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US Genocide Vote Riles Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

A U.S. congressional committee approved a resolution condemning the 1915 slaughter of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, rejecting a last-minute Obama administration effort to derail it and putting a chill on relations with Turkey.

Following the passing of the motion, Ankara's reaction was swift. Its ambassador was immediately recalled from Washington, for what is described as consultations. The Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quick to condemn the vote.

"We will not be pressured by these decisions," he said. "It is not for other parliaments to judge our history. Turkey is capable of dealing with these issues alone. It is a matter of national honor."

Turkey strongly disputes the charge that it committed genocide against its Armenian minority in 1915. It says the deaths occurred in a civil war in which Turks died too. Along with it being a matter of honor, observers say Ankara fears if the U.S. recognized the genocide it would open the door to massive compensation claims from descendants of survivors of the killings living in the United States.

The repercussions of Ankara's anger over the U.S. vote could ironically hit Armenia first. Last October the Turkish and Armenian presidents signed a protocol to normalize relations. Davutoglu warned those rapprochement efforts could be now in jeopardy.

"The intrusion of all the other parties will set an obstacle for this normalization process," he said. "I am saying this to the House of Representatives, whatever involvement you take will harm the big historical peace of Armenians and Turkey."

Criticism from the Turkish government has also been growing over what they say was a failure by the White House to lobby against the motion. In the days running up to vote, Turkish diplomats voiced increasing frustration over what it called for lack of effort by the White House to oppose the motion.

The Turkish foreign minister warned that U.S.-Turkish relations have been damaged. Ankara has repeated warned of consequences to the U.S. over the passing of the motion.

But it remains unclear whether Ankara would carry out such a threat. Observers say what may determine such a decision is whether President Barrack Obama uses his political muscle like his predecessors have done in the past and stop the motion progressing to a full vote by the House of Representatives.