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(photo credit: AP [file])
The US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to approve a bipartisan bill on Wednesday that calls on the US to recognize the World War I massacres of Armenians as genocide.
The results of the vote will set the stage for a subsequent full House consideration. If approved in the Committee, it will be up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime supporter of such recognition, to allow for a vote in the House.
The bill is largely expected to pass both the Committee and the full House despite mounting pressure from Turkey. The bipartisan measure currently has 226 co-sponsors - more than a majority in the House and the most support an Armenian Genocide resolution has ever received.
"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," said Rep. Adam Schiff, who sponsored the bill, in a statement. "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?" Similar bills have been debated in Congress for decades, but Armenian groups have repeatedly been undermined by concerns about damaging relations with Turkey.
Now, in the days preceding the vote, Turkish officials warned that approval of the bill may mean that ties between Turkey the US and Israel may suffer.
In a letter to Pelosi, Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said that "it might take decades to heal negative effects of the bill if it passes," AP reported. And last week eight former secretaries of state, Republican and Democrat, urged Pelosi to block it.
On Friday, efforts by Turkey to intercede came through Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told US President George W. Bush that the measure would "harm the strategic partnership" between the two countries. Bush reiterated his opposition to the bill, saying he recognized the tragedy, but that the determination over whether the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.
"They've done everything in their power to scare members away from voting for it, but if those threats scared people five to 10 years ago, they don't seem to work today," said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee, an Armenian interest group. "I don't think anybody would like to see this adopted by Congress over their opposition and be remembered as an organization that opposed it." Similar threats to target diplomatic ties have been launched against Israel in the last few days.
The widespread perception in Turkey is that US Jewish organizations have linked up with Armenian groups to "defame" and "condemn" Turkey, visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told The Jerusalem Post Monday.
He warned that if a measure characterizing the killing of Armenians as an act of genocide was approved by Congress in the coming days, it would not only harm Turkey's ties with the US, but also Ankara's ties with Jerusalem.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who has publicly acknowledged the Armenian genocide, harshly criticized the recent threats by the Turkish government. "This is an ugly and inappropriate threat by Turkey and it really tells you something about them when they blame Israel for something the US is doing," said Klein. "This doesn't have to do with Jews because they aren't lobbying for it, and I don't think Israel or America or anyone should respond to this type of inappropriate threat."
However, such threats have caused some Jewish organizations to stop short of supporting the congressional bills. The issue erupted in August, when the Anti-Defamation League reversed its longtime refusal to recognize the genocide after a disagreement emerged with its New England chapter. Boston Jews, who have close ties with the large Armenian community in Boston, widely supported the recognition, and stood behind New England Regional director Andrew Tarsy, who was fired after telling the media he disagreed with the national position on the Armenian genocide. Tarsy was reinstated, but the ADL stopped short of supporting the congressional resolution.
Foxman continues to oppose the bill. "We are opposed in the sense that we do not believe this is the place it should be resolved," said Foxman. "We may change our minds we may not." ADL's national policy-making body is expected to discuss the congressional resolutions at its annual meeting on November 1. Foxman has repeatedly urged the Turks and the Armenians to resolve the issue between themselves. But Armenians have refused offers by the Turkish government to establish a joint commission to study historical facts.
Hamparian compared such a request to calls by Ahmadinejad for more research on the Holocaust. "I think it's about as sincere as the Iranian government saying they need to revisit the Holocaust," said Hamparian. "I think it's a veiled denial put in the guise of academic inquiry."