Turkey has furiously recalled its ambassador after US lawmakers voted to brand as "genocide" the killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I.
Despite strong opposition from Turkey and the White House, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the symbolic resolution on Thursday, albeit by the slimmest 23-22 margin, and set the stage for a full vote in the House of Representatives.
|Armenian activists rally outside the Turkish Consulate General on the 94th anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in 2009 in Los Angeles, California.|
The Turkish government, which had sent its own lawmakers to Washington to lobby US congressmen and warned of serious repercussions over the vote, responded by recalling ambassador Namik Tan to Ankara for consultations.
"We condemn this resolution which accuses the Turkish nation of a crime it has not committed," it said in a statement.
President Abdullah Gul also expressed his anger, saying the resolution had "no value in the eyes of the Turkish people" and warning it would deal a blow to fledgling efforts to end decades of hostility between Turkey and Armenia.
"Turkey will not be responsible for the negative ramifications that this vote may have in every field," he stressed.
The non-binding resolution calls on President Barack Obama to ensure that US foreign policy reflects an understanding of the "genocide" and to label the mass killings as such in his annual statement on the issue.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed during World War I by their Ottoman rulers as the empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries.
Turkey argues 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in what was a civil strife when Armenians rose up for independence and sided with invading Russian troops.
The United States has traditionally condemned the 1915-1918 killings, but refrained from calling them a "genocide," anxious not to strain relations with Turkey, a NATO member and a key Muslim majority ally in the Middle East.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had urged the committee not to press ahead with the vote for fear it might harm reconciliation moves between Armenia and Turkey and said she hoped the bid would progress no further.
"We do not believe the full Congress will or should act on that resolution," Clinton told reporters in Costa Rica.
Following US-backed bridge-building talks, Turkey and Armenia signed a deal in October to establish diplomatic relations and open their border.Related article:Armenia praises US lawmakers' vote on 'genocide'
But the process has already hit the rocks, with Ankara accusing Yerevan of trying to tweak the terms of the deal and Yerevan charging that Ankara is not committed to ratifying the accord.
Clinton, who had called committee chairman Howard Berman on Wednesday to try to persuade him to shelve the vote, defended an apparent U-turn on the matter by the president.
Obama pledged during his campaign that he would recognize the events as genocide, but disappointed Armenian-American supporters when he refrained from using the term in his message last year to commemorate the killings.
"The circumstances have changed in very significant ways," Clinton said, explaining that it became clear after the administration took office that the reconciliation process was a "very worthy one that we intended to support.
"I do not think it is for any other country to determine how two countries resolve matters between them to the extent that actions that the United States might take could disrupt this process."
In his opening remarks Thursday, Berman, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said "nothing justifies Turkey's turning a blind eye to the reality of the Armenian genocide.
"At some point, every nation must come to terms with its own history. And that is all we ask of Turkey," he said, urging his fellow lawmakers to support the legislation.
Ankara also recalled its envoy from Washington in 2007 when a congressional committee passed a similar text.
But then-president George W. Bush stopped the resolution from going to the full House, wary over reports that Ankara would block US access to a key air base essential for Iraq and Afghanistan operations.