JAMES HATTORI, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm James Hattori.
A House panel plunged into a 90-year-old dispute this past week. The committee voted to call on President Bush to declare that the killing of up to one and a half million Armenians by Ottoman Turks constituted genocide. Most scholars say that it did. But modern day Turkish leaders, who are successors to the Ottomans, consider the term abhorrent. The Turks, along with the Bush administration, worked fervently to defeat the resolution. They lost the first round but the battle is by no means over.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: It's rare for a vote by a congressional committee to have geopolitical ramifications, but it's not an overstatement to say the 27 to 21 vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week on the Armenian genocide resolution did. Turkey recalled its ambassador to the U.S. for consultations. There were anti-American protests in Ankara. And the Turkish prime minister called the vote contrary to U.S. interest.
One of the major U.S. interests in Turkey is the access it provides for U.S. troops and equipment into Iraq, which raises the question why did the committee take up the resolution now.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded if not now, when.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): I've been in Congress for 20 years. And for 20 years, people have been saying the same thing that Turkey's strategic locations in the Cold War and after that came Gulf War I, and now they're saying Gulf War II, why do it now. Well, because now - it is never a good time.
NAYLOR: In fact, the House has twice approved similar resolutions only to see them die in the Senate. California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff says in recent years, the measure didn't even get to the House floor.
Representative ADAM SCHIFF (Democrat, California): We've been trying to raise this resolution for many, many years. I struggled under the last speaker Dennis Hastert, who was very much opposed to bringing it on the floor, although he had promised to do so. There are very few survivors left. I think while there are still some among us, there is a real sense of urgency.
NAYLOR: Schiff, the primary sponsor of the genocide resolution has some 75,000 Armenian-Americans in his district - the most of anyone in Congress. But backers faced an intense bipartisan campaign against the resolution. The Turkish government hired some high-powered lobbyist, among them former Democratic Richard Gephardt and former Republican Congressman Bob Livingston.
President Bush also personally called members of the panels, urging them to vote no. One lawmaker, who switched after hearing from the president, was Indiana Republican Mike Pence.
Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): The old book tells us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. With American troops in harm's way, dependent on critical supplier routes available through an alliance that we enjoy with the nation of Turkey, I submit that at this time this is not the time for this nation to speak on this dark chapter of history.
NAYLOR: Further complicating matter is the Turkish government's threat (unintelligible) into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish rebels, a move the U.S. opposes. After the past weeks of vote, Turkey seems less inclined to follow U.S. policy. Congressman Schiff, however, dismisses the threats of retaliation as bluster.
Rep. PENCE: I don't think we can allow ourselves to be bought off when it comes to recognizing genocide by the fact that our ally would be offended.
NAYLOR: Schiff says he's never seen a more intense lobbying campaign in a committee hearing and to expect the pressure to continue as the measure heads to the House floor. And as he sees it…
Rep. PENCE: All we have going for us on our side is the truth. But the truth is a powerful thing. The truth went out in committee this week and I hope and believe the truth will win out on the House floor as well.
NAYLOR: Speaker Pelosi promises there will be a vote by the full House before the end of this session.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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