Wednesday, October 10, 2007

U.S. House Panel Backs Armenian Measure Over Turkish Objections

Oct. 10, 2007
By Viola Gienger
This is a sober moment for both USA and Turkey. USA is voting its conscience and affirming its moral high ground. Turkey in turn will realize that threats are counter productive. This is ushering a new era for fighting world genocides.
(Bloomberg) -- A congressional panel approved a resolution calling for the U.S. to designate the World War I-era killings of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, amid warnings that the measure would harm relations with Turkey.

The nonbinding resolution, backed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a vote of 27-21, calls for a reversal in the practice by successive presidential administrations of avoiding referring to the deaths as genocide in an annual April message commemorating the event. More than half of the House's 435 members have signed on as co-sponsors.

``The sad truth is the modern government of Turkey refuses to come to terms with this genocide,'' said Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey. ``It is this denial that keeps the Armenian genocide a burning issue.''

The measure, encouraged for years by ethnic Armenians in the U.S., has prompted threats by Turkey to cut off cooperation with the U.S. in the war in neighboring Iraq. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also borders Syria and Iran.

President George W. Bush and other administration officials warned that the resolution, pushed by California Democrat Adam Schiff, threatens relations with Turkey, an ally the U.S. is relying on for help throughout the Middle East.

`The Tragic Suffering'

``We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people,'' Bush said today on the White House South Lawn. ``This resolution is not the right response to these mass killings.''

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said the resolution threatens U.S. security interests.

``Access would be very much at risk if this resolution passes,'' Gates said outside the White House.

Turkey denies that a systematic slaughter of Armenians took place, saying Armenians and Turks alike were killed in ethnic clashes between 1915 and 1923 after Armenian groups sided with Russia in World War I.

Passage of the resolution will hurt U.S. efforts to bolster security in Iraq because Turkey will be less inclined to support its NATO ally, Egemen Bagis, an adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Turkey's CNN Turk news channel.

``This draft resolution will put U.S. soldiers in danger,'' he said. ``If our ally accuses us of crimes that we did not commit then we will start to question the advantages of our cooperation.''

Left to Historians

Defining the incidents should be left to historians, Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Nabi Sensoy said in a Sept. 13 interview.

The resolution calls on the president to ensure that U.S. foreign policy ``reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity'' related to issues including documented evidence that the event constituted genocide.

Bush also should ``accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation'' of 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide in his annual April message commemorating the killings, according to the resolution.

In previous years, the Bush administration persuaded then House Speaker Dennis Hastert to block such votes. Current Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has supported genocide resolutions in the past.

California is home to as many as a third of Americans of Armenian descent. California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, whose district is 11 percent ethnic Armenian according to the Almanac of American Politics, is pushing the measure.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said earlier today that Democratic leaders will push the measure through the House before Congress completes its work for this year.

``It will come to the floor before we leave here on November 16,'' Hoyer said. He and Pelosi met today with Sensoy, who reiterated his warnings that relations between the countries would be harmed.

In the Senate, the measure is co-sponsored by 32 of the 100 members, led by Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin.

Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole urged the House Foreign Affairs Committee members to pass today's resolution.

``I believe that any diplomatic fallout will be transient and that Turkey and the United States have a broad and deep relationship that will survive our recognition of this historic truth,'' he said in a letter to committee members dated Oct. 5.

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at .

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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