Turks Protest Genocide Resolution at U.S. Embassy

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Turks marched to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara to protest a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives calling World War I killings of 1.5 million Armenians "genocide."


We turn now to our correspondent in Istanbul, Ivan Watson. Good morning, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON: Good morning, Deb.

AMOS: The Turkish government lobbied very hard for this including personal phone calls at the highest level. What's the reaction to the vote?

WATSON: Deb, today, a Turkish newspaper had the headline: 27 Dumb Americans, referring to the 27 congressmen who voted for this Armenian genocide bill.

This bill comes at a time when the U.S. is at an all-time low in Turkish public opinion polls largely due to the U.S. prosecution of the war in neighboring Iraq. Turkish president at midnight last night called the bill unacceptable. He accused some American politicians of sacrificing big issues for the, quote, "petty games of domestic politics." Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has said that Turkey has been, quote, "accused of something that never happened in history."

AMOS: This is an issue that's come up before in American politics. But it's never come to a vote. Why is it so sensitive in Turkey? What - is there an alternative version?

WATSON: Exactly. Well, the Turks really opposed the term genocide. They concede that large numbers of Armenian Christians were killed in the final days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. But they also claimed that many Ottoman Muslims were killed at that time when the Armenians, they say, sided with the invading Russian army against the Ottomans.

The subject is still taboo here. Just two years ago, Turkish Nobel Prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk, he was taken to court for insulting Turkishness when he said in an interview that a million Armenians were killed here and nobody dares to talk about it.

AMOS: Ivan, this all happens at a time of great tension between Turkey and its neighbor Iraq. Tell us a little bit how this issue plays into how the Turks see that tension.

WATSON: Well, many Turks think the U.S. hasn't done enough to stop Kurdish separatists, known as the PKK, which the U.S. and Turkey both officially label as terrorists. They operate out of northern Iraq and Ankara says Washington hasn't done enough to stop them. And Turkey has threatened to invade northern Iraq. It's pushing through for the strategy right now, preparing to bring that to parliament. It's going to be a lot harder now for the U.S. to argue against that because the atmosphere will definitely be soured between these two NATO allies.

In addition to that, you have the question of Turkey serving as a major transit hub for U.S. troops and supplies going into Iraq. And Turkey may cut back on cooperation on access to Turkish air bases and Turkish territory for troops and supplies going in and out of Iraq.

AMOS: Thank you very much. NPR's Ivan Watson in Istanbul.

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