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Over objections from Trump and Turkey, Senate passes Armenian genocide remembrance measure

President Trump holds a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in November.
President Trump holds a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in November. (Jim Watson/Afp Via Getty Images)

The Senate, without fanfare and over long-standing objections from President Trump, unanimously passed a resolution Thursday officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, joining the House in condemning Turkey’s mass slaughter of 1.5 million people early last century.

The move follows a Wednesday vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee to impose sanctions on Turkey over its recent purchase of a Russian missile system and its offensive against the Kurdish minority in Syria.

Turkey’s actions have caused great frustration in Congress, putting fresh momentum behind efforts to revive the issue of Armenian genocide recognition, which languished for decades in Congress as presidents and lawmakers alike warned that such a vote would disrupt relations with Turkey, a NATO ally.

Three previous attempts to raise the issue in the Senate, following the 405-11 House vote in October to recognize the Armenian genocide, were blocked by Republican senators who raised a similar objection: that while the issue needed to be addressed, the timing was poor.

The Senate’s resolution cannot force the Trump administration’s hand, nor does it require the president’s signature; it merely expresses “the sense of the Senate” that it is U.S. policy to recognize the Armenian genocide and commemorate it as such.

Trump’s dealings with Turkey pave way for House vote acknowledging Armenian genocide

“I support the spirit of this resolution . . . however, I don’t think this is the right time,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who earlier this month became the most recent senator to object to a Senate vote on the matter. “Adoption of this resolution today in my view is unnecessary . . . and might very well undermine that diplomatic effort at a key time.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) also objected when the resolution’s sponsors, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), tried to raise the issue in recent weeks. According to reports, at least two of the objecting senators blocked previous attempts at the White House’s request.

But when Menendez and Cruz raised the matter Thursday, no one stood up to object — and the resolution quietly passed. Even Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who had sponsored the House’s version of the resolution, did not anticipate the vote coming or know, in its immediate aftermath, that it had cleared the Senate.

Turkey protests Germany’s recognition of Armenian ‘genocide’

The Armenian genocide resolution has been a matter of intense lobbying for decades, with Turkey maintaining opposition to the measure through a campaign to convince lawmakers, especially national security hawks, to stand against it. But Turkey’s effort was upended earlier this fall, when Trump made a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pull back U.S. troops in Syria — a signal to the Turkish government that the United States would not stand in the way of efforts to attack Kurdish strongholds there.

Ankara has long considered the Kurds, who claim land rights in parts of Turkey, to be a terrorist force. But the Kurds in Syria were the United States’ most able allies in its fight against the Islamic State — and abandoning them was too much for most lawmakers.

With Turkey’s support on Capitol Hill so eviscerated, the Democratic-led House moved to pass sanctions against Turkey and the Armenian genocide resolution in a matter of weeks. Until now, it had been unclear whether the resolution would pass the Senate, where one senator can hold up a measure from advancing to a vote.

“This is a moment of truth that was far too long in coming,” Cruz said shortly after the resolution passed, stating that the Senate had “a moral duty to acknowledge what happened to the 1.5 million innocent souls were murdered” because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Menendez fought back tears as he spoke, saying he was “thankful that this resolution has passed at a time where there are still survivors of the genocide . . . who will be able to see that the Senate acknowledges what they went through.”

Paul Kane contributed to this report.