Published : October 5, 2007
WASHINGTON : President George W. Bush told the Turkish prime minister on Friday that he strongly opposes a resolution in Congress that would label the World War I-era deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians genocide.
Bush and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked by telephone about the legislation, which is to go before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. It is expected to be approved.
Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Bush "reiterated his opposition to this resolution, the passage of which would be harmful to U.S. relations with Turkey."
Johndroe said Bush believes the Armenian episode ranks among the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, but the determination whether "the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation."
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
The Armenians, a minority in Ottoman Turkey, died from 1915 to 1923, the year modern Turkey was born from the remains of the 600-year-old empire.
At the U.S. State Department, the senior official who deals with Turkish relations said the United States position is not to deny or accept that genocide occurred. Nevertheless, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said, "We do not believe this bill would advance either the cause of historical truth or Turkish-Armenian reconciliation or the interests of the United States."
The Turkish reaction to passage of the bill would be extremely strong, Fried said. It would do "grave harm" to relations with Turkey, a NATO ally, and damage the U.S. war effort in Iraq, Turkey’s neighbor.
The resolution is largely symbolic and would not be binding on foreign policy. Similar measures have been offered before and never passed, but it appears to have a good chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled House if it is brought to a vote.
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