Turkey threatens ‘serious consequences’ after US vote on Armenian genocide
Strategic partnership at risk despite Barack Obama’s attempts to stop
Robert Tait in Istanbul and Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Friday 5 March 2010 21.34
Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu says describing the 1915 Armenian
killings as genocide is an insult to Turkey’s ‘honour’. Photograph:
Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images
Turkey has threatened to downgrade its strategic relationship with the
US amid nationalist anger over a vote in the US Congress that defined
the mass killings of Armenians during the first world war as genocide.
Barack Obama’s administration, which regards Turkey as an important
ally, was today desperately seeking to defuse the row. It expressed
its frustration with the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs
committee, which voted 23-22 yesterday in favour of a resolution
labelling the 1915 massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians a
A furious Turkey may now deny the US access to the Incirlik air base,
a staging post for Iraq, as it did at the time of the 2003 invasion,
or withdraw its sizeable troop contribution to the coalition forces in
On the diplomatic front, the US needs the support of Turkey, which has
a seat on the UN security council, in the push for sanctions against
Iran over its nuclear programme. Turkey is also helpful to the US on a
host of other diplomatic issues in the Middle East and central Asia.
The White House and state department began work today to try to
prevent the controversial issue making its way to the floor of the
house for a full vote.
In Turkey, Suat Kiniklioglu, the influential deputy chairman for
external affairs in the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP),
warned of "major consequences" if the resolution was accepted by the
full House of Representatives.
"If they choose to bring this to the floor they will have to face the
fact that the consequences would be serious – the relationship would
be downgraded at every level," he said. "Everything from Afghanistan
to Pakistan to Iraq to the Middle East process would be affected.
"There would be major disruption to the relationship between Turkey and the US."
His comments reflected deep-seated anger throughout Turkish society,
as well as an official determination to press the Obama administration
into making sure the resolution progresses no further.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Washington for urgent
"consultations" immediately after the vote, which was screened live on
Its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, appeared to blame the outcome
on the White House, and said that describing the 1915 Armenian
killings as genocide was an insult to Turkey’s "honour". France and
Canada have both classified the killings as genocide, unlike Britain.
"The picture shows that the US administration did not put enough
weight behind the issue," Davutoglu told a news conference. "We are
seriously disturbed by the result."
The mass killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians has long been a highly
sensitive subject in Turkey. While the issue is now more openly
debated than in the past, Turkish officials insist that to describe it
as genocide equates it with the Nazi Holocaust.
Turkey admits that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died, but
disputes suggestions that it was part of a programme to eliminate the
population, insisting instead that many died of disease. It has also
suggested that the numbers have been inflated, and pointed out that
many Turks died at the hands of Armenians.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who is on a visit to South
America, stressed that both she and Obama opposed the house vote and
wanted to see it go no further. She said any action by Congress was
not appropriate. "We do not believe that the full Congress will, or
should, act upon that resolution, and we have made that clear to all
the parties involved."
Asked how she squared her support for the Armenian campaign on the
election campaign trail with her new position, she said circumstances
had changed, with the Turkish and Armenian governments engaged in
talks on normalisation and a historical commission established to look
at past events.
"I do not think it is for any other country to determine how two
countries resolve matters between them, to the extent that actions
that the United States might take could disrupt this process," she
The chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Ken
Hachikian, who led the lobbying campaign to get the house committee to
back the resolution, today dismissed the Turkish threat of reprisals.
"This is part of a Turkish pattern or huffing and puffing. With the
other 20 countries that have passed similar resolutions, they made
similar threats and then it was business as usual," he said.
Hachikian, who is based in Washington, said he hoped the vote would go
to the full house before 24 April, Armenian genocide commemoration
day. He accused Obama and Clinton of hypocrisy in trying to block a
vote, saying they had supported the Armenian campaign during the
He said the Turkish government had spent $1m during the past few
months lobbying members of Congress. His committee had spent only
$75,000, which included adverts in media outlets read by members of
Congress and their staff.
Although Hachikian claimed to have the votes needed, and 215 members
of the 435-member house have publicly backed the resolution, the
chances of a full vote are small, given the opposition from the White
House and state department.
The vote came as attempts at rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia
– which have no diplomatic ties – had already run aground. A protocol
signed in Geneva last October promising to restore relations has yet
to be ratified by the parliament of either country.
Both Turkish and Armenian analysts voiced fears that the protocols may
now be doomed.