Wednesday, March 21, 2007

U.S. Secretary of State dodges Armenia genocide questions

March 21, 2007
Source: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States should not be involved in a dispute between Turkey and Armenia over whether the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians almost a century ago constituted genocide.

Under intense questioning from Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, sponsor of a resolution that would declare that Turkey's Ottoman predecessor state committed genocide, Rice repeatedly avoided answering whether she believed there was any basis for historical debate on the matter.

"What we've encouraged the Turks and the Armenians to do is to have joint historical commissions that can look at this, to have efforts to examine their past, and in examining their past to get over it," she said in a congressional hearing. "I don't think it helps that process of reconciliation for the United States to enter this debate at that level."

The dispute involves the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Armenian advocates, backed by many historians, contend they died in an organized genocide; the Turks say they were victims of widespread chaos and governmental breakdown as the 600-year-old empire collapsed in the years before Turkey was born in 1923.

"Madame Secretary, your comments that there should be some kind of debate or discussion about the genocide suggests that you have a question about whether genocide occurred," Schiff said in the hearing on the State Department's spending for foreign operations.

The Bush administration, which has heard threats from top Turkish officials that passage of Schiff's resolution would damage relations, has been trying to quash it.

"I believe that this is something that the Turks and Armenians are best to address," Rice told Schiff.

Rice recently wrote to top members of congress, including House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, both Democrats in a position to decide the resolution's fate.

In her letter, Rice said the measure could inflict significant damage on U.S. efforts to reconcile the long-standing dispute between the West Asian neighbors.

She also noted that Turkey ended military ties with France after its National Assembly voted in October to make denial of Armenian genocide a crime. A similar move by Turkey with U.S. ties could have drastic repercussions on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which rely heavily on Turkish support.

In Wednesday's hearing, Schiff continued to press Rice on her own opinion about the early 20th century violence.

"You come out of academia. Is there any historic debate, outside of Turkey; is there any reputable historian that you are aware of that takes issue with the fact that the murder of a million and a half Armenians constituted genocide?" he asked Rice, a former professor at Stanford University.

"Congressman, I come out of academia, but I'm Secretary of State now, and I think the best way to proceed is for the United States not to be in the position of making this judgment," she responded.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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