Conscience Wins!: HR252 approved by House Committee in surprise, tense vote

By a tense and, for some, shocking vote of 23-22 the United States Congress House Foreign Affairs Committee has approved House Resolution 252 calling for affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.

As lobbyists and analysts waited while other votes were taking place on the House floor, the “nay” votes outnumbered “yea” until the Armenian side captured the last three votes (with one member not voting).

Debate on the controversial resolution revealed the complexity of the issue, as congresspersons from both parties struggled over the delicacy of affirming history without, they said, jeopardizing America’s future relations.

Ultimately, narrowly, conscience won out, despite one after another of the naysayers expressing concern over Turkey’s possible reaction should the resolution make it out of committee.

Congressman Gerald Connelly (D-VA) argued that Turkey offers the U.S. an ally who exhibits the “secular alternative model” of Muslim governments in the region and that America could ill-afford soured relations with “a strong ally”.

Others argued that while the resolution represents a moral imperative that is consistent with U.S. values, it was ill-timed, coming while American soldiers need Turkey’s gateway military base for fighting two wars in the region, with prospects of a third (Iran).

To the claims, though, that the timing is inconvenient, committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) – a sponsor of HR252 -- interrupted a colleague’s allotted speaking time to say that in his (Berman’s) 27 years in congress “there never has been a ‘right’ time to take up this resolution”.

Over the course of a morning of debate interrupted by other congressional housekeeping and into an afternoon hearing that concluded just before 1 a.m. in Yerevan, debate invoked the names of William Saroyan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Hitler and quotes from the Bible as well as historical documents.

Three survivors of the Genocide were in attendance, two (both 98) from the district of Gary Ackerman (D-NY) who rhetorically made his appeal in support of the resolution: “How long can they (survivors) wait?”

After a long day, their day came, though getting the resolution to the Floor is not the same as getting legislation. Still, the decision will no doubt be seen as a surprising shift in direction.

Shortly before the hearing convened, it was reported that the Obama administration had on Wednesday tried to have the Committee table the resolution. Berman, though, called the session as scheduled since last month. Also on Wednesday, a phone call by Turkish President Abdullah Gul to the U.S. president is believed to have influenced the administration’s efforts to stop the vote.

Turkey has already recalled its ambassador to the United States in protest, as it did in 2007, when a similar resolution passed committee (before losing on the House Floor).