After decades of refusing to take action that would embarrass a NATO ally, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution recognizing the genocide of the Armenian people by Turkey.
The resolution passed without objection from GOP senators who had previously blocked the unanimous consent resolution after Donald Trump expressed his opposition. But Turkey’s unfriendly actions in recent months made it easier to overcome the objections of senators to formally recognize Turkey’s culpability in the systematic murders of more than 1.5 million Armenians.
From 1917 to 1923, the old Ottoman Empire rounded up Armenians and forced them on “death marches,” where most were killed or starved to death. A contemporary account from a 1916 New York Times piece gives a flavor of what the Armenians were forced to endure.
The witnesses have seen thousands of deported Armenians under tents in the open, in caravans on the march, descending the river in boats and in all phases of their miserable life. Only in a few places does the Government issue any rations, and those are quite insufficient. The people, therefore, themselves are forced to satisfy their hunger with food begged in that scanty land or found in the parched fields.
Naturally, the death rate from starvation and sickness is very high and is increased by the brutal treatment of the authorities, whose bearing toward the exiles as they are being driven back and forth over the desert is not unlike that of slave drivers. With few exceptions no shelter of any kind is provided and the people coming from a cold climate are left under the scorching desert sun without food and water. Temporary relief can only be obtained by the few able to pay officials.
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will no doubt retaliate in some way. For years, Ankara has spent millions on high-powered lobbyists to prevent the United States from joining most of the rest of the world in condemning Turkey for the atrocities.
The senator who was the driving force behind passage of the resolution, Bob Menendez, wept after it passed.
“The killing was done with axes, cleavers, shovels and pitchforks. It was like a slaughterhouse,” Menendez said, quoting a priest who documented the atrocities at time. “Infants were dashed on rocks before the eyes of their mothers.”
It was clear, he added, that Turkey’s “ultimate goal was to eliminate the Armenian people.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, nor did a spokesperson for Turkey’s embassy in Washington.
Turkey’s purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft system, as well as their invasion of Syria to battle the Kurds — many of whom are U.S. allies — made passage of the resolution a foregone conclusion. After the Syrian invasion, the House last month passed the resolution by a 405-11 vote.
For the Armenian people, it’s a solemn day. The world didn’t pay attention to their case for many years, but at least now, one of the worst genocides of the 20th century will be recognized and the dead can be mourned by all.