Armenian Genocide Vote: Ilhan Omar Reveals Foreign Policy Blind Spot

The influential progressive congresswoman ignited a firestorm of criticism after refusing to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Liam Glen writes on the inconsistencies of Ilhan Omar’s stance.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial on the hill of Tsitsernakaberd (Yerevan)

Ilhan Omar, the Congressional representative from Minnesota’s 5th district, has been at the center of attention since she entered office in January.

Between her left-wing views, her status as one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, and her propensity for gaffes and misstatements, she has ignited countless controversies. In turn, her critics’ tendency to turn to smears and conspiracy theories have led the phrase “I stand with Ilhan Omar” to become a common sentiment in progressive circles.

This goodwill was called into question, however, after a vote on a resolution affirming the United Sates record on the Armenian Genocide, the systematic murder of deportation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the 1910s.

In the final tally, 405 representatives voted yea on the resolution, 11 voted nay, and three, including Omar, simply voted present.

As she is one of the most high-profile politicians in the country, this sharp break with her colleagues should draw attention. Given Omar’s claimed commitment to social justice, this vote is especially troubling.

Obfuscation and Whataboutism

While Omar did not explicitly deny the Armenian Genocide, her public statement on the issue can best be described as strategically evasive.

One of her claims is that “A true acknowledgment of historical crimes against humanity must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide,” but this is nonsensical.

Omar is a vocal advocate of Palestinian rights. Surely no one would suggest that she cannot bring up the topic unless she also addresses the Uighurs, Kurds, Kashmiris, and the countless other groups who lack self-determination.

More insidious is her assertion that acknowledgement of genocide “should be done based on academic consensus,” implying that such is not the case here.

In fact, historians have long recognized the Armenian genocide as the systematic slaughter of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire. The only reason that it has not been officially recognized sooner is because of persistent lobbying by the Turkish government.

Inconsistent Humanitarianism

There is no telling exactly what is motivating Omar’s actions. Many of her critics have come to believing that she is beholden to the Turkish government, but the evidence for this is relatively scant – a single 2017 meeting with Turkish strongman Recep Erdoğan and a $1,500 donation from a pro-Erdoğan activist, who has also given to various other politicians.

This does, however, reveal a disturbingly close relationship between the Omar and Erdoğan, a right-wing autocrat and religious fundamentalist.

One ridiculous, but persistent, narrative is that Omar – a staunch supporter of progressive causes such as LGBT rights – is in fact a secret Islamist. Her critics claim that she is soft on human rights violations committed by Muslims, but she has in fact been a sharp critic of some Islamist regimes, such as Saudi Arabia.

A more valid criticism is that she has fallen into the trap of simply opposing whatever is the current US foreign policy, without regard to the actual fact of the case. For instance, she condemned suffering in Venezuela without mentioning the Maduro regime’s contribution to it and even mischaracterized the big-tent opposition as “far-right.”

Other statements, however, have been more nuanced. Dogmatic anti-Americans were quite upset when she denounced the Assad regime in Syria. Others claimed that this is proof of her devotion to the anti-Assad Erdoğan government.

There is a tendency to categorically interpret politicians as heroes or villains, but this is an unhealthy way to view the world. It is possible to praise representatives for their accomplishments while reprimanding them when they do ill.

Those like Omar, however, who has made herself the head of a progressive movement, should be held under special scrutiny. Any commitment to peace, justice, and humanity must be consistent. So far, she is leaving behind a questionable legacy.





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