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U.S. Congressional Panel Backs Recognition Of Armenian 'Genocide'


People lay flowers in April 2009 at a memorial in Yerevan to the victims of the World War I-era killings.

People lay flowers in April 2009 at a memorial in Yerevan to the victims of the World War I-era killings.

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. congressional committee has voted to approve a nonbinding resolution recognizing as "genocide" the mass killing of Armenians by Turkish forces at the end of World War I.

The vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee was 23-22 in favor of the resolution, ignoring objections by the administration of President Barack Obama and the government of Turkey.

Turkey responded immediately, recalling its ambassador to Washington.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that he was seriously concerned that the resolution would harm relations between Ankara and Washington. He also expressed concern that the move might threaten efforts by Turkish and Armenian officials to turn the page on a century of mutual mistrust and hostility.

Armenian officials described the vote as a boost for human rights.

The resolution now goes to the full House, where it is unclear whether it will pass.

White House spokesman Mike Hammer said that one day before the vote, Obama called Turkish President Abdullah Gul to express his appreciation for Turkey's efforts to normalize relations with Armenia.

Hammer said Obama urged Turkey to rapidly ratify a deal reached in October with Armenia that would open the border between the two countries. The deal still must be approved by the Turkish parliament, and Turkish lawmakers have warned that the committee's vote could stall progress.

Meanwhile, the White House urged the Foreign Affairs Committee not to pass the resolution, saying it would offend Turkey at a time when relations with Ankara are crucial for U.S. Middle East policy.

A White House statement said that on March 3, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with the committee's chairman, Howard Berman, a Democrat from California, urging him to let Turkey and Armenia resolve the issue between themselves. The two countries are now in talks on improving their relations.

Chief executives from the U.S. aerospace and defense industries also had warned passage of the resolution could lead to a "rupture in U.S.-Turkey relations" and put American jobs at risk.

Before the vote, members of the committee debated the issue vigorously. In opening the hearing, Berman noted that historians and experts on international law agree that the deaths constituted genocide.

"As crimes of genocide continue to plague the world, Turkey's policy of denying the Armenian genocide gives license to those who perpetrate genocide everywhere," stated Berman.

Berman acknowledged that Turkey has for decades been a vital and loyal NATO ally of the United States, but said any souring in bilateral relations over a U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide would pass quickly because Turks understand the importance of their link to the United States.

He also noted that nearly two dozen other countries and the European Parliament already have recognized the Armenian genocide. Berman said it's important that the United States, which views itself as a beacon of human rights around the world, should do the same.

Some members of the committee who opposed the resolution countered that the United States shouldn't be risking any bad feelings with a predominantly Muslim state at a time when Washington is trying to bolster its standing with the Islamic world.

One of them was Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from the southern state of Florida.

"We need to ensure that our decisions and our actions concerning the resolution before us do not have unintended consequences that could place at risk critical U.S. security interests, our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and our troops serving in harm's way."

Representative Dan Burton, a Republican from the midwestern state of Indiana, reminded the committee of the talks between Armenia and Turkey. He said the United States shouldn't intrude but leave the issue for them to resolve.

"But the question is: Is it the right thing to pass this kind of resolution? What good is it going to do? I don't see that it is going to help anything. Now, the two countries in question are trying to negotiate a settlement, to bring in international experts to look at all the historical facts and come up with some kind of a conclusion. It seems to me that's the best way to let this thing be solved," said Burton.

Despite such objections, Berman urged the committee to vote in favor of the resolution. He said he doubted that Turkey would allow its ties with the United States to suffer too much.

The committee chairman said he believed that just as the United States values good relations with Turkey, so must Ankara value its relations with Washington.

written by Andrew Tully based on RFE/RL and wire reports

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