Friday, 23 March 2007

Bush Presses Congress To Block Armenian Genocide Bill

Can this be Turkish Thuggery in operation?

A senior U.S. State Department issued a forceful appeal Thursday
for Congress to reject a proposed resolution defining as genocide
the mass killings of Armenians in the closing days of the
Ottoman Empire.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Turkish officials
have informed the United States that approval of the resolution
could lead to shutdown of the U.S. base at Incirlik or a restric-
tion on U.S. overflight rights granted by Turkey.

Fried said the United States also has been informed that the
Turkish Parliament would respond with "extreme emotion" if the
Armenian resolution were approved. He added that such a step would
undercut voices in Turkey calling for a "truthful exploration of
these events in pursuit of Turkey's reconciliation with its own
past and with Armenia."

Fried testified before a hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcom-
mittee on Europe. He highlighted what he said were growing calls in
Turkey for changes to Article 301 of the Turkish Constitution, which
criminalizes "insulting Turkishness."

The resolution, Fried said, runs counter to the views of the
60,000-70,000 Turkish-Armenian community which, he added, has
been warning that the measure would "raise popular emotions so
dramatically as to threaten their personal security." He also said
the U.S. fear is that "passage of any such resolution would close
minds and harden hearts."

In joint identical letters to the speaker of the House of
Representatives and two other senior members, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the
resolution also could inflict significant damage on U.S. efforts
to reconcile the long-standing dispute between the West Asian
neighbors. The appeals went to Democratic House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi; Rep. John Boehner, leader of the House's Republican
minority; and Rep. Tom Lantos, the Democrat who chairs the
House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of one of the letters
Wednesday. It was dated March 7, two days after Armenian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian was in Washington to visit
Rice and said afterward that "Turkish lobbying at a government
level" threatened to scuttle the resolution.

A Democratic aide said Pelosi, who controls the House agenda,
has no plan to bring the proposal before the House soon. The
aide spoke anonymously because final plans have not been approved.

A congressional staff aide, also speaking without attribution,
said it is understood that Lantos, whose committee would deal
with the resolution, was awaiting word from Pelosi. Both the
speaker and Lantos have been supporters of the legislation.
The bipartisan resolution was introduced on January 30.

Passage of the resolution would harm "U.S. efforts to promote
reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia and to advance reco-
nition by Turkey of the tragic events that occurred to ethnic
Armenians under the Ottoman Empire," the letters said. They
said the United States is encouraging "our friends in Turkey
to re-examine their past with honesty and to reconcile with
Armenia, as well as security and stability in the broader
Middle East and Europe."

Rice and Gates reminded the lawmakers of repercussions from
a vote in the French National Assembly last October to
criminalize denial of Armenian genocide. "The Turkish military
cut all contacts with the French military and terminated defense
contracts under negotiation," the letters said.

Similar reaction against passage of the House resolution
"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 at a key turning point in their relations."

Turkey has NATO's second-largest army. The U.S. Air Force has a
major base in southern Turkey near Iraq, which it has used for
operations inthe Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Between the Persian
Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq war, warplanes from Incirlik Air
Base enforced a flight ban in Northern Iraq against the Iraqi
air force.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the family of slain Turkish-Armenian
journalist Hrant Dink on Thursday filed a motion for a judicial
probe into officials they accused of being implicated in the murder.

"We submitted to the prosecutor a request for a (judicial) inves-
tigation against all public officials already facing administrative
charges in connection with the case," Lawyer Bahri Bayram Belen told
reporters in Istanbul. "We believe it will not be possible to shed
light on this political assassination if all the blame is put on a few
children from poor families," he added.

The January 19 murder of the editor of the Turkish-Armenian weekly
Agos is the work of a "well-structured organization... that aims to
prevent democracy from functioning in Turkey," Belen said.

Police have so far arrested 11 suspects in connection with the
killing, including Ogun Samast, an unemployed 17-year-old a high
school dropout who, officials say, has confessed to gunning down
Dink, 52, outside the Agos offices in Istanbul. Most of the suspects
are from the Black Sea city of Trabzon -- a bastion of nationalism --
and are believed to be close to ultranationalist groups who hated
Dink for his views on the World War I killings of Armenians under
Ottoman rule.

Dink described the 1915-1918 killings as genocide, a label that
Turkey, the Ottoman Empire's successor, categorically rejects. I
nterior ministry inspectors are currently looking into allegations
that Istanbul police received a tip-off last year about a plot to
kill Dink being organized in Trabzon, but did not follow up.

Showing a copy of a note from Trabzon police informing their
colleagues in Istanbul of a plot to murder Dink, lawyer Fethiye
Cetin said 17 similar messages in all had been sent to the Istanbul
police. "These prove that it was not negligence or forgetfulness,
but the conscious participation of the authorities in this crime,"
she said.

A preliminary investigation has been launched against Istanbul
police chief Celalettin Cerrah and another senior officer on charges
that they failed to act on the intelligence received from Trabzon.
Another investigation is under way against Trabzon's governor and
police chief, already removed from office amid accusations that they
failed to seriously investigate groups of ultra-nationalist youths
in the city.

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