Turkey Recalls Ambassador after House Genocide Resolution
The House has created a diplomatic incident by voting on a resolution labeling 90-year-old killings “genocide.”
Turkey has asked its ambassador in Washington to return to Turkey for consultations over a U.S. House panel’s approval of a bill describing the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians as genocide, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday. The ambassador would stay in Turkey for about a week or 10 days, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilman. “We are not withdrawing our ambassador. We have asked him to come to Turkey for some consultations,” he said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill Wednesday despite intense lobbying by Turkish officials and opposition from President Bush. The vote was a triumph for well-organized Armenian-American interest groups who have lobbied Congress for decades to pass a resolution.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated his opposition to the resolution Thursday, saying the measure could hurt relations at a time when U.S. forces in Iraq rely heavily on Turkish permission to use their airspace for U.S. air cargo flights. Relations are already strained by accusations that the U.S. is unwilling to help Turkey fight Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq. About 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey, as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military in Iraq. U.S. bases also get water and other supplies by land from Turkish truckers who cross into the northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
The value to be gained by passing this resolution, beyond mollifying a small interest group, is non-existent. The potential harm to U.S. national security interests is substantially greater.
UPDATE: Dave Schuler expands on the costs:
Turkey is a member of NATO, bidding for EU membership, and, after Israel and the KSA, one of our closest allies in the Middle East, a region in which it’s not as though we had allies to burn. Turkey’s government has been quite secular for more than a century, which one would think is a quality to be cherished rather than spurned. Turkey has other bones to pick with us as well, in particular the use of Iraqi Kurdistan adjacent to Turkey as a base for incursions by Kurdish separatist guerrillas.
Steven Taylor questions the timing.
UPDATE: In a blogger conference call with Senator John McCain this afternoon, I had the opportunity to ask him about the Armenia resolution, especially in light of his comments in the last call about the need to put pressure on the government of Burma for human rights abuses. He agrees that this is “a tough one” and that there’s not much doubt that the incidents in question were “among the great genocides in human history.” At the same time, this happened generations ago and the current Turkish government is a great ally who we shouldn’t antagonize. He’d “like to find a way out of this one.”
The Burma situation is different because it’s ongoing. There’s no chance of the current Turkish government repeating the atrocities of the past; the Burmese government is doing it as we speak. “With all due respect to my friends in the House,” it would be more useful to focus on ongoing genocides rather than those of the distant past.