ANKARA: Turkey’s prime minister said the US Congress would harm bilateral ties if it backs a resolution recognising the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a genocide, the state Anatolian news agency said on 18 February.
The Democratic-controlled Congress is widely expected to back such a resolution in April, but the Bush administration is opposed to it, fearing the impact on relations its NATO ally.Ankara strongly denies claims by Armenia and others that its forces committed a systematic genocide against Armenians during World War One. But many parliaments around the world have backed similar resolutions recognising the killings as genocide.
“We do not expect Congress to make such a decision. But if it surprises us, I am worried this would cast a shadow over our strategic partnership in the future,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling American businessmen.He did not say what Turkey might do in such a case. In the past, it has temporarily frozen trade and other ties with countries that backed the genocide claims.
Ankara was particularly incensed last year when France’s parliament approved a bill that made it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. The bill did not become law.Erdogan accused the Armenian diaspora— especially strong in the United States and France— of exploiting the genocide issue to hurt Turkey and recalled that Armenian extremists gunned down dozens of Turkish diplomats in the past, mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s, to “avenge” the 1915 killings.
Erdogan also insisted Turkey’s small Armenian community was safe despite the murder last month of a prominent Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist gunman. Dink had urged Turkey to own up to its role in the 1915 killings.
Every spring Congress considers a resolution on the Armenian genocide issue but the White House always blocks it. This year it has become more worrisome for Turkey because the Armenian lobby has vocal supporters among the newly dominant Democrats.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and General Yasar Buyukanit, head of the army General Staff, have both lobbied members of Congress and the Bush administration on the Armenian issue during separate visits to Washington in the past two weeks.
Armenia says around 1.5 million Armenians perished in the killings. Turkey says large numbers of both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died during World War One as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing. It also notes that many Armenians backed Russian troops invading eastern Turkey at that time.