WASHINGTON - Amid rising bilateral
tensions with Turkey and strong White House
pressure, the Democratic leadership of the US
House of Representatives is expected to set aside
a controversial resolution recognizing as a
"genocide" the mass killings of as many as 1.5
million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during
World War I.
While House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi, who had vowed to force a floor vote on the
issue in the coming weeks, kept silent on the
Thursday, a number of key Democrats suggested that
the symbolic resolution, which passed the House
Foreign Affairs Committee 27-21 on a largely
party-line vote one week ago, was, for all
practical purposes, dead.
"If it came to
the floor today," Representative John Murtha, a
close Pelosi ally who was one of nearly dozen
Democratic lawmakers who withdrew their
co-sponsorship of the resolution this week, said
late Wednesday, "it would not pass."
the same time, Pelosi, a long-time champion of the
resolution on behalf of thousands of
Armenian-Americans who live in her northern
California district, also conceded that she was
reconsidering her pledge to bring the resolution
to the floor.
If, as now expected, Pelosi
withholds the measure until at least next year, it
will mark a major victory for Turkey which, after
the House Committee vote last week, recalled its
ambassador here for "consultations" as the first
of a series of possible measures designed both to
convey its displeasure and, if necessary, inflict
serious damage on Washington's position,
especially in Iraq.
Of particular concern
has been the possibility that Ankara might
restrict access to its airspace and, in
particular, to Incirlik Air Base in eastern
Turkey, the single most important external
logistics air hub for US military operations in
Indeed, about 70% of all air cargo
sent to Iraq passes through or crosses Turkey, as
does some 30% of the fuel imported to the US
military and virtually of its new, heavily-armored
vehicles, according to the Pentagon.
Turkey severed all military ties with
France after its parliament voted last year to
make the denial of the Armenian "genocide" a
crime, and it did nothing to discourage
speculation here during the past week that it
would take similar steps if the genocide
resolution went forward.
this issue in the last Bush administration
(1989-1993), I don't think the Turks are
bluffing," Pentagon chief Robert Gates told
reporters here Thursday shortly after meeting the
defense minister of Armenia, which has had very
rocky relations with Ankara. Turkey has enforced a
virtual blockade against Armenia since the early
"I will say again it has potential
to do real harm to our troops in Iraq and would
strain - perhaps beyond repair - our relationship
with a key ally in a vital region and in the wider
war on terror," added Gates, who has been the most
outspoken cabinet-level official opposed to the
The possibility that it might
restrict the use by the US military of Turkish
territory and airspace is not the only concern
faced by Washington about Ankara at the moment,
Increasingly frustrated by
Washington's failure to either take direct action
against Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas or
persuade the Iraqi or Iraqi Kurdistan governments
to do so, the Turkish parliament voted
overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize sending
troops into northern Iraq to attack PKK units
based there. The vote was 507 to 19, a margin that
may have been inflated as a result of anger over
the genocide resolution.
The PKK, which is
considered by the US to be a terrorist group, has
mounted a series of recent deadly actions against
targets inside Turkey in recent weeks. At least 30
Turkish soldiers, police and civilians have been
killed in PKK attacks in just the past two weeks,
according to published reports.
analysts here and in Turkey do not expect the
government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to order a
major cross-border operation in the near future,
the fact that the parliament has now authorized
such a move makes the threat far more credible.
Iraqi Kurdistan is the one region in Iraq
that has been relatively stable - and thus has not
required the presence of US troops - since the US
occupation of the country began in 2003.
Any significant Turkish incursion, of the
kind it carried out relatively routinely during
the 1990s, could plunge the region into turmoil at
a moment when US forces are already overstretched,
according to analysts here who also noted that
crude oil futures jumped to an all-time high of
nearly 90 dollars a barrel after Wednesday's vote.
Moreover, the peshmerga - the Iraqi
Kurdish militia forces that are nominally part of
the Iraqi army and security forces - could well
rally behind the PKK against the Turks in the
event of a significant cross-border attack, others
noted. Indeed, thousands of Kurds, mostly
students, reportedly took part in rallies to
protest the Turkish legislation in Irbil,
Kurdistan's capital, Thursday.
It is in
this context that mainly Democratic lawmakers who
previously backed the Armenian genocide bill have
been reassessing their position during the last
"We need every ally we can get
[in Iraq]," said Murtha, a co-sponsor of the
resolution who has since withdrawn his support.
"[Turkey is] important to our effort in Iraq.
We've got 160,000 troops in Iraq. This is
important to the US effort in Iraq, period."
"This is not the time to stick our finger
in the eyes of the Turks," said Congressman Mike
Ross, another former co-sponsor who switched his
position this week.
Turkey has been aided
as well by an expensive lobbying campaign
organized and led by a former Republican speaker,
Robert Livingstone, and Richard Gephardt, who, as
the former Democratic House Leader, had
co-sponsored a similar resolution. They have also
been joined by several key lawmakers considered
close to the so-called Israel Lobby, including the
influential Democratic Caucus chairman
Representative Rahm Emmanuel.
cultivated close ties with Turkey, particularly
with its military, over the past two decades, and
Turkish officials have reportedly requested its
help in lobbying against the resolution.
Against this, Armenian Americans, of whom
there are an estimated 1.5 million concentrated
mostly in California, face an uphill battle.
"I truly hope that no member of Congress
is persuaded to jump ship on such a critical vote
as this simply because of some threats by a
foreign government," said Armenian Assembly
Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. "The government
of Turkey and its million-dollar lobbyists are
effectively blackmailing the Congress and the
government of the United States. We should stand
up to the threats and demand that Turkey
immediately cease its campaign of misinformation
and threats," he added.