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U.S. Congress panel backs bill calling Armenian deaths genocide

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A committee in the United States Congress backed a resolution recognizing the 1915 massacre of around 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, rejecting protests from the U.S. president.
WASHINGTON, October 11 (RIA Novosti) - A committee in the United States Congress backed a resolution recognizing the 1915 massacre of around 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, rejecting protests from the U.S. president.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27-21 in favor of the resolution on Wednesday, in a move that is likely to strain Washington's relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally which provides crucial support for U.S. operations in Iraq.

The resolution, sponsored by a California lawmaker with a large ethnic Armenian community in his district, will be put to the House floor for a vote before the end of the year.

Speaking at the White House before the panel vote, U.S. President George W. Bush said: "This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror."

The bill's main sponsor, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, has 225 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, enough for the resolution to be passed. Although purely symbolic, the vote has triggered an angry response from Ankara, which insists that the mass deaths and deportations of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman period were caused by civil war, rather than deliberate genocide. However, the majority of Western academics class the massacre as genocide.

Schiff, who represents California's 29th Congressional District, said in a statement earlier this month that the U.S. "has a compelling historical and moral reason to recognize the Armenian Genocide... How can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?"

Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy, warned after the committee vote that "There is no doubt that there will be a setback in our relationship," while President Abdullah Gul called it "petty domestic politics rejecting calls to common sense."

However, Schiff said on Wednesday that the resolution, which does not require the approval of the president, should not be allowed to harm relations with Ankara: "I think our relationship is important enough to the United States and Turkey to survive our recognition of the truth."

Most supplies for U.S. troops in Iraq, including fuel and military hardware, pass through Turkey. Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier warned that "access to airfields and to the roads and so on in Turkey would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and Turkey reacts as strongly as we believe they will." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed Gates's concerns.

Several similar resolutions on the Turks' treatment of Armenians had been rejected by U.S. Congress before the Democrats gained a majority in the legislature.

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