WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House vote calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians genocide has seriously damaged U.S.-Turkish relations and stirred suspicions that Washington is turning a blind eye to Kurdish rebels in Iraq, visiting Turkish lawmakers said on Thursday.
The House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee voted 27-21 on Wednesday to approve a resolution branding the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as an act of genocide. A full House vote on the measure is expected sometime before year’s end.
A delegation of Turkish parliamentarians in Washington tied the genocide vote to Ankara’s frustration over U.S. failure to crack down on rebels of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) who have carried out attacks inside Turkey from northern Iraq.
“There is a general feeling in Turkey that the PKK is condoned if not facilitated or helped by the U.S. in northern Iraq,” said Gunduz Suphi Aktan of the Nationalist Movement Party.
“What happened yesterday in this country ... is only exacerbating the situation,” he told a forum hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Egemen Bagis, vice chairman of the governing AK Party and foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey was grateful for a U.S. decision to label the PKK as a terrorist group and for U.S. help in tracking down its members.
But referring to public opinion in Turkey, he added: “Sometimes perception is more important than reality.”
The House committee’s vote, which came as Erdogan contemplates military action against PKK rebels in Iraq, set off a storm of protest in Turkey where officials warned of serious consequences if the full House adopts the measure.
The controversy prompted Ankara to recall its ambassador to the United States on Thursday.
“Turkey is not an emirate. Turkey is not a monarchy. Turkey is a democracy where public opinion does matter,” Bagis said.
President George W. Bush and other administration officials are urging U.S. lawmakers to reject the genocide resolution, saying the measure could undermine relations with a NATO ally that is also a key ally in the U.S. war on terrorism and a vital supply link for U.S. forces in Iraq.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to play down the resolution’s impact, saying modern U.S.-Turkish relations were too strong to be damaged by congressional action over events that occurred 92 years ago.
“This isn’t about the Erdogan government. This is about the Ottoman empire,” Pelosi said.
But Turkish delegation members reiterated warnings of a possible backlash. “Yesterday some in Congress wanted to play hardball. I can assure you that Turkey knows how to play hardball,” Bagis said.
Erdogan may ask parliament to authorize a military incursion against the PKK in northern Iraq. Washington and the European Union have cautioned against Turkish military action in what has been the only peaceful region of Iraq.
On Thursday, the Pentagon said Turkey faced a long-term problem with the PKK that would require a diplomatic rather than military solution.
“The long-term solution is not going to be solved by military action along the border. A long-term solution is by a political and diplomatic agreement on a way forward,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Kristin Roberts