US congressional panel approves controversial Armenian genocide bill

11/10/2007

A US congressional committee has passed a non-binding resolution describing the mass killings of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman empire as genocide. Although the bill has no force of law, it has prompted a sharp reaction from Turkey.

(The Washington Post, Washington Times, Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, FT, The Guardian, Independent, VOA, Zaman - 11/10/07; New York Times, Reuters, VOA, BBC, International Herald Tribune - 10/10/07)

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Turkish President Abdullah Gul denounced the vote as "unacceptable". [Getty Images]

The US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution Wednesday (October 10th), defining the early 20th century mass killings of Armenians in Turkey as genocide. The move, criticised by top officials in both Ankara and Washington, clears the way for a full House vote on the non-binding bill.

Resolution 106 was approved by a 27-21 vote, despite calls by US President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates to reject the measure.

"We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915," Bush said in remarks ahead of Wednesday's vote. "This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."

Armenians maintain that 1.5 million of their kin were massacred by the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1917 in a bid to drive them out of eastern Turkey. While acknowledging that thousands of Armenians did indeed perish during the turbulent times of World War I, Turkey staunchly denies that a genocide took place.

The position of the Bush administration is that Turkey and Armenia should be left to resolve their dispute and that the United States would not facilitate reconciliation by joining that debate.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) and a number of other lawmakers in late January, is non-binding and largely symbolic. Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, explained on Wednesday that such measures do not have the power to change US law or policy.

"A non-binding resolution expresses the sentiments or opinion of Congress," Lichtman told the Voice of America. "It could be one house of Congress or both houses of Congress, but it does not actually change policy because it does not have the force of law."

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Nevertheless, Turkish officials had lobbied hard against its adoption. Its passage by the committee Wednesday sparked a prompt reaction.

"The committee's approval of this resolution was an irresponsible move, which at a greatly sensitive time will make relations with a friend and ally, and a strategic partnership nurtured over generations, more difficult," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Voicing regret over approval of the bill, US Assistant Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said Rice would call Turkish leaders on Thursday to explain the US position.

"The United States recognises the immense suffering of the Armenian people due to mass killings and forced deportations at the end of the Ottoman Empire," he said. "We support a full and fair accounting of the atrocities that befell as many as 1.5 million Armenians during World War I, which House Resolution 106 does not do."

"We will obviously impress upon the Turkish leadership our deep disappointment, the fact that we opposed this resolution," Burns said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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