In the House of Representatives in the United States, members vote on a bill by either stating “aye”/”yea”, “no,” or “present.” To vote present means that the representative opted to not take a stance or side on a particular bill. On October 29, 2019, the House of Representatives in the United States passed a resolution acknowledging the Ottoman Empire’s genocide. Aside from the Armenian genocide, the resolution included the Assyrian and Greek genocides as well. It was a vote with a 405-11 margin.
One of the eleven members that voted “present” or against that recognition was none other than Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. A shocking move considering that she’s only one of two Democrats to have voted in such a way. Even more shocking considering her unwavering demands for human rights in so many countries.
As an Assyrian, I was conflicted with emotions. While I felt joy that the House voted to pass the resolution, I also felt anger towards Rep. Ilhan Omar. Who knew that a simple word like “present” could have so much weight?
Her reasoning for the decision? The United States has yet to acknowledge its own genocide against natives. While I agree with her on that front, giving weight to one atrocity over another is not a solution. It is a slap in the face. As a former, avid supporter of hers – I feel let down beyond imagination.
The representative went on to defend her stance by tweeting:
My issue was with the timing and context. I think we should demand accountability for human rights abuses consistently, not simply when it suits our political goals.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 29, 2019
The timing? We have waited 104 years for this country to acknowledge the genocide committed against us. 31 countries had acknowledged the genocide prior to this resolution. Tell me, Rep. Ilhan Omar, how much longer should we have waited for our turn?
I didn’t realize that genocide recognition is on a “first come first serve” basis. She has a platform. She has a voice. As a pastor of St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul said: “It is discouraging [that a representative who serves many Armenians in her district] chose not to hear their voices. It goes against her work, as she claims to be fighter for justice, for doing what’s right.”
I could not have said this better myself. A simple yet strong message would have been to vote in favor of the resolution and then acknowledge the genocides that still need to be recognized.
She claims that the United States was using this bill as a political ploy. What she fails to realize is that this was the perfect time to submit this resolution. Amidst yet another Turkish attempt at ethnic cleansing, this time in Syria, it is time for the world to acknowledge these atrocities.
If I am being honest, I don’t buy her reasoning. Let’s not forget that on the same day, Rep. Omar voted against a bill that would place sanctions on Turkey after their violent assault against Kurdish forces. The Turkish forces also laid siege against the Assyrian, Armenian, and Arab communities in Syria, killing many.
Her reasoning this time? Sanctions are not effective. Interesting, given the fact she has stated, rightfully so, that sanctions and boycotts should be imposed on Israel. I agree with the latter. Ilhan wrote in an opinion that sanctions:
“Hurt the people of the country – generally the very people we’re purporting to help – without making a dent in the country’s behavior.”
She goes on to give examples of Iran and Venezuela and how the sanctions negatively impacted their populations. While I agree with this notion, the bill presented against Iran is not the same as the one being presented against Turkey. The sanctions being imposed on the latter are targeting government officials and their investments directly – not the populace.
Which raises the question – why the change of heart? I believe it is because of her undeniable ties with Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In 2017, Rep. Ilhan Omar met with the Turkish President despite the already mounting human rights accusations placed against him. This was not the first, nor the last interaction between Omar and the Turkish government.
As a representative that claims she is for human rights, she has a responsibility. That responsibility is to be an advocate for the human rights of ALL PEOPLE. That means putting aside political ties and relations when it means standing up against crimes against humanity. This is something Rep. Ilhan Omar has failed to demonstrate at least twice since her election into office.
She has the voice and platform many of us do not. It is a shame that she is opting to not use it. It is even more shameful that she is opting to wear the all too familiar politician hat, rather than one of a true humanitarian for all causes.