Turkish Premier Tells Bush Genocide Bill Would Hurt Ties

by Michael Abramowitz; Washington Post Staff Writer

The Washington Post
October 6, 2007 Saturday
Suburban Edition

The prime minister of Turkey telephoned President Bush yesterday to
complain about a resolution before Congress describing the killing
of 1.5 million Armenians during and after World War I as a "genocide."

Bush expressed his opposition to the measure and his belief that
passage would be "harmful" to U.S.-Turkey relations to Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"The president has described the events of 1915 as ‘one of the greatest
tragedies of the 20th century’ but believes that the determination
of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter
for historical inquiry, not legislation," Johndroe said.

But Bush’s words may not be enough to diminish strong congressional
support for the resolution. Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the resolution is likely to be approved
in committee next week and, with 226 co-sponsors, appears to have
the votes to pass on the floor. While Pelosi has spoken to Turkish
officials and is mindful of their concerns, Daly added, "it’s a
bipartisan bill" and "she is supportive of bringing it the floor."

Such resolutions long have irritated U.S.-Turkish relations, but
passage of such a measure has been this close only once: In 2000,
a similar resolution was pulled from the House floor after President
Bill Clinton intervened.

Turkey has acknowledged that large numbers of Armenians were killed
between 1915 and 1923, during the latter stages of the Ottoman Empire,
but it rejects descriptions of the killings as a genocide and notes
that many Muslim Turks were also killed during this time period.

Among the retaliatory steps being mentioned in Ankara is the
possibility of denying the United States the use of an airbase in
southern Turkey, through which the Pentagon moves a considerable amount
of supplies for the war effort in Iraq. Erdogan told Bush in the call
that the bill would also "damage efforts to develop relations between
Turkey and Armenia," according to the state-run Anatolian news agency.

At a briefing for reporters yesterday, Daniel Fried, the top
State Department official in charge of Europe policy, said the
administration does not deny "that a terrible and inexcusable tragedy
of mass killings and forced exile" befell the Armenians. "But we do not
believe that this bill would advance either the cause of historical
truth or Turkish-Armenian reconciliation or the interests of the
United States, and we oppose it."

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the author of the legislation, said
in a statement this week that 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. But we also have
a powerful contemporary reason as well — how can we take effective
action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn
genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?"

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