Yesterday evening, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) refused to vote in favor of a resolution that recognizes the 20th-century mass murder of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks as a “genocide.” The freshman representative merely listed herself as “present,” releasing a statement later in the evening to CNN attempting to rationalize her choice. But her explanation was far from satisfactory.
Omar alleged that she opted not to vote for the resolution since she did not want the recognition “to be used as a cudgel in a political fight.” Omar elaborated by stating, “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, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of indigenous people in this country.”
In other words, if we don’t acknowledge all genocides, we can’t acknowledge any.
The resolution, passed by a vote of 405-11, was the product of bipartisan efforts in the House, spearheaded by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) and intended to publicly rebuke Turkey, which has routinely denied that its slaughter of the Armenians was genocide. Turkey is currently engaging in violent incursions in northern Syria.
Two other representatives voted “present,” while 11 senators, including a mixture of Democrats and Republicans, voted “No.” They, like Omar, should be publicly reprimanded for such moral cowardice, and when they do publish their reasons, as Omar has, their rationales should be examined and challenged.
Omar has prided herself on being a supposed advocate of human rights—indeed, this is her primary argument when advocating on behalf of the boycott, divest, sanction novement, which exclusively targets and shames Israel. Yet, when given the opportunity to publicly condemn a mass atrocity, she declines and declares that she cannot singularly recognize the Armenian genocide without recognizing other mass killings as also genocides.
Approximately 1.5 million Armenians died between 1915 and 1916 after the Ottoman Turks deported them from eastern Anatolia to Syria. To recognize such slaughter as genocidal does not and should not subtract from our capacity to recognize the genocidal nature of other events, and to suggest otherwise displays a strange understanding of human suffering.
Omar’s logic is stunningly obtuse because it suggests that recognition is a zero-sum game. In the same way that intersectionality encourages individuals to compare relative levels of suffering, there is apparently a similar hierarchy within the schema of recognizing that very suffering.
Omar may believe her approach would be lauded by the far left, but it appears that many progressives, even amidst all their moral relativism, are still able to identify the mass murder of Armenians as objectively horrific and worthy of public condemnation, full stop. Omar faced a litany of critique Tuesday evening from both the right and the left for her refusal to do so, and rightfully so.