The mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks beginning in 1915 remains an emotional issue. A major U.S. congressional panel has described the massacre as genocide. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the ramifications of the congressional action for the Obama administration.
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A majority of scholars and historians agree that the massacre of an estimated one million Armenians during World War I constitutes genocide as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide. The text defines genocide as the intentional killing of all or part of a designated people defined by their faith, their race, their ethnicity or their nationality.
However as Ronald Suny with the University of Chicago explains, the Turkish government has a diametrically opposed view.
"Turkey rejects the notion of genocide - actually the word or the term 'genocide.' They have acknowledged that there were deportations - there is no question about that - and that there were massacres and killings. What they deny is that the massacres and killings were intentionally organized and carried out by the government - and that the killings were anything more than collateral damage," he said.
Turkey rejects use of "genocide"
Roger Smith, a co-founder of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, says many Turks refuse to use the word 'genocide.'
"I worked with some Turkish scholars and these are people who would be considered liberals and so on - but even they really kind of shy away from using the word 'genocide.' They will talk about massacres - you lay all of these things out and they say yeah, yeah, yeah, this happened, okay - well no, I don't want to use that word. So there is this emotional antipathy to pronouncing what people now almost jokingly call the 'G' word," he said.
Smith says Turkey's position is difficult to sustain. "Turkey's persistent denial and inability to face, or unwillingness to face up to its history is very disruptive in all kinds of ways - in terms of international relations, in terms of its own internal politics - and it also prevents it from really recognizing how do you deal with minorities," he said.
Recently the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed a non-binding resolution recommending that President Barack Obama recognize the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.
Obama administration's position
The Obama administration opposed the resolution. After the measure passed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration does not believe the full House of Representatives will or should vote on the resolution.
Turkey immediately recalled its ambassador to Ankara for consultations. And Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated he might not attend a mid-April nuclear energy summit in Washington hosted by President Obama.
About 20 countries - including France, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Sweden - have recognized the Armenian massacre as genocide.
"What's startling is that two important countries have not recognized it - the United States, repeatedly, because of its alliance with Turkey, its strategic interest in the region, its need for Turkey as a NATO ally, in its war against Iraq, has not recognized it. And secondly Israel, even though itself, its people originally suffered a great holocaust - the great genocide of World War II - has not recognized it, again for strategic reasons, its connection with Turkey." said Ronald Suny with the University of Chicago.
Suny and others point out that President Obama has changed his position. "Every presidential candidate, including President Obama, when they were campaigning, stated declaratively, clearly, fervently that they would recognize the genocide. Once they take power, of course, then these strategic security interests come into play and historical decisions, the historical truths have to be put aside. It's sad, but that's the case," he said.
Many experts say the resolution by the House Foreign Affairs Committee puts President Obama in an awkward position. But many analysts also say that may be a temporary situation, because they don't expect the measure to be taken up by the full House of Representatives.