The U.S. State Department has again pointedly refrained from urging U.S. lawmakers not to pass a resolution that terms the World War One-era Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey a genocide and is fiercely opposed by Ankara.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to discuss and vote on the resolution on Thursday. The administration of President Barack Obama has still not publicly formulated its position on the highly sensitive issue.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declined to clearly state late on Tuesday whether the Obama administration supports or opposes passage of the resolution, pointing instead to the ongoing U.S.-backed efforts to normalize Armenia’s relations with Turkey.
“And within that process … we think that there is ample room for Turkey and Armenia to evaluate the historical facts as to what happened decades ago,” he told a daily news briefing in Washington. “So we haven’t changed our view, but we continue to engage at a high level with both countries and to encourage them – having worked to reach the agreement in Switzerland last year to see it implemented on both sides.”
“We understand how difficult this is, how emotional this is,” said Crowley. “There’s not a common understanding of what happened 90 years ago. But we value the courageous steps that both leaders have taken, and we just continue to encourage both countries to move forward and not look backward.”
When asked whether Washington has made contingency plans for Turkish retaliation against possible genocide recognition, Crowley said, “I think we have a pretty good understanding of how everyone feels on this issue.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made similarly ambiguous comments on the issue in congressional testimony last week. This stance was welcomed by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), one of the two main Armenian-American advocacy groups that have for decades been lobbying Congress to recognize the genocide.
In a February 26 statement, the ANCA executive director, Aram Hamparian, said: “The current Administration's conduct, at least to date, stands in stark contrast to past Administrations – both Democratic and Republican - that used every opportunity to score points with Ankara by attacking the broad, bipartisan Congressional majority that has long existed in support of U.S. condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.”
Congressional committees have repeatedly endorsed similar resolutions over the past decade. However, strong pressure from the White House prevented them from reaching the House or Senate floor.