US vote on Armenian genocide angers Turkey

05.03.10 @ 10:45

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - Ankara on Thursday (4 march) recalled its ambassador from Washington in protest over a resolution passed by US lawmakers recognising the Armenian genocide in 1915.

The foreign affairs committee in the US Congress narrowly passed a non-binding resolution condemning as "genocide" the First World War killings of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman empire.

Ankara reacted immediately by withdrawing its ambassador from Washington. Turkey rejects the genocide label and argues that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died when Christian Armenians took up arms against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

"We condemn this draft resolution, accusing the Turkish nation with a crime that it has not committed," a statement from the Turkish government read.

The government also warned that the move may jeopardise a timid revival of Turkish-Armenian relations, which was strongly supported and mediated by the US and praised by the EU in its last monitoring report.

The agreement signed last year is still pending the approval of the parliaments in Ankara and Erevan.

"Turkey plays a key role in regional security and the promotion of dialogue between civilisations. Significant diplomatic efforts to normalise relations with Armenia were made, resulting in the signature of protocols for the normalisation of relations in October 2009. It is important that these protocols are swiftly ratified by both countries," the commission report reads.

The rapprochement was one of the few positive developments noted by Brussels in the last year. Turkey is moving toward EU requirements for membership slowly, after having started negotiations in 2005. Relations with its neighbours are "key" to its progress said the EU commission.

EU mediation efforts have also been deployed in a frozen conflict involving ethnic Armenians in Turkey's neighbouring country and strong ally, Azerbaijan. The enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is still controlled by Armenia, after a brief war in the early 1990s, which was backed by Russia. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are part of the EU's so-called Eastern Partnership aimed at boosting ties with post-Soviet countries.

U-turn on Armenian genocide

The US resolution, which was approved with 23 to 22 votes, calls on President Barack Obama to recognise the "genocide" in his presidential statement marking the Armenian remembrance day on 24 April.

The Obama administration had warned the congress against adopting such a resolution, which may upset its relations with Turkey, a key Nato ally of strategic importance for the US in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Such approach marks something of a u-turn from Mr Obama's pledges during the campaign trail leading to his election in 2008, when he repeatedly said that "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide."

Last year, during a common press conference with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, Mr Obama carefully avoided the term "genocide" and only referred to a "difficult and tragic history," saying that it was up to historians to decide the terminology.

French parallel

A similar resolution was passed by EU member France, which is very sceptical of Turkey's membership bid to the bloc, as well as Canada.

Meanwhile, a French insurance company, Axa, is said to have paid compensation to thousands descendants of Armenians massacred in World War I based on life insurance policies taken at the time.

Hilda Tchoboian, the head of an Armenian association in the French city of Lyon, told AFP that Axa had agreed to pay nearly 1,000 Armenian, French and American families, and had started sending cheques of about €8,000 each.

Axa is the second insurance company to pay compensation to descendants of massacred Armenians. US company New York Life agreed in 2005 to pay €8.8 million euros to victims' heirs.