The spiritual leader of Turkey's tiny Armenian community said Friday he was opposed to a U.S. Congressional bill branding the Ottoman massacres of Armenians as genocide.
"This bill will harm relations both between Turkey and Armenia and between Armenians and Turks in Turkey," the Istanbul-based Patriarch Mesrob II told Anatolia news agency in Erzurum, eastern Turkey.
He said he made contacts with U.S. State Department officials on the issue and could also speak to U.S. Congressmen.
The bill was endorsed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week and is pending a full vote at the House. Turkey has threatened unspecified reprisals against its NATO ally if the measure is adopted.
"It is impossible to deny the painful history ... (but) now it's time to consider forward looking policies," Mesrob II said.
The patriarch complained he was under pressure from the Armenian Diaspora in the United States for his opposition to the bill. "The Diaspora’s arrows of criticism are on us all the time," he said.
About 80,000 Armenians live in Turkey, most of them in Istanbul. Their leaders have traditionally opposed campaigns to have the World War I massacres internationally recognized as genocide, worried about becoming the target of Turkish hostility. The community was shaken in January when one of its most outspoken members, journalist Hrant Dink, was shot dead by an ultra-nationalist Turkish teenager.
Turkish Armenians say the U.S. endorsement of the genocide label will also damage a fledgling public debate in Turkey over the massacres, which were a taboo until recently.
(Photolur photo: Mesrob Mutafian.)