Rep. Ilhan Omar was widely condemned on Wednesday for abstaining from a nearly unanimous House vote officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.
Rather than supporting the symbolic resolution with virtually every other House Democrat, Omar voted "present."
The Minnesota lawmaker argued that the resolution was a political statement designed to condemn Turkey, which disputes the historical facts of the genocide, rather than a genuine defense of universal human rights.
"I believe accountability for human rights violations — especially ethnic cleansing and genocide — is paramount," Omar said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday. "But accountability and recognition of genocide should not be used as a cudgel in a political fight. It should be done based on academic consensus outside the push and pull of geopolitics."
Some lawmakers viewed the resolution, which passed 405-11, as a way to condemn Turkey amid its incursion into northeastern Syria and attacks on American-allied Kurds.
Omar further argued that any resolution "must include both the heinous genocides of the 20th century, along with earlier mass slaughters like the transatlantic slave trade and the Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country."
The congresswoman was one of just three members, including one other Democrat, who voted "present" on the resolution. All 11 "no" votes came from Republicans.
—Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) October 29, 2019
Omar's move elicited condemnation and charges of hypocrisy from across the political spectrum.
Zaid Jilani, a progressive journalist, argued that the congresswoman's argument "rings hollow" because the House has repeatedly passed resolutions condemning slavery and human rights violations against Native Americans.
—Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) October 29, 2019
Other critics argued that Omar's position doesn't make sense given her support for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
—Christian Vanderbrouk (@UrbanAchievr) October 29, 2019
Members of the Armenian-American community, including in Minnesota, also expressed disappointment with Omar's vote.
"Is there a right or wrong time to … stand up for justice that she claims to be a champion for?" Rev. Tadeos Barseghyan of St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul told Minnesota's Star Tribune.
Van Krikorian, co-chair of the Armenian Assembly of America, told Axios that Omar's "votes and actions … do not represent the best of American or Muslim values."
He went on, "Innocent people were and are being slaughtered, and there is a universal need to defend the victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing, not to stand with or defer to the murderers."
Minnesota's Democratic governor, Tim Walz, voiced strong support for the resolution on Tuesday.
"The #ArmenianGenocide is historical fact, and the denial of that fact is a continuation of the genocide. As a member of Congress, I sponsored this legislation," he tweeted. "The memory of the victims and the commitment to the survivors demands that history acknowledge the lives lost."
The resolution predictably drew a harsh rebuke from the Turkish government — the country's foreign minister called it a "shameful decision."
Omar reportedly refused to discuss the issue further when approached by a reporter on the Hill on Wednesday.
—Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) October 30, 2019