocide.”
Menendez grew visibly emotional as he said, “I am thankful that this resolution has passed at a time in which there are still survivors of the genocide who will be able to see that the Senate acknowledges what they went through.”
The House passed the resolution by a vote of 405-11 in October. The resolution, spearheaded by California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff of California, does not need approval from the White House.
Earlier this month, Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told CNN that the White House asked him to block the measure in response to another unanimous consent request.
Cramer said the White House wanted the resolution blocked because President Donald Trump had just met with the Turkish President at the NATO summit.