Turkey Criticizes US House Committee Vote on Armenian Genocide


Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday that the vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the mass killing of Armenians early in the last century as genocide would damage ties with the Obama administration and set back reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia.

At least twice before, the House committee has passed similar resolutions, but that was before Turkey and Armenia were in the midst of an internationally mediated reconciliation process.

“Each interference by a third party will make this normalization impossible,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a televised news conference. “If an adviser had whispered ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ in the ear of a member of the House of Representatives, the vote would have come out differently. Can history be treated in such an unserious manner?”

The vote on the nonbinding resolution was 23 to 22.

In recent years, Turkey has sought to play a bigger regional role, re-establishing ties with nearby Arab countries and reaching out to Armenia, whose border with Turkey has been closed since the 1990s, when Armenia was at war with its neighbor, Azerbaijan, a Turkish ally. In 2008, Turkey’s president paid the first visit by a Turkish leader to Armenia in the two nations’ history.

The attempts at normalization began last October with a series of agreements, whose signing was blessed by the Obama administration and attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Hard-line Turkish nationalists strongly oppose the rapprochement, and analysts in Turkey said the additional pressure from the United Sates in the form of Thursday’s vote will make proceeding more difficult for the Turkish government.

“It’s a big blow to the process,” said Yavuz Baidar, a columnist with the English language daily, Today’s Zaman. “This means it will drag on for at least another year.”

At the same time, he said, Turkey had been slow to move forward in the agreements with Armenia, causing the process to idle even before the committee vote.

The resolution is less likely to hurt relations with the United States unless it is brought to the floor and passed by the full House — an unlikely possibility, analysts say.

In 2007, the Bush administration, fearful of losing Turkish cooperation over Iraq, lobbied forcefully to keep the resolution from reaching the House floor.

The Obama administration had urged the committee to forgo a vote.

After the vote Thursday, Turkey reacted sharply, recalling its ambassador, Namik Tan, from Washington for consultations.

Turkey’s newspapers featured the news of the vote — and of Turkey’s diplomatic response — on their front pages.

“We called the ambassador back,” proclaimed Hurriyet, the largest circulation newspaper. “A vote crisis with the United States,” Milliyet, another daily, said. “A vote like a comedy,” read the headline in the newspaper Sabah.

Historians say as many as 1.5 million Armenians died in a forced migration by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Turkey denies that this was a planned genocide, and the topic had long been taboo in Turkey, with no mention of it in history books. Writers and intellectuals, including the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have faced criminal charges for airing the debate.

But in recent years, Turkish intellectuals had made some progress at pushing it out into the public debate, and ethnic Armenians in Turkey fear that passage by the full House — which would be unprecedented — would seriously harm those efforts.

Mr. Davutoglu, the foreign minister, criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to halt Thursday’s vote, saying it had not adequately explained the strength of cooperation between Turkey and the United States, NATO partners. He said that in absence of more effective efforts, “the picture ahead will not be a positive one.”

Some Turkish analysts said Ankara might put up diplomatic obstacles for Washington’s broader regional policies, but it seemed unlikely Turkey would respond strongly unless the resolution won broader House support.

“On one side of the scale, there is the Congress under the influence of ethnic lobby groups, and on the other, there are the greater United States’ interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Caucasus,” said Sedat Ergin, a foreign policy analyst at the Hurriyet newspaper. “It is up to the American administration to come up with the best choice between the two.” NYT