A U.S. Senate panel condemned on Wednesday the murder earlier this year of a prominent Turkish-Armenian editor, Hrant Dink, who had urged Turks to acknowledge the mass killings of Armenians on Turkish soil in 1915.
The largely symbolic resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reopened the question of whether Congress should weigh in on the debate over whether the killings were genocide -- a sensitive issue in Turkey, a key NATO ally.
Armenia says some 1.5 million Armenians suffered genocide at Ottoman Turkish hands, but Turkey denies a systematic genocide of Armenians took place, saying large numbers of Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in inter-ethnic fighting during World War One.
The Senate resolution that passed the committee on a voice vote does not explicitly refer to the killings as genocide, but observes that Dink, before his death, was subjected to legal action in Turkey for doing so. It condemns Dink's murder and urges the people of Turkey to "honor his legacy of tolerance."
Dink was murdered by a Turkish nationalist gunman outside his Istanbul office in January; his funeral drew 100,000 mourners.
Turkish diplomats do not look favorably on the Senate proposal, which can now go to the floor for a vote. "We don't see the benefit of such a resolution," said Tuluy Tanc, the minister-counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.
But the author of the Senate resolution, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, said he was not deterred by Turkish sensitivities. "A relationship that rests on a requirement of a denial of an historical event, is not a sound basis for a relationship," Biden told Reuters.
Turkish officials, as well as members of the Bush administration, have expressed more concern about other resolutions pending in Congress, but it is unclear how quickly they may advance. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warned last month that Congress would harm bilateral ties if it backs a resolution recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks as genocide.
Such a resolution has been introduced in the House by Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and in the Senate by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. Schiff told Reuters that with Democrats now in charge of Congress, he believed his resolution had its "best chance in a decade" of passage.
(U.S. Senate photo: Joseph Biden.)