WASHINGTON, DC — With an overwhelming vote of 405 to 11, and 3 voting present, the U.S. House of Representatives cast a historic vote on October 29th, ending Ankara’s 35 year veto on honest U.S. remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, rejecting U.S. complicity in Turkey’s denial of this crime, and calling for education about the Armenian Genocide aimed at helping prevent modern-day atrocities.
Introduced by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Florida Republican Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) in April, 2019, the measure (H.Res.296) had been gaining momentum in recent weeks, particularly following Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. By October 22nd, one week prior to the day of the vote, news about a possible House action on the measure began to surface. “I’m sure the government of Turkey is not happy with [these plans], but then again we’re not happy with the government of Turkey,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Engel told reporters, according to an NPR report.
And the countdown to the vote began.
T-7 and Counting: ANCA Issues Call to Action; Congressional Armenian Caucus Rallies Support; Turkey Pushes Back; Coalition To Adopt H.Res.296 Grows
On the Congressional front, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcing that H.Res.296 would be on the House agenda the following week, Armenian Genocide Resolution lead sponsors Adam Schiff and Gus Bilirakis and the combined leadership of the Congressional Armenian Caucus – Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Peter King (R-NY) – started calling on their colleagues to end U.S. complicity in Turkey’s genocide denial and bring America back to the right side on the Armenian Genocide. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), whose Assyrian-American father and Armenian-American mother had both survived the Armenian Genocide, offered a very personal and passionate plea for immediate action on the measure.
The Turkish Government and its multi-million dollar hired lobbyists were pushing back, circulating a letter to the Congressional offices to oppose the measure with the classic denialist and ‘not the right time arguments’ of the past. “It should not be disregarded that counterproductive initiatives, such as H. Res. 296, will considerably poison the political environment between Turkey and the United States, at a time when regional and international developments require extensive collaboration and cooperation between our two countries more than ever before,” argued Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic, in a letter distributed by Venable, LLC.
The ANCA’s regional and local chapters stepped up district-by-district outreach to all 435 Congressional offices through calls, meetings, and letters. The ANCA Rapid Responder system – which allows advocates to take immediate action on pressing Armenian American concerns was working full swing, with over 10,000 letters sent to Congressional offices within the first 48 hours. Then the ANCA’s Quick Connect Call nationwide campaign directly connected thousands of constituents to their legislators, with the ANCA upgrading its servers to accommodate both email and phone traffic in the days leading up to the call. ANCA Western and Eastern U.S. spokespeople took to the Armenian news airwaves urging the broadest possible Armenian American civic participation. The Armenian Youth Federation Eastern and Western U.S. mobilized on social media. The ANCA’s Aram Hamparian was offering daily updates from Washington, DC.
By the weekend, some two dozen ANCA staff and volunteers were headed from states across the U.S. with a singular mission – to meet with all 435 Congressional offices, information in hand, to answer questions and gauge support for the October 29th vote – building on constituent input they had received not only over the past week – but over some 3 decades of steady grassroots effort.
By Monday morning, October 28th, after a briefing at the ANCA headquarters, ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan led the action teams to Capitol Hill for non-stop Congressional outreach that lasted until the last vote was cast on H.Res.296.
In many cases, as team members were entering Congressional offices to offer their views, staffers were fielding calls from district constituents urging the legislator to “Vote Yes on H.Res.296”. There were meetings where teams were warmly greeted by the intern or staff assistant at the office and quickly directed to the staffer working on H.Res.296. In certain offices, within two minutes, multiple staff members assured them, “it will not be a problem and you should expect a yes.”
The flip side was true as well –with the office of Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) a classic example. ANCA Western Region Community Outreach Coordinator Simon Maghakyan reported via Twitter that Rep. Johnson’s Chief of Staff – Murat Gokcikdem – announced that the Congresswoman would definitely vote ‘no’ in solidarity with the staffer, “since he is a Turk.” Maghakyan told the staffer that during the Genocide, his great-grandmother was saved by a kind woman of Turkish origin – to which the staffer reportedly replied “she was a traitor.” Rep. Johnson, who voted ‘present’ would be the only U.S. House member submitting a statement denying the Armenian Genocide.
As the number of meetings grew, team members were impatiently keeping a tally and reporting updates to our national and regional offices and local chapters for action. Constituents from districts where the U.S. Representative had not yet made a decision were encouraged to step up calls – to ensure the community’s voice is heard.
Allies in the Greek, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac, Christian communities including the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), American Hellenic Institute, American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA), In Defense of Christians, The Philos Project, A Demand for Action, and so many others issued statements, op/eds, and their own community calls to action in support of the measure. Jewish American organizations – including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, which had opposed similar legislation in the past – sent letters to Congressional offices and turned to social media to share their support for the legislation.
T-1: House Rules Committee Clears Path for House Consideration of H.Res.296
On Monday evening, October 28th, with phones still ringing in Congressional offices, the ANCA team split into two groups – those continuing Congressional visits and those attending the House Rules Committee meeting where Members of Congress would decide how the Armenian Genocide Resolution would be discussed. All resolutions coming to the House floor must have a “rule” by which they would be considered. Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) opened the hearing with powerful opening remarks, stating that H.Res.296 “is an opportunity for the House to speak loudly about the Armenian Genocide and finally acknowledge what it actually was, a genocide. Although the executive branch has issued proclamations and Congress has passed measures over the years on this, none in modern times have actually relayed all the facts and called it what it really was. Enough with the euphemisms, facts are important, speaking the truth is important, and if dark chapters in our history are not acknowledged, they are doomed to be repeated.”
Chairman Engel, House Foreign Affairs Committee Senior member Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Eshoo offered powerful testimony as to why H.Res.296 should come directly to the House floor, without Committee consideration, for immediate consideration.
“Many of us are concerned with what’s going on in various parts of the world. The Armenian Genocide is a Genocide, and many of us are concerned with, frankly, others, including the Kurds. It is happening right now and Turkey is again in the thick of things. So, I think if there was never a right time to release this before, now is definitely the right time,” said Chairman Engel.
“They [Turkey] threaten other countries! They threaten us! When I had a hearing in 2000, the ambassador of Turkey, because I had both sides at the table – the Armenians and the Turks – he threatened us with Incirlik. Frankly, with a friend like that in NATO, who needs enemies?” said Rep. Smith.
Procedural opposition to the resolution was raised by Congressman Rob Woodall (R-GA) and Rules Committee Ranking Republican Tom Cole (R-OK), who noted that H.Res.296 is moving straight to the House floor without a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Chairman McGovern, Chairman Engel and Rep. Smith responded noting that multiple Congressional hearings about the Armenian Genocide had been held over the years, and that the resolution had the support of both Chairman Engel and the Ranking Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Mike McCaul (R-TX).
Other Rules Committee members speaking in favor of the measure included Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-NY), who noted his support for Armenian Genocide legislation when he served in the New York State Assembly, and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), who is of Lebanese origin and who described how her Maronite family was displaced during the Armenian Genocide. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) noted that she was an original cosponsor of the measure and supports its adoption, and Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), noted that she learned about the Armenian Genocide through archives in Pennsylvania and the “Mher Statue” in downtown Philadelphia.
In the end, the Rules Committee recommended a “closed” rule – meaning no changes would be offered on the House floor, with one hour of debate regarding the measure.
After the hearing, Rep. Eshoo and Rep. Smith, both decades long advocates of Armenian Genocide legislation, were in tears, hugging Armenian American advocates who praised their leadership on the issue – with anticipation high for a full House floor consideration of the measure.
T-0: Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.296): The Debate on the Rule
The morning of October 29th – the day of full House floor consideration of the Armenian Genocide Resolution – volunteers and staff gathered at the ANCA office at 8:00 am for a final huddle with Hamparian and Yerimyan before heading to the Hill for a final series of visits to Congressional offices yet undecided on H.Res.296.
The constituent calls through the ANCA’s Quick Connect Congressional outreach portal got a sudden boost with Kim Kardashian tweeting her support for the Armenian Genocide Resolution and encouraging fans to visit anca.org/call to contact their legislators. ANCA IT Director Nerses Semerjian again upgraded the ANCA’s contract for the remote servers handling the calls to accommodate the increased civic participation.