While there perhaps were plausible strategic concerns for some lawmakers, others seemed to have more parochial, even personal, reasons for their opposition.
The House resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday despite opposition from eleven Republican members, two of whom cited geo-strategic concerns while the rest remained silent on their justification for opposing the legislation.
Contra Ilhan Omar, who voted “present” on the bill, there is a broad academic consensus that roughly 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by Ottoman troops between 1914 and 1923, although acknowledging as much has long been considered a provocation in Ankara. While there perhaps were plausible strategic concerns that dissuaded certain members from voting in favor of the resolution (such as a desire to prevent Turkey from more fully embracing Russia), other lawmakers seem to have more parochial, even personal, reasons for their opposition.
Representative Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), in explaining his “nay” vote, outdid Omar by at least acknowledging the reality of “the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and others at the hands of the Ottoman Empire,” but he went on to argue that formally recognizing this historical episode might jeopardize American troops.
“Because of potential retaliation that could endanger our allies and troops in the immediate future, it was troubling to see this vote come as the U.S. just worked out an agreement for a ceasefire and safe zone in Syria,” Meadows said. Curiously, Meadows did vote in favor of a bill that would impose sanctions on Turkey in response to their incursion into northeastern Syria on the same day as the Armenian-genocide resolution.
Representative Tom Cole (R., Okla.) voted against both the Armenian-genocide resolution and the sanctions bill. He joined Meadows in arguing that any further punitive action against Turkey would simply strengthen their alliance with Russia without providing tangible benefits for the U.S.
“I cannot support a measure that would further drive Turkey into the arms of Putin,” Cole told JNS, apparently referring to the sanctions bill.
Cole, a member of the Chickasaw nation and one of only four Native American members of Congress, has a friendlier history with Turkey than is typical for a member of the House. In 2012, Cole worked to advance a bill that would have facilitated Turkish investment in Native American tribes, according to the Oklahoman. Cole asserted at the time that Turks feel a kinship with Native Americans and believe the two peoples have a common ancestry. His bill was watered down to appease House lawmakers sympathetic to the Armenian cause, but still it failed to pass. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) is one of the only members of Congress to consistently reject American recognition of the Armenian genocide. Foxx, whose son-in-law is Turkish, did not return a request for comment.
“If the Armenian resolution comes up for vote, I will vote no,” Foxx said in a 2007 interview with Turk of America. The issue of recognizing the Armenian genocide was on the legislative table at the time. “I don’t think this is the right thing to do,” Foxx added.
Representative Greg Pence (R., Ind.), meanwhile, said that he voted against recognizing the genocide and imposing sanctions on Turkey out of deference to the administration’s policy goals — which lately have tilted toward mending its alliance with Turkey, as evidenced by recent American activity in Syria.
“I have a lot of confidence in the president and the administration knowing what to do in Turkey,” Pence told JNS when he explained his decision to vote against both resolutions on Tuesday. “I didn’t want to interfere.”
Pence was joined by three fellow Indiana congressmen in his opposition to the genocide bill: James Baird, Susan Brooks, and Larry Buschon. None of their offices responded to requests for comment.
An October 16 press release on Brooks’s webpage states her support for sanctions against Turkey, while Buschon has made clear his opposition to withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kurdish areas.
Whatever these representatives were trying to achieve, the Trump administration’s policy regarding Turkey remains deeply unpopular in Congress.