A Vatican archive of documents was released in 2015, on the centenary of the genocide, showing the Holy See's commitment, along with other Catholics, to help genocide victims in the region. The Vatican also worked to stem the tide of Christian persecution in the Ottoman Empire that had been occurring in the decades prior to 1915.
Pope Francis has referred to the killings as genocide multiple times, using the term at a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 12, 2015, ahead of the centenary.
A year later, speaking at the presidential palace in Armenia in June of 2016, the pope called the "genocide" the "'Great Evil' that struck your people" and said that it "was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples."
Members of Congress said that Tuesday's vote was a significant step toward fighting silence and ignorance on the matter.
"Today, we end a century of international silence. There will not be another period of indifference or international ignorance to the lives lost to systematic murder," Rep. Bilirakis stated on Tuesday. "Genocide is genocide, Mr. Speaker, even if our so-called strategic allies perpetrated it."
"I found Pope Francis' words and explicit use of the term 'genocide' to be another wake-up call for the world," Bilirakis said on Tuesday, noting that Turkey's recent military incursion into northern Syria resulted in "extremely concerning" acts committed against local populations including Kurds.
While U.S. officials have at times referred to the Ottoman Empire's massacre of Armenians as "genocide," officially recognizing the genocide committed a century ago has proved difficult because of the U.S. relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and geo-strategic ally.
The U.S. did submit a written statement on the Armenian genocide to the International Court of Justice in 1951, and President Ronald Reagan mentioned it by name in his proclamation on April 22, 1981; two joint congressional resolutions, H.J. Res. 148, adopted in 1975, and H.J. Res. 247, adopted in September of 1984, also recognized it.
Nevertheless, the Tuesday House resolution was the product of almost two full decades of preparation.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired congressional hearings on the Armenian genocide in 2000 and 2015, said that support for a resolution on the genocide was squelched in the House due to pressure by the Clinton administration in 2000. A similar attempt in 2007 was unsuccessful, he noted.
Smith said Tuesday that 28 countries and 49 U.S. states have recognized the Armenian genocide "despite Turkish Government threats-and they do make threats."
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"As Pope Francis said at his Mass marking the 100th year of genocide: 'Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,'" Smith said.