05 10 2007- Zaman: Countdown Begins for US
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.