By Desmond Butler, Associated PressIgnoring expected opposition from President George W. Bush, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have introduced a resolution urging the U.S.
government to recognize as genocide the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the end of World War I. The resolution probably will anger Turkey as well as the president.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, a co-sponsor, acknowledged that the resolution might harm U.S.-Turkish relations in the short term. Nevertheless, he said, "I'm optimistic that the relationship will go on. We will move beyond this."
Schiff and other lead sponsors who introduced the resolution in the House of Representatives say they have commitments from more than 150 other members who wanted to add their names as co-sponsors after the legislation's introduction. That would be a strong show of support in the 435-member body.
The sponsors, who held a new conference Tuesday attended by two Armenian survivors of the episode, say that the move to Democratic control in Congress increases chances that the bill will reach the House floor for a vote. Similar resolutions have been introduced in the past but were kept from a vote by congressional leaders.
"We feel very strongly that this year is the year we're going to get this passed," said another co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., whose state, New Jersey, has a large Armenian-American community.
The bill, which recalls the deaths of the 1.5 million Armenians almost a century ago, is likely to touch raw nerves in Turkey. The Bush administration has warned that even congressional debate on the genocide question could damage relations with a vital Muslim ally and member of NATO. The resolution's supporters say that the leader of the
House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, who has expressed support for the resolution, is likely to come under pressure from the Bush administration to keep the House from voting on the bill.
"Make no mistake, the speaker will get a call from the president asking for no vote on the grounds of national security," said Republican Rep. George Radanovich, a co-sponsor.
"The Administration will be actively involved with Congress to oppose this resolution," U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson said in a statement e-mailed to news organizations in Turkey on Wednesday. "The Bush Administration's position on this issue has not changed." In keeping with traditional U.S. policy, Wilson's statement referred to the killings as "tragic events that took place at the end of the Ottoman Empire."
Bush issues a statement every year to commemorate the event. He has used such words as "tragedy," "forced exile" and "terrible events," but not "genocide." In Turkey, it is a crime to use the word to describe the deaths.
Turkey has adamantly denied claims by scholars that its predecessor state, the Ottoman government, caused the Armenian deaths in a planned genocide. The Turkish government has said the toll is wildly inflated, and Armenians were killed or displaced in civil unrest during the disarray surrounding the empire's collapse.
After French lawmakers voted in October to make it a crime to deny that the killings were a genocide, Turkey said it would suspend military relations with France. Turkey provides vital support to U.S. military operations. Incirlik Air Force Base, a major base in southern Turkey, has been used by the U.S. to launch operations into Iraq and Afghanistan and was a center for U.S. fighters that enforced the "no-fly zones" that kept the Iraqi air force bottled up after the 1991 Gulf War.
In Washington, Armenian-American groups have been pressing for years for a resolution on the genocide issue. Last year, the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee endorsed two resolutions classifying the killings as genocide. But House leaders, members of Bush's Republican Party, prevented a vote by the full chamber.
With a reference to the two survivors in the room, Rose Baboyan and Sirarpi Khoyan, 100, supporters said that they feel an urgency to pass a resolution this year. "While there are still survivors among us, we have, I think, the highest ethical obligation to recognize the losses of their families," said co-sponsor Schiff.
(Photo by the Armenian National Committee of America: Schiff and other resolution sponsors speak at the news conference.)