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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yerevan Abuzz Over U.S. Resolution

APA boy pausing on a Yerevan street to look at a wall-sized poster of 90 survivors of the Ottoman Empire mass killings.
YEREVAN, Armenia -- The chatter these days in Yerevan's Anahit Deluxe beauty salon isn't about the latest hairstyles, Armenian celebrities or the coming winter. It's about the arcane operations of the U.S. Congress, where the fate of a resolution labeling the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks hangs in the balance.

"If it passes, I'll treat all my girlfriends and customers that day to candy," said the salon's owner, Anahit Gezalyan, 59.

Thousands of kilometers away from the halls of Congress, U.S. House Resolution No. 106 is the talk of the town for Yerevan and the rest of this landlocked country of rugged highlands and grinding poverty.

If Congress recognizes the killings as genocide, it could be a cathartic moment for Armenians, who have been striving for decades to gain wide recognition of their stance in a dispute that has poisoned relations with modern Turkey.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Scholars view it as the first genocide of the 20th century, but Turkey says the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Jubilation followed the approval vote on Oct. 10 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Armenian lawmakers giving a standing ovation to their U.S. counterparts and a pro-government newspaper declaring in a headline: "Historical Justice Is Restored."

Sentiments have sobered since then, as Turkey -- a crucial U.S. ally and NATO member -- recalled its ambassador in protest, warning Washington of serious damage to bilateral relations and complications for the U.S. military operations in neighboring Iraq. Top members of President George W. Bush's administration have since lobbied U.S. lawmakers to refrain from backing the resolution, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that prospects for a vote were now uncertain.

On the streets of Yerevan, where a gradual construction boom is slowly bringing Western stores, flashy nightclubs and upscale restaurants to a run-down city, Armenians are watching how the vote unfolds -- through television and newspaper reports, on the Internet and with the help of the diaspora of more than 1 million people in the United States. An estimated 500,000 Armenians live in southern California alone.

"The Fate of the Resolution Is Uncertain," one newspaper declared. "Congressmen Regret That They Voted for the Resolution," another reported. Yet another has a running tally of representatives, pro and con.

"How much longer can Turkey ... blackmail Washington, plot demarche, threaten worse relations, frighten and so on?" asked Karen Vartazaryan, a 28-year-old web designer.

"We're convinced that the House of Representatives will make the right decision and will not abandon the democratic values that the United States was founded on," said Arpi Vartanian, regional director of the Armenian Assembly of America, an advocacy group.

Some Armenians fear the resolution could bring problems for Armenians living in Turkey, or the thousands who try to make a living by traveling there to buy goods for resale back home.

After years of disappointment, suffering and isolation, however, some are not holding their breath for the Congress vote. "So many times has recognition of the genocide been promised and so many times [the promise] hasn't been fulfilled. One can live through this," said Artem Yerkanyan, a commentator on the state-run channel Shant. "Life won't end after November."