WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush Friday opposed moves to legally term the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire a "genocide," backing Turkey’s stand on the issue.
"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," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
The comments came after Bush talked with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discussed legislation before the US Congress, which describes the deaths of Armenians from 1915 to 1923 as genocide.
"The president reiterated his opposition to this resolution, the passage of which would be harmful to US relations with Turkey," Johndore said.
Turkey is a key Muslim ally for the United States and a fellow member of NATO.
And then Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul warned after a visit to Washington in February that passing the draft would "poison" ties and "spoil everything" between the two countries.
A similar draft to the resolution before Congress was pulled from the House floor in October 2000 following an intervention by then president Bill Clinton.
Turkey categorically rejects Armenian claims that 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in systematic deportations and killings during 1915-1918 as the Ottoman Empire was breaking up.
Bush commemorates the massacres each year in a speech, but stops short of calling them genocide.
The parliaments of many countries have recognised the killings as genocide, and Turkey has responded by temporarily downgrading its political and economic ties with some of them.
In rejecting the genocide label, Turkey argues that 250,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia during World War I.
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