US fails to vote on Armenian deaths

By Omar Karmi

WASHINGTON // Turkey yesterday welcomed the decision by US legislators not to vote on a resolution before the outgoing Congress that would have declared the deaths of Armenians in the early part of the last century a genocide.

Supporters of the resolution had hoped to push it through in the last days of Congress before the holiday break, in spite of opposition from the White House and State Department.

Turkey had let it be known that should the resolution pass it would damage not only US-Turkey relations, but hamper Turkey-Armenia relations.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Washington in March after a House of Representatives committee approved the Armenia Genocide Bill and thus sent it for a vote.

But Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing Democratic speaker of the House ultimately failed to bring the resolution up for a vote, thus effectively killing the bill until next year at the earliest.

“Common sense prevailed,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, who earlier in the week revealed that the Turkish government had lobbied Barack Obama, the US president, to prevent a vote.

“We thank the US administration for their efforts,” Mr Davutoglu said yesterday. “This incident once again proved that assessment of historical incidents by political authorities is principally wrong.”

Historians estimate that more than one million Armenians were killed during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. Armenians say 1.5 million were killed by the Ottoman army. Turkey disputes both the number and circumstances, saying the killings were the result of massive civil unrest in the country.

The effort to have the killings recognised as the 20th century's first genocide has gained greater traction in the US, where 40 states, independently of the federal government, have already done so.

Supporters of the bill on Wednesday vowed to continue to lobby Congress.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Congress has now recessed without passing the resolution to honour the 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children who were lost in the first genocide of the 20th century, and I know that my feelings are insignificant when compared to the continued pain of so many in our community,” Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman who, along with others, had introduced the resolution, said in a statement on Wednesday night.

One Armenian-American group blamed Mrs Pelosi for not scheduling a vote.

“Her decision to not move this legislation forward during her four years as speaker represents a failure of congressional leadership on human rights and, sadly, a setback to America's standing in the struggle to end the cycle of genocide,” said Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Mr Schiff vowed to reintroduce the bill next year, where it is likely to face stiff opposition, however, in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The new speaker, John Boehner, is adamantly opposed to the bill.

Turkey and the US have seen relations strain in recent years, not least over Iraq, where Turkey is wary of growing Kurdish influence, as well as over Israel and US policy toward Syria.

But the country remains a crucial US ally in the region as well as in Nato, and Washington is loathe to antagonise a country seen as critical to stability in Iraq, where US forces are due to withdraw from by the end of next year.

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Source: “The National”, Abu Dhabi, 24 December 2010