Democrat lawmaker says voted for Armenian Genocide resolution because Turkey does not respect U.S.

Democrat Representative Steve Cohen, co-chairman of the Turkish-U.S. relations chamber, on Thursday said the voted in favour of a decision recognising the mass killing of Armenians early last century as genocide in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent rift with Washington, The Hill reported.

A non-binding resolution recognising the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide passed by 405-11 on Tuesday.

“I’ve always opposed the Armenian resolution, and I voted for it this week. I voted for it because Turkey doesn’t seem to respect the United States at all,” The Hill quoted Cohen as saying during a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing at U.S. Congress.

Turkey and the United States have been at odds over various issues recently, including Turkey's purchase of Russian air missiles and Turkish operation in northeast Syria targetting previously U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.

Henri Barkey, a professor from Lehigh University who left Turkey following the July 2016 coup attempt since he was accused of being a coup plotter, Talip Küçükcan, a former politician from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Eric Schwartz, the chairman of Refugees International, Merve Tahiroğlu, Turkey Program Coordinator of Project on Middle East Democracy and Gönül Tol, Director of Center for Turkish Studies at Middle East Institute, participated in the hearing as witnesses.

Tahiroğlu said Erdoğan has severely eroded judicial independence and the rule of law in Turkey and the worsening conditions in the country should matter to the United States, reminding the imprisonment of Evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson.

"Courts in Turkey were never fully independent. But Erdoğan’s subjugation of the judiciary is unmatched in recent history. During his 18 years in power, Erdoğan has hollowed out Turkey’s judiciary, packing key judicial positions,"  Tahiroglu said.

"Today, Turkey’s highly politicized judiciary functions as one of the primary facilitators of Erdoğan’s assaults on Turkish democracy... Journalists have been among the courts’ top targets. With more than 120 journalists in prison accused of bogus terrorism or propaganda charges. Their arrests have come as Erdoğan has used state of emergency decrees to shut down more than 45 newspapers, 16 television channels, and 29 publishing houses," she said.

Turkish offensive was launched on Oct. 9 to create a safe zone along its border with Syria that is cleared of Syrian Kurdish forces, where millions of Turkey’s Syrian refugees plan to be resettled. Several thousand Syrians have returned to northeast Syria, according to Turkish officials. But, several human rights bodies accused Turkey of forcefully resettling Syrians.

Talip Küçükcan, in his long testimony, strongly denied claims about the enforced return of Syrian refugees. 

"Turkey faces accusations that Syrians will be forced to return to operation zone and demographic engineering will take place. The evidence on the ground suggests that these claims are founded on false presumptions because there have been no demographic shifts following previous operations, namely The Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Olive Branch in 2018,” Küçükcan said.

Turkey did not force Syrian refugees to return Jarablus and Afrin. They returned on their own will once relatively stable environment was established which serve as a good model for northeast Syria where Turkey is trying to establish a safe zone for voluntary return, he said.

Another witness at the hearing, Eric Schwartz, responded to former AKP politician's testimony which intended to firmly deny accusations levelled by many international organisations and media on demographic change in the region.

“According to credible estimates, more than half of the Kurdish population in Afrin was displaced in operation Olive Branch. In the wake of the operation. Don’t believe me, Human Rights Watch reported and I quote, 'Turkey-backed armed groups in the Free Syrian Army seized, looted and destroyed Kurdish civilians in Afrin district in Northern Syria..'" Schwartz said. 

"If the governor of Turkey is confident about the voluntariness of the return, which is a nonsense, they have UN High Commissioner of Refugees consults with people. There is abundant evidence of forced return. The best evidence of this, President Erdoğan himself who is talking about the bizarre way of depositing millions of people in northeast Syria without regard to where they come from, consultation with UN, it is ridiculous, you need to call these issues out. You have to make policy based on facts," he added.