Saturday, October 6, 2007

ANKARA: Countdown Begins For US 'Genocide' Vote

A resolution upholding Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of
the Ottoman Empire is expected to advance in the US Congress next
week amid Turkish warnings that US-Turkey relations will receive a
serious blow if it passes.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has previously
expressed support for genocide claims but it is not clear whether
she would bring the resolution to a vote.

The US House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs announced
on Tuesday that it would debate the resolution next Wednesday. Similar
measures have been debated in Congress for decades but have repeatedly
been thwarted amid concerns about damaging relations with Turkey,
an important NATO ally. Tuesday's announcement signals that the
Democratic leaders who control the House support the measure. With
this support, the bill stands a good chance of passing in a vote by
the full House this time around.

The US administration has said repeatedly that it opposes the
resolution. Responding to a question posed at a daily press briefing
on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the
administration was "working very closely" with Congress on the
matter. "As you know, it's -- every time one of these comes up it's
a very sensitive issue. And we are conveying to members of Congress
individually and in groups our views on it," he said. In Ankara,
US Embassy spokesperson Kathy Schalow was quoted as saying that
both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador Ross Wilson
were in touch with members of Congress to prevent passage of the
resolution. "We are doing what we can to prevent it," she was quoted
as saying by private ANKA news agency. If the resolution is approved
by the committee, it would be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to
decide whether to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

While Pelosi has previously expressed support for recognizing the
events as genocide, it is not clear whether she would bring the
resolution to a vote.

But according to two congressional aides, who spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, the committee would
not have taken up the resolution without Pelosi's support. The measure
is expected to pass in the committee and has widespread support in
the full House, should Pelosi allow a vote. Recently, eight former
secretaries of state wrote a letter to Pelosi warning that passage
of the resolution would harm strategic Turkish-US relations and deal
a blow to Turkish-Armenian reconciliation efforts.

Though the largely symbolic measure would have no binding effect on
US foreign policy, it could nonetheless damage an already strained
relationship with Turkey.

After France voted last year to make denial of the Armenian genocide
a crime, the Turkish government suspended its military ties with the
country. A similar move against the United States could have drastic
repercussions on its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which rely
heavily on Turkish support. Turkish officials have not elaborated
on possible consequences of the resolution's eventual passage, but
observers say such drastic measures as closure of an air base used
by the US Air Force in Ýncirlik in southern Turkey could be the
possible outcome.

The measure comes at a time when public opinion polls show that the
United States has become widely unpopular in Turkey, in opposition
to US policy in Iraq. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found
the United States had only a 9 percent favorable rating in Turkey.

Turkey categorically rejects charges of genocide, saying Turks as
well as Armenians died when Armenians in eastern Anatolia took up
arms against the Ottoman Empire in collaboration with the invading
Russian army in hope of creating an independent state in part of
Anatolian lands. The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff,
says the bill's passage is overdue and urgent, with time running out
for the remaining survivors of the killings. "The United States has
a compelling historical and moral reason to recognize the Armenian
Genocide, which cost a million-and-a-half people their lives," Schiff
said in a statement.

Turkey argues that the US House of Representatives is the wrong
institution to arbitrate such a sensitive historical dispute. It
has proposed that an international commission of experts examine
Armenian and Turkish archives, an offer turned down by Armenia. In
the meantime, Turkey has been lobbying intensively in Congress, with
support from the Bush administration, to quash the resolution. "The
administration is very much against this resolution and has been very
active in trying to stop it," said Turkey's ambassador to Washington,
Nabi Þensoy. "We are very grateful for their help." But Þensoy said
that Turkey's government may have to respond should the resolution
pass. "We are not in the business of threatening, but nobody is going
to win if this is passed," he said.

Babacan tells Oskanian Turkey open to dialogue Foreign Minister Ali
Babacan met on Tuesday with his Armenian counterpart, Vartan Oskanian,
in the first meeting between the two ministers since Babacan was
appointed to his post after the Turkish general elections held on
July 22. The meeting at UN headquarters in New York was held at
the request of Armenia and was mostly a "greeting" aimed at the
two ministers getting to know each other, the Anatolia news agency
reported. The general atmosphere was positive, and Babacan's message
to his Armenian counterpart was that Turkey is open to dialogue with
Armenia on disputed issues.

The meeting came as the US House of Representatives' Committee on
Foreign Affairs prepares to debate and vote on a resolution next week
declaring that Armenians were subject to genocide at the hands of the
Ottoman Turks in the beginning of the last century. Babacan said at
the meeting that history could not be written by votes of politicians
in parliaments and brought to mind a proposal Turkey made to Armenia
in 2005 for joint study of that portion of history. The Armenian
minister, for his part, reiterated Armenia's request for the opening
of its border gate with Turkey, which has been closed for more than
a decade. Ýstanbul Today's Zaman

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