ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey may cut logistic support to U.S. troops in Iraq if the U.S. Congress backs a bill branding as genocide the 1915 massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, a senior ruling AK Party lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday.
Congress’s Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to approve on Wednesday a bill on the genocide issue and speaker Nancy Pelosi, a known supporter of the Armenian cause, could then decide to bring it to the House floor for a vote.
Turkey, a NATO ally of Washington, strongly denies Armenian claims, backed by many Western historians and a number of foreign parliaments, that up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians suffered genocide at Turkish hands during World War One.
It says many Muslim Turks as well as Christian Armenians died in inter-ethnic conflict as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
“Don’t accept this bill. If you do, we will be obliged to do many things we do not want to do,” the top-selling Hurriyet daily quoted AK Party deputy leader Egemen Bagis as saying.
“For example, the Americans depend on Turkey for a large part of their logistical support in Iraq. We would be obliged to cut this support,” he was quoted as saying.
Bagis was speaking in a personal capacity, but Turkey’s government has many times urged foreign countries, including the United States, not to pass such resolutions, saying historians, not politicians, should judge historic events.
Last year, Turkey froze military and some commercial cooperation with France after the French National Assembly backed a bill that would make it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide, although the bill never became law.
U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan get many of their supplies via the Incirlik military base in southern Turkey.
Contacted by Reuters, Bagis declined to say what specific measures Turkey might take but said: “This bill might please Armenian Americans for a few days but it would definitely have a long-lasting negative effect on the relationship between two strategic allies.”
Bagis noted in his comments to Hurriyet that Turkish public opinion has already turned very anti-American due to the Iraq war and Washington’s failure to crack down on Kurdish rebels who use northern Iraq as a base from which to attack Turkey.
“If the bill passes, pressure from public opinion (to take action against U.S. interests) will be very strong,” he said.
Bagis left for Washington with two other Turkish lawmakers on Monday to lobby Congress to drop the bill.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan raised Turkey’s concerns with President George W. Bush in a telephone conversation last Friday. The Bush administration is opposed to the bill but Congress is now dominated by its Democratic opponents.