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TURKEY: Anger at U.S. over Armenian genocide resolution

March 5, 2010 | 10:16 am


Turkish reactions to a proposed United States resolution that would identify the killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces in the early 20th century as genocide showed dismay and disappointment, but so far there have been no serious calls to end the strategic partnership between the two countries.

"If [the resolution] is approved, it will definitely create turmoil," Bulent Aras, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Technical University, told The Times. "But the expectation is that this is a gesture to the Armenian diaspora and will not be approved."

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the U.S. minutes after the resolution passed committee on Thursday, although observers say the move is temporary and mostly symbolic.

At the time of this posting, it was still unknown if the resolution would make it to a vote. After publicly failing to pass a similar resolution in 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would only bring it to the floor for a vote with the necessary votes to pass it guaranteed.

"Turkey and the U.S. share positions on Iraq, Afghanistan, the [Arab-Israeli] peace process, so Turkey will do nothing to hurt that, they don't have leverage on those issues, but Turkey will hold the Obama administration responsible for harming normalization between Armenia and Turkey," Aras said.

Turkey and Armenia signed two agreements last year to normalize relations by establishing diplomatic ties and opening their border, but the implementation of those agreements has suffered a number of setbacks since. 

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has spent considerable political capital pushing for normalization, which could break down altogether in the wake of the resolution.

The congressional panel's decision has opened old, painful wounds for the Armenians and the Turks and created tension between Turkey, the U.S. and the Armenian diaspora, much of which is settled in America.

In the period just after World War I, a severely weakened Ottoman Empire attempted to consolidate its power by violently suppressing ethnic minorities, including the Armenians, who say the massacres and forced marches were a systematic attempt to exterminate them as a people. Although there is no consensus on how many Armenians were killed during this period, estimates range from 500,000 to 1.5 million.

Armenians maintain a genocide took place, but Turks feel strongly that the killings, however brutal, were motivated by a desire to crack down on political dissent and treason rather than annihilate an entire ethnic group.

Tülin Daloglu, the Washington bureau chief of the online Turkish newspaper Haberturk, described a "new climate" in Turkey in which Turks are more willing to admit that atrocities took place, but that most Turks disagree that they constituted a genocide.

"When you are talking about a genocide, it’s a serious word," Daloglu said. "What had happened in the past is something no one should deny, but when you look at it from the Turkish point of view, we have a different reading of the history," 

Prominent Armenian organizations in the U.S. have lauded the resolution and strongly criticized Turkey. The Armenian Assembly of America, a Washington-based lobbying group, said the debate “raised questions about the Turkish government’s credibility" and accused it of waging "an international campaign of denial."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Protesters, holding Turkish flags, shout slogans during a demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on March 5, 2010. Credit: AFP / ADEM ALTAN