U.S. House Representative Ilhan Omar shocked supporters and opponents Wednesday when she abstained from voting for a bill recognizing the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915.
The genocide refers to the death of over one million Armenians following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, either through deliberate massacres, overworking or pure exhaustion, which decreased the Armenian population by over 75 percent.
The new legislation is mostly symbolic, but Omar was one of only three representatives that did not vote “yes,” straying even from her usual clique in the House.
American politicians have previously been hesitant to pass similar legislations so as to not strain relations with Turkey. But in light of recent events in northeastern Syria, it is speculated this legislation is a political move to pressure Turkey.
Omar cited this in her reason for not voting yes on the legislation, claiming in a statement, “accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as cudgel in a political fight.” Yet in this climate, Omar should know that everything is political, including if not especially her choice to vote “present” instead of “yes,” also known as abstaining.
In this case, abstaining is essentially a “no” vote. The legislation was going to pass, which Omar likely knew and her choice to abstain was a deliberate statement that should be treated as such. Claiming a higher political moral ground than those that voted “yes” is not a believable claim; Omar, for one reason or another, intentionally told the American public she denies the legitimacy of the Armenian genocide.
This does not at all align with Omar’s previous ideologies, which have led her to defend the people of Kashmir in India and Palestinians in their struggle with Israel. Refusing to acknowledge a targeted genocide of an estimated 1.5 million minorities in Turkey is completely inconsistent with what the American people believed Omar’s values to be.
The second largest population of Amernians following the diaspora this bill addresses is in the U.S. Even some of the Armenian population in her constituency of Minneapolis have condemned Omar for her stance, according to The Star Tribune.
Not only does her vote contradict her previous image, but it reveals that her previous support of humanitarian issues only garnered her backing because it was politically viable for the representative. It is unclear what the motives of the representative were in this case, but they were undoubtedly political and definitively anti-humanitarian.
Omar should be above the argument of semantics; claiming this is a stance against a certain political strategy is a more politically-charged statement than the entirety of the bill recognizing the genocide. She even refused to comment to reporters on Capitol Hill after the vote, revealing she knew the ramifications of her actions, or lack thereof.