Sunday, March 7, 2010

Obama Administration Opposed to Congressional Recognition of Armenian Genocide

In an update to the report a few days ago on the vote by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to officially recognize the mass killings in Armenia in 1915 as genocide, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, stated on Friday that the Obama Administration does not believe that further Congressional action on the issue is appropriate because it will impede normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.  However, he did not say whether the Administration and Congressional leaders had reached any agreement regarding whether to allow a full vote on House Resolution 252. 

H.R. 252 "Call[s] upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide."

Interestingly, as a candidate in January 2008, President Obama issued a statement supporting the recognition of Armenian Gencode.  In April 2009, he issued statement on Armenian Remembrance Day asserting that his views had not changed (but avoiding use of the word "genocide").

This debate between the Congress and the Executive has implications for federalism as well as international relations.  In 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations on insurance policies for victims of the Armenian Genocide and gave California courts jurisdiction over some of the claims arising from it.  The Ninth Circuit held in Movsesian v. Versicherung, 578 F.3d 1052, that the California law was preempted by Executive policy opposed to the official recognition of the term "Armenian Genocide" despite the fact that no laws, Executive orders, or international agreements expressed such a policy.  The case raises a serious question regarding the federal government's ability to preempt state law in the absence of a formal written statement of federal policy.  If that decision stands, proclamations, resolutions and laws adopted by 43 of the 50 states within the United States incorporating the words "Armenian genocide" are potentially in jeopardy.   


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