Ilhan Omar supporters balk at her vote on genocide resolution

'You can’t just cherry-pick between humans and human rights.'

Oct 31, 2019, 12:00 pm

IRL

Samira Sadeque 

Samira Sadeque

Ilhan Omar

POMED/Flickr

Official U.S. recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide was a cause for celebration for Armenians around the world this week. It has taken years of rallying from Armenian communities and expert demands for the killing of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians more than 100 years ago to be recognized a genocide. 

On Tuesday, the House passed the resolution with a 405-11 vote. CNN journalist Haley Byrd reported that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was one of the three members to vote “present,” a refusal to take sides. Byrd then shared a statement by Omar’s office about her stance.

” 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,” her statement said.”

People on both sides of the political aisle were displeased with Omar’s stance on national recognition of the genocide, which has taken decades of rallying to achieve and was previously denied by the Bush administration.

Verginie Touloumian, an Armenian-American who lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, and works for a humanitarian organization, tweeted that it’s “never the right time to compromise our nation’s morality.”

“Honestly, voting a ‘present’ is kind of weird because you’re standing on the sidelines… that to me is a disappointment,” Touloumian told the Daily Dot. “Where people are looking up to you as a human rights activist but you refuse to recognize it.”

Touloumian isn’t alone in her disappointment. Many tweeted that Omar’s reasoning for the “present” vote was insufficient.

It seemed almost no one, on either side of the political spectrum, liked her answer. She was criticized by her usual opponents, but many who usually support the congresswoman also felt her stance was senseless. 

Some compared her stance to “All Lives Matter,” referring to critics of the Black Lives Matter movement who try to undermine systematic racism faced by Black communities and co-opt the language to insist “all” lives matter, not just Black lives.

Within a day of the vote on Armenia, new information surfaced about Omar’s relationship with Turkey. Halil Mutlu, co-chairman of a Turkish-American advocacy group and ally of Turkey’s prime minister, reportedly contributed $1,500 to Omar’s campaign last month. Many thought this was evidence that Omar’s vote was a favor to Turkey.

Many people were simply disappointed that a human rights advocate who has vocalized support for Palestine would backtrack on the resolution. Touloumian pointed out that Minnesota, the state Omar represents, had been recognizing the Armenian genocide since 2001. 

“Is she choosing and picking the human rights acts she can vote for?” Touloumian said. “You can’t just pick and choose what you’re going to take a stance on. It was an insult to us and the memory of the 1.5 million people.”

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Touloumian said she was an enthusiastic supporter for Omar but thinks this may have pushed away many like her. “In general I’m a supporter of women being in these offices, I know that a lot of my friends who are Muslim did look up to her,” she said. But it might change now. “You can’t just cherry-pick between humans and human rights… it was a very hypocritical move for her and her career.”

The Turkish government has rejected the resolution and called it a “meaningless political step.”

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*First Published: Oct 31, 2019, 12:00 pm