Pushed by latest Turkey aggression, House passes resolution formally commemorating the Armenian Genocide. The Boston Globe

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The House passed resolutions commemorating the Armenian genocide in 1975 and 1984. But activists and congressional leaders said this latest resolution — approved 405-11, was more detailed in stating the facts of the atrocity and for the first time clearly labeled the Ottoman Empire as the perpetrator.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it has increasingly gained support, though its passage could exacerbate tensions between Congress and the White House and between the United States and Turkey. Even if the resolution passes the Senate, Trump is not likely to sign it.

A White House spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. Multiple requests to the Turkish Embassy for comment went unanswered.

Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, who played a pivotal role in its passage as chairman of the House Rules Committee, told the Globe that passing the resolution was “the right thing to do.”

“I don’t give a damn if it makes Donald Trump uncomfortable,” said McGovern, whose district is home to the nation’s oldest Armenian-American community in Worcester. “I think we need to be on the side of truth, and on the side of historical accuracy.”

He has sought formal US acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide since his early days in Congress and remembers at least 60 survivors filled the front pew at a memorial service at the Armenian Church of Our Savior in Worcester in the late 1970s. The last survivor in his district died in 2015, he said.

Scholars have determined that the Ottoman Empire, which included present-day Turkey, systematically killed some 1.5 million Armenians between approximately 1915 and 1923. Families were robbed and forced into labor, women were raped, and hundreds of thousands of children were left orphaned.

Many fled to countries around the world.

But Turkey has steadfastly opposed any US efforts that would designate the massacre, now known as the Armenian holocaust, a genocide. Ronald Reagan was the last president to refer to the mass slaughter as a “genocide of the Armenians” in a 1981 speech remembering the victims of the Holocaust. Presidents since have been reluctant to anger the US ally.

George W. Bush pushed back on a proposed 2007 resolution marking the Armenian genocide at a time when Turkey was pivotal to US interests in Iraq. While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised to recognize the genocide if he became president but failed to do so during his two terms in office -- instead referring to the killings throughout his tenure as a “mass atrocity” and “tragedy.”

Aram Arkun, the assistant editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator newspaper in Watertown, said he was disturbed by the failure of recent presidents and legislators to refer to the events as a genocide. The ambiguity, he said, is “very painful” because it encourages politically motivated denial of the events.

A direct descendant of survivors of the genocide, Arkun remembered childhood stories about the children who disappeared, about women taking their own lives to avoid being raped. He said he hoped the resolution would set a precedent that prevents a “whitewash” by governments of mass atrocities in the future.

“It might seem odd to some people that this issue is still around,” Arkun said. “It’s been over 100 years, but the ramifications, the reverberations of such an event don’t go away. They’re very powerful, and they affect generation to generation.”

Others saw the resolutions’s passage as a powerful message against Turkey and a long overdue acknowledgment of the role that US humanitarian organizations played in rescuing survivors of the genocide.

“This is not about anything other than recognizing the American response to this genocide,” said Noubar Afeyan, the chief executive of Cambridge-based venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering and co-founder of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, awarded on behalf of the survivors of the genocide. “It has been a little odd for those of us who want to express gratitude to this country that we can’t acknowledge the role the US played in saving hundreds of orphans.”

The push for the latest resolution, which was sponsored by Representative Adam Schiff of California, was led by Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California and the only Armenian-Assyrian member of Congress.

Eshoo, whose parents fled the genocide, said she asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take up the resolution after she heard about Trump’s plans to remove some 1,000 troops from Syria that have been acting as default peacemakers between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

“There is a historic parallel,” she said, wiping away tears after testifying in support of the resolution at House Rules Committee hearing Monday. “Today, I believe there is an echo of a repeat of history.”



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