Turkey committed to Armenia peace despite US vote

Turkey said on Friday it was determined to press ahead with efforts to normalize ties with Armenia despite a U.S. congressional panel vote terming as genocide the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

"We are determined to press ahead with normalization of relations with Armenia," Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference. However, he said parliamentary ratification of peace accords with Armenia were at risk.

The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday narrowly voted to approve the nonbinding resolution, which calls on President Barack Obama to ensure U.S. policy formally refers to the killings as genocide. Turkey strongly denies the killings amounted to genocide.

The congressional panel passed the symbolic resolution, albeit by the slimmest 23-22 margin, and set the stage for a full vote in the House of Representatives.

The panel acted despite a last-minute appeal by the Obama administration against the measure. The vote opened the way for the measure possibly to be considered by the full House, although it was unclear whether it would come to a vote there, and if so whether it could pass, given the closer-than-expected count on Thursday.

The Turkish government had also pressed lawmakers to drop the matter.

The vote triggered an immediate condemnation from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who recalled Turkey's ambassador to Washington for consultations. Erdogan said he worried the measure would harm Turkish-U.S. ties and efforts by Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia to end a century of hostility.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said the vote was a boost for human rights.

The controversy put Obama in a tight spot between NATO ally Turkey and the demands of Armenian-Americans, traditionally a constituency of his Democratic Party in key states like California and New Jersey, before pivotal U.S. congressional elections in November.

In a telephone call with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday, Obama emphasized his administration had urged lawmakers to consider the potential damage to efforts to normalize Armenian-Turkish ties, a senior administration official said.

At a news conference in Costa Rica on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she and Obama, who both supported proposed Armenia genocide resolutions as presidential candidates, had changed their minds because they believed the drive to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia was bearing fruit.

Turkey, a Muslim secular democracy that plays a vital role for U.S. interests from Iraq to Iran and in Afghanistan and the Middle East, accepts that many Armenians were killed by Ottoman forces but denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounted to genocide -- a term employed by many Western historians and some foreign parliaments.

Turkey regards such accusations as an affront to its national honor.

Uncertain outlook for measure

The outlook for the measure passing the full House is as "tight" as it was in committee, the panel's chairman, Howard Berman, said after the vote.

Similar resolutions have been introduced in past sessions of Congress but never passed both houses. Ronald Reagan was the only president to publicly call the killings genocide.

Clinton called Berman on Wednesday saying the measure could harm efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. She warned on Thursday against a vote by the full House.

"I do not think it is for any other country to determine how two countries resolve matters between them," she said in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Berman brushed aside Clinton's entreaties. While Turkey was a "vital" ally, "nothing justifies Turkey's turning a blind eye to the reality of the Armenian genocide," he said.

The price on Turkey's 2030 benchmark Global Bond did not change after the vote. It remained down 0.44 points in price to 160, yielding 6.465 percent.

Turkey and Armenia signed accords last year to normalize ties after a century of bitter hostility that traces its roots to the 1915 mass killing and deportation of Armenians. The accords have yet to go through either parliament.

In his telephone call with Gul, Obama urged quick ratification of the accords, the White House said.

"The Turkish people and we all here are extremely upset," a Turkish member of parliament, Suat Kiniklioglu, told reporters in Washington after the vote, which took over two hours.

"You will see in the coming days and week that the Turkish parliament and the Turkish government will take all necessary actions to make our displeasure known in no uncertain terms. ... No one can equate our grandfathers with Nazis."

Despite the victory in committee, the Armenian-American lobby was upset with the Obama administration for having come out against the measure at the last minute. It was a "stab in the back," Kenneth Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, told reporters.

The outcome was bipartisan, although Democrats tended to vote for the measure, while Republicans mostly voted against.

The resolution urges Obama to use the term "genocide" when he delivers his annual message on the Armenian massacres in April—something Obama avoided doing last year.

-- Agencies

Turkey | Politics | 2010-03-05 |