Members of the Twin Cities Armenian community criticized U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar on Tuesday for not supporting a measure that recognizes the century-old mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a genocide.
The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve the measure in a clear rebuke to NATO ally Turkey in the wake of its invasion of northern Syria. Omar, however, was one of three members who voted “present.”
It passed 405-11 at a time when American lawmakers have criticized Turkey’s incursion against the Kurds along the Turkish-Syrian border.
In a statement, Omar, D-Minn., said she believes accountability for human rights violations, especially ethnic cleansing and genocide, is paramount.
“But accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as cudgel in a political fight,” she said. She argued other atrocities, including the slave trade and the killings of Native Americans during colonization, need to be acknowledged.
The Rev. Tadeos Barseghyan, pastor at St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul, said he was pleased by the vote but was disappointed by Omar. “This is recognizing the victims and their descendants,” Barseghyan said.
The argument that the politics today makes it the wrong time to vote on this is an excuse that American Armenians have heard before, he said.
“Is there a right or wrong time to … stand up for justice that she claims to be a champion for?” he asked.
Michele Byfield Angell, the parish council’s chair, said she wishes Omar had approved the resolution. “If [Omar] is going to be representing our community here, she should hear us. … If she’s voting present as acknowledging it but not doing anything about it, then what is she doing?
Gov. Tim Walz also weighed in, tweeting: “The Armenian Genocide is historical fact, and the denial of that fact is a continuation of the genocide. As a member of Congress, I sponsored this legislation. The memory of the victims and the commitment to the survivors demands that history acknowledge the lives lost.”
The Associated Press and New York Times contributed to this report.