ANNAPOLIS – After three days of emotional and lengthy debate, Maryland is close to passing a controversial resolution recognizing the World War I killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
The House of Delegates late Friday voted 79-11 for a resolution designating April 24 as “Maryland Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and thereafter.”
The measure also passed the Senate 34-10 last month, but differences between the two versions of the resolution will have to be worked out before the end of the legislative session Monday.
April 24, 1915, marked the initial roundup of intellectuals in what Armenians said was a campaign of killing by the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire, then a German ally, to punish them for siding with the Russians in World War I.
Opponents of the resolution, who spent more than two hours debating it Wednesday and Thursday, and another hour before Friday’s vote, said it is inappropriate for the General Assembly to meddle in international affairs.
“The United States Congress is where this resolution belongs,” said Delegate Mary A. Conroy, D-Prince George’s. “Not here.”
Congress dropped a similar resolution in October, after then-President Clinton warned it could affect relations with Turkey. Passing the resolution could put a strain on Maryland’s relations with Turkey as well, Conroy said.
Turkey canceled multimillion-dollar business deals with France after France became the first Western country on Jan. 18 to brand the 1915 Armenian killings as genocide.
Emotions ran high both on the floor and in the halls of the State House where, for weeks, several Turkish-Americans and Armenian-Americans lobbied on the measure.
Turkish-Americans from Annapolis who watched the House on Friday were appalled by the vote. Turks acknowledge that there were killings as a result of ethnic strife, but deny that there was ever a campaign of genocide.
“As a Turkish-American, I am very disturbed,” said Fevziye Manizade, who wore a pin with the crescent and star of Turkey’s national flag on her jacket. “If there was genocide, I would accept without hesitation and would condemn it. But there wasn’t genocide.”
For Armenian-Americans, it’s just a day of remembrance, said Zanku Armenian, spokesman for the Armenian National Committee of Maryland.
“It’s important to take that moment to remember it. And it doesn’t take that much effort,” Armenian said. “Intolerance is something we want to educate people in society in general. It makes us a better society.”
Friday’s vote came after the House removed a reference in the resolution to Adolf Hitler’s quote, prior to his invasion of Poland in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” The House also stripped out a reference to modern Turkey.
The House and Senate both eliminated a provision in the original version of the resolution that urged public schools to teach about the genocide.
Delegate Thomas E. Hutchins, R-Charles, said it was not Maryland’s place to decide if genocide was committed more than 80 years ago in a foreign land.
“We’re setting a judge and a jury with this resolution,” he said. “And this resolution is a form of indictment.”
Several Montgomery Democrats disagreed.
“We’re a democratic body,” said House Majority Leader John A. Hurson. “We represent a diverse constituency. . . . It’s a day of remembrance for a community that feels very strong about something that happened many years ago.”
Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said “I fully believe that a genocide did occur.” But he abstained from voting, agreeing with opponents that it is not Maryland’s role to meddle in international affairs.
But one proponent said the resolution “has nothing to do with foreign affairs.
“All we are trying to do is say that massacres don’t belong in this state or in the world,” said Delegate David M. Valderrama, D-Prince George’s.