U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar calls Armenian genocide 'an injustice' after not supporting resolution

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 03: Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks at a campaign rally for Senator (I-VT) and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the University of Minnesotas Williams Arena on November, 3, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bef (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty ImageS)

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar struck a different tone Sunday after facing criticism for not supporting a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century.

The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly last week, a statement to Turkey after the NATO country invaded northern Syria. But Omar voted “present” on the resolution, and a spokesman later said the measure should’ve included recognition of earlier mass killings, including the slave trade and actions against Native Americans. 

Minnesota Armenians were sharply critical of Omar’s vote, saying the freshman Democratic congresswoman had failed to acknowledge a genocide. 

Omar, speaking Sunday night at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, addressed the Armenian genocide in her remarks.

“The fight for human rights is undeniable,” she said. “When we recognize injustices of the past and present -- whether it is genocide against Jewish people, Armenians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Native Americans or more -- we recognize, we realize that that recognition isn’t about punishing our political foes, but leading within a moral obligation.”

Rev. Tadeos Barseghyan, pastor at St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul, said he appreciated Omar’s remarks that recognition of mass killings shouldn’t be political. But, the congresswoman’s vote spoke louder than her words Sunday, Barseghyan said.

“The words sound wonderful and beautiful. They are right,” he said in a telephone interview. “But her record is not – I don’t think her vote is according to what she said at the rally.”

Barseghyan said Armenians had been the victim of politics, causing the mass killing to not get appropriate recognition for decades. He said he and other Minnesota Armenians were open to meeting with Omar.

“Hopefully she’s open to learning more and [growing] in understanding of people’s pain and past and listening to the survivors and their voices,” he said.