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Turkey Angry At U.S. Armenian 'Genocide' Vote


Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned that passage of the resolution could harm Turkish-U.S. ties.
(RFE/RL) -- Turkey has reacted angrily to a U.S. congressional panel's resolution branding the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as "genocide."

Turkey recalled its ambassador to the United States for consultations after the House Foreign Affairs Committee narrowly approved the resolution on March 4. In a written statement, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the resolution accused Turkey "of a crime that it has not committed."

He also expressed serious concerns that the nonbinding resolution would harm Turkish-U.S. ties and efforts by Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia to bury a century of hostility.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would press ahead with those efforts, stemming from an October 2009 accord aimed at normalizing bilateral relations. But he also said parliamentary ratification of that agreement was now at risk.

"Rapprochement needs political will," Davutoglu said. "This is hard to reach, but if we work together it's not an unreachable goal."

An elderly man visits the genocide memorial in Yerevan.
Davutoglu also said Ankara was "seriously disturbed" by the measure and warned Washington against harming its strategic interests.

"Damaging these relations for the small interests of local politics will not harm Turkey [but] will harm the strategic vision of the United States," he said. "Therefore, we want to discuss everything and share everything with our ally, the United States, from this perspective, not from the perspective of the small interests of local politics."

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken to Congressional leaders about the White House's desire that the resolution not come to the floor of the House for a full vote.

"The secretary has talked to Hill officials, other officials have as well," Crowley said. "I think they understand our position and that we don't think any further Congressional action is appropriate."

Crowley said the Obama administration believes another vote on the resolution could interfere with the nascent relations between Turkey and Armenia.

"Any further Congressional action will impede the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia," Crowley said. "We continue to believe that the best way for Turkey and Armenia to address their shared past is through their ongoing effort to normalize relations."

Armenia, however, described the vote as a boost for human rights.

Armenian-American groups have sought congressional affirmation of the killings as genocide for decades and welcomed the March 4 vote -- despite expressing disappointment at the Obama administration's efforts to block the measure.

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said the resolution was "another proof of the devotion of the American people to universal human values" and was "an important step toward the prevention of crimes against humanity."

A senior member of the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) also welcomed the U.S. move.

Armen Rustamian -- who is also head of the Foreign Relations Committee at the Armenian National Assembly -- said it gives strength to the party’s efforts to have the October accord renegotiated to better defend what the party sees as Armenia’s national interests.

“I want to congratulate all of us on this success. This is also important because we are trying to break this curtain of silence that originated against the backdrop of the [Turkey-Armenia] protocols. And this is a very important step, the first step," Rustamian said.

"I am sure that we should continue this. I think all who followed these discussions understood very well and saw how these protocols may impede the international [genocide] recognition process. We’ve been talking about this for so long and it seemed to many that it is a biased opinion.”

A family of Armenian deportees
In Turkey ally Azerbaijan, the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, Ali Ahmadov, expressed regret and denounced a "falsification of history."

He told journalists that his party had sent a letter to U.S. lawmakers protesting that the resolution is against both Turkey and Azerbaijan’s interests.

Ahmadov said it would complicate yet another issue -- the resolution of the long-standing conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The disputed territory, legally part of Azerbaijan but occupied and controlled by Armenia, has complicated the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

"The adoption of such a decision, which aims at pressing Turkey in rapprochement with Armenia, is directed against linking Turkey’s opening borders with Armenia to the liberation of Azerbaijan’s occupied lands," Ahmadov said, "and is therefore against a quick and fair resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

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

The committee had already backed similar resolutions in the past, but pressure from the previous U.S. administrations prevented them from reaching the House floor.

Ankara this time, too, has urged the U.S. administration to block the resolution.

Aleksandr Arzumanian, a senior member of the opposition Armenian National Congress and a former foreign minister, tells RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the resolution doesn’t stand a better chance this time either.

“We have already seen this numerous times before. It’s like déjà vu, as it happened in 2000, 2005, 2007 -- when the resolution passed through the Foreign Affairs Committee, after which, following calls from the administration, the speaker did not bring it to the House floor," Arzumanian said.

"The same fate is awaiting [this resolution], and in this sense I expect no surprise. Moreover, the rejection of the resolution will be much easier to do this year because there are more serious arguments in consequence of the poor policy of the current [Armenian] authorities. That is, as long as there is the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, [the passage of such a resolution] could hamper this process and will not contribute to the normalization of these relations.”

Armenia wants Turkey to recognize the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians as an act of genocide and has campaigned for them to be recognized as such internationally. But successive Turkish governments have refused to do so. Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed in 1915 during the war and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire but argues that many Turks were casualties, too.

It also argues that the death toll has been inflated and says there was no systematic attempt to exterminate the empire's largest remaining Christian community.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services; written by Antoine Blua

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