- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

YEREVAN, Armenia — Inside the tomblike confines of the Armenian Genocide Museum, a haunting narrative of images and words unfolds. A list is posted at tour’s end of nations that have officially recognized the tragedy, minus one major endorsement: the United States.

U.S. lawmakers have introduced nonbinding resolutions in Congress that would declare up to 1.5 million Armenians victims of genocide at the hands of Turkish forces almost a century ago.

Support is reported to be strong enough in the House to pass the measure if it goes to a vote; the Senate introduced a similar resolution last week with 21 co-sponsors.

Historians and analysts here in the Armenian capital say recognition from Washington is long overdue because evidence validating the case for genocide is “clear-cut, more than factual, and very obvious.”

But Turkey’s priority status as a vital strategic ally in a troublesome region stands in the way.

“Although Turkey needs the U.S. more, the U.S also needs Turkey right now … so it’s not realistic to think the government will formally acknowledge [the genocide],” said Hagop Avedikian, editor of Azg newspaper.

He noted that every April 24, a day of observance, President Bush “highlights the genocide and explains it without using the word.”

In the past month, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Chief of the General Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit and a parliamentary delegation have met with U.S. lawmakers and Bush administration officials in an attempt to derail the resolution.

Mr. Gul was quoted as saying the delivery of a U.S. genocide resolution would inflict “lasting damage” on bilateral relations.

Such statements were not lost on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who last week wrote a joint letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other senior members warning that the measure would hurt national security interests.

Passage of the House resolution, they wrote, “could harm American troops in the field, constrain our ability to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and significantly damage our efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey.”

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried has warned that Turkey might respond by closing Incirlik air base, used for operations in nearby Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Turkish military severed all ties with the French military and terminated defense contracts after the French National Assembly voted in October to criminalize the denial of genocide.

The Israeli Knesset killed a motion to discuss recognition earlier this month, fearing a political crisis with Ankara.

Failure to pass the resolution would be “too bad because it could be a very catalytic moment for rapid recognition by other states,” said Hayk Demoyan, director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute.

Several Western countries have recognized the massacre in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, some making genocide denial a punishable offense.

An ethnic Turkish politician, Dogu Perincek, received a $2,500 fine and a suspended prison sentence from a Swiss court on Friday for calling Armenian genocide an “international lie” at a political rally two years ago.

The dispute is over whether hundreds of thousands of Armenians who died between 1915 and 1923 were part of systematic eradication campaign by Ottoman Turkey.

Armenians contend mass killings and forced deportations amount to genocide, while the Turkish government insists the deaths were the result of chaos at the time.

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