ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey warned on Thursday that relations with its NATO ally the United States would be harmed by a U.S. House committee’s approval of a resolution calling the 1915 massacres of Armenia’s by Ottoman Turks genocide.
The move came as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan prepared to ask parliament, which his party controls, to authorize a military incursion into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish Turkish rebels using the region as a base.
"The committee’s approval of this resolution was an irresponsible move, which at a greatly sensitive time will make relations with a friend and ally, and a strategic partnership nurtured over generations, more difficult," the centre-right government said in a statement.
"Our government regrets and condemns this decision. It is unacceptable that the Turkish nation has been accused of something that never happened in history," the government said.
"This unacceptable decision of the committee, like similar ones in the past, is not regarded by the Turkish people as valid or of any value," Turkish president Abdullah Gul said in reaction to the vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee by 27 votes to 21.
Turkey, which has NATO’s second biggest army and plays a key role in a volatile region, has warned of damage to bilateral ties and military cooperation if Congress passes the measure.
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee approved the resolution on Wednesday and it now goes to the House floor, where Democratic leaders say there will be a vote by mid-November.
Turkey said it would do all it could to stop the resolution being approved by the assembly.
"The US Administration considers that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 by the US Congress may do grave harm to bilateral relations with Turkey, as well as US interests in Europe and Middle East," reads a statement of the US Department of State issued Wednesday.
"Certainly we are disappointed in the vote that occurred yesterday," said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for US President George W. Bush, speaking about the vote in the House Committee of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.
"We understand the feelings that people have about the tragic suffering of the Armenian people, and the president, as we’ve noted, has recognized that through presidential messages," he said.
Stanzel added that the President is concerned that the vote could strain relations with key ally Turkey, which has taken umbrage at the congressional move.
"Turkey is playing a critical role in the war on terror and this action is problematic for everything we’re trying to do in the Middle East and would cause great harm to our efforts," Stanzel added.
Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the president had marshaled his top aides, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a lobbying effort to halt the legislation.
"The President has made phone calls on this, Secretary Rice, other administration officials have made phone calls and had meetings with members of Congress, and we’ll continue to do that as long as this resolution is still out there," he said.
The bulk of supplies for troops in Iraq pass through Turkey’s Incirlik airbase, and Turkey provides thousands of truck drivers and other workers for U.S. operations in Iraq. Supplies also flow from the base to troops in Afghanistan.
Diplomats say the committee’s approval of the genocide resolution will weaken U.S. influence over Turkey at a time when the ruling AK Party ponders whether to authorize a major military cross-border operation into northern Iraq.
A large incursion would strain ties with the United States and the European Union, which Ankara hopes to join, and could destabilize Iraq’s most peaceful area and potentially the wider region.
But Erdogan is under great pressure to act after rebel attacks have killed some 30 soldiers and civilians in the past two weeks.
He said late on Wednesday that his government could send the request to parliament on Thursday and obtain an approval after a holiday, which begins on Friday, to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Parliament, where Erdogan’s AK Party has a big majority, would have to give permission for troops in big numbers to cross the border into neighboring Iraq. Passing the measure would not automatically mean Turkish troops going into northern Iraq.
Ankara blames rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since the group launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
Turkey says U.S. and Iraqi authorities have so far failed to crack down on 3,000 PKK rebels believed based in northern Iraq, from where they stage attacks in Turkey.
Large-scale incursions by Turkey in 1995 and 1997, involving an estimated 35,000 and 50,000 troops respectively, failed to dislodge the rebels.