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Analysts: US Congressional Resolution on Armenian Genocide is Symbolic


The U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee has narrowly passed a non-binding resolution declaring as a genocide the World War I-era killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. VOA's Margaret Besheer looks at the implications of such a measure.

From 1915 to 1923, Armenians accuse the Ottoman Turks of killing as many as 1.5 million of their people in systematic deportations and killings in a push to drive them out of eastern Turkey.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee adopted what is known as a non-binding resolution that declares those mass killings a genocide.

Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, explains that a non-binding resolution is purely symbolic and does not change U.S. law or policy.

"A non-binding resolution expresses the sentiments or opinion of Congress," said Allan Lichtman. "It could be one house of Congress or both houses of Congress, but it does not actually change policy because it does not have the force of law."

He says non-binding resolutions are not uncommon, especially in matters where Congress does not want to change policy or does not have the necessary votes to do so. Lichtman points to a recent example of a non-binding resolution.

"The House recently passed a non-binding resolution opposing the troop surge by the Bush administration in Iraq," he said. "That obviously was very hotly debated and very hotly contested even though it had nothing to do with stopping the president from putting into effect the troop surge."

Wednesday's passage by the foreign affairs committee is a first step to sending the resolution to the entire House of Representatives for a vote. But even if it passes there, it will still have no legal or policy implications.

But despite that, the Turkish government has been very vocal about the resolution, warning that its adoption would severely harm relations between Ankara and Washington.

The Bush administration also strongly opposed the measure. Some 70 percent of air cargo headed for coalition forces in Iraq passes through Turkey as does a third of fuel going to coalition forces in Iraq by road.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States recognizes the tragedy against the Armenian people, but that passage of such a resolution right now would not be helpful to U.S.-Turkish relations and U.S. interests in the region.

"The passage of this resolution would be very destabilizing to our efforts in the Middle East, very destabilizing to our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, because Turkey, as an important strategic ally, is very critical in supporting the efforts we are making in these crucial areas," said Condoleezza Rice.

Non-binding resolutions have no formal penalities against the party they censure, but their symbolism can be very contentious. In this case, although the bill is not an indictment of modern Turkey, there are concerns that a public outcry in that country could lead to Ankara placing restrictions on vital supply routes through Turkey into Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as jeopardize U.S. access to a strategic Turkish air base.

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