Top Minnesota Dem: Omar's 'Present' Vote on Armenian Genocide 'Deeply Troubling'

'We are really, really disappointed,' said one Armenian constituent.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) / Getty Images
October 31, 2019

A top Minnesota Democrat criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar for voting "present" on a House resolution acknowledging the reality of the Armenian genocide.

The House voted 405-to-11 to condemn "the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923," and officially label it genocide. Omar voted present, a decision Minnesota House majority leader Ryan Winkler, a fellow member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, called "deeply troubling."

"The current Turkish regime is a dictatorship and is bent on destroying the Kurdish people in what could be a genocide in present time," he said. "[All] Americans, especially progressive Americans, should be speaking with one voice against Turkish genocide historically and currently."

Omar attempted to deflect from the controversy by comparing the systemic slaughter of Armenians to the U.S. founding.

"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 trans-Atlantic slave trade and Native American genocide, which took the lives of hundreds of millions of indigenous people in this country," Omar said in a statement to CNN.

The congresswoman also said that recognition of genocide "should not be used as a cudgel in a political" debate. It should be done "outside the push and pull of geopolitics." Omar was the lone Democratic dissenter in another Tuesday vote to impose sanctions on Turkey, a country that considers itself the heir to the Ottoman Empire and has long lobbied against efforts to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Speaking to her constituents in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District, the Star Tribune found that many were shocked and angry at the vote, particularly in the Armenian community. "Who votes ‘present’ on a genocide resolution?" asked John Parker-Der Boghossian, of the Armenian Cultural Organization of Minnesota.

"Given her record and her stance as a human rights advocate and a new-generation politician who is going up against the powers that be, we were expecting she would be with the Armenian community on this issue," said University of Minnesota researcher Artyom Tonoyan. "We are really, really disappointed."