October 26, 2007 / 12:57 PM / 10 years ago

Armenia "surprised" at storm over genocide vote

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenia said on Friday it was “surprised” that concerns about damaging U.S.-Turkish ties had been allowed to stall a resolution recognizing as genocide the 1915 killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.

Backers of the resolution in the U.S. Congress said this week they would postpone plans to put it to a full vote after a storm of criticism from U.S. ally Turkey -- which denies the killings were genocide -- and from the White House.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian told Reuters in an interview he believed that Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat speaker of Congress, would still put the resolution to a full vote.

“We are far from disappointed,” said Oskanian. “They tell me the resolution will be put to a full vote at the right time. Speaker Pelosi has not pulled it. With all such matters, timing is a political decision.”

But he added: “We remain surprised that the U.S.-Turkey relationship is thought to be so fragile that this non-binding resolution or other verbal acknowledgements appear to pose a problem.”

U.S. President George W. Bush has said the resolution, by angering Ankara, could hurt Washington’s strategic interests because Turkey is a key military ally in the Middle East region.

The resolution was being debated just as Washington is trying to persuade Turkey not to launch possible military attacks into northern Iraq against Kurdish separatist rebels.

“WHAT RECONCILIATION?”

Up to 1.5 million Armenians died in massacres and mass expulsions in 1915. Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora abroad -- backed by many Western historians -- say it was genocide and want foreign states to recognize it as such.

Turkey accepts there were widespread killings, but says they did not amount to genocide. A law in Turkey makes calling the deaths a genocide a criminal offence.

Government officials in Ankara have warned a side-effect of the resolution will be to set back efforts to repair relations between Armenia and Turkey. The border between the two is closed and they have no diplomatic relations.

Oskanian dismissed this, and said Turkish offers of reconciliation were a sham.

“Armenia has been careful not to voice an opinion on the resolution. We have maintained that this is a matter between those in the U.S. Congress and their constituents,” he said.

“But when Turkey and its lobbyists dragged us in, implying that such a resolution would hurt some non-existent bilateral process between Armenia and Turkey, then we spoke up.”

“We’ve held out our hand for more than a decade. Turkey has kept the door shut tightly. Worse, Turkey has become more radical and extreme in its denialist policies.”

After the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee approved the genocide resolution this month, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Washington for consultations.

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