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House committee calls Armenian killings a genocide

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and a Flushing home for elderly Armenians are calling on Congress to pass a resolution that would condemn a Turkish massacre of Armenians during the early 1900s as a genocide after a congressional committee approved the measure.

Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23-22 in favor of calling the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey between 1915 and 1918 a genocide. President Barack Obama’s administration is against the measure, arguing the vote could offend Turkey, an ally to the United States.

Ackerman, a senior member of the committee, said he voted in favor of the resolution, referring to two Armenian women — Charlotte Kechejian, 98, and Onorik Eminian, 97 — from Flushing’s Armenian Home at 137-31 45th Ave., who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the vote.

“They’re here for justice,” Ackerman said prior to the vote. “How long can they wait? Shall we tell them once again to come back next year? History has to be righted.”

The resolution will now go before the full House for a vote.

Turkey’s foreign minister said last week the vote would hurt ties between the Obama administration and slow down reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia.

Nearly 1 million Armenians living in the Turkish Ottoman Empire were slaughtered during the massacre. The genocide is believed to have begun April 24, 1915, after Ottoman authorities arrested 250 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople. An estimated 972,000 Armenians in the empire were killed during a period of three years.

The slaughter has been recognized as genocide by more than 20 nations, but the Turkish government still does not use that word to describe the incident. Some parts of that nation’s society have questioned the state’s version of events.

Jenny Akopyan, associate director of the Armenian Home in Flushing, said she traveled with the two survivors to Washington for the vote on the resolution.

“We were apprehensive about making a trip with 98-year-olds, but they did well,” she said. “They were resolute. Politics are in play here. People have said it’s not the time because Turkey is America’s ally, but it’s never a good time. We are just asking for justice, for them to admit it happened. We’re not saying the present government or population of Turkey is guilty.”

St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, a large house of worship in Douglaston, could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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