House Ponders Vote on Armenian 'Genocide' Measure That Could Alienate Turkey

The House may vote next week on a measure that could damage U.S. relations with critical ally Turkey: a resolution declaring the World War I-era killings of Armenians a "genocide."

The vote would be a blow to President Obama by his Democratic allies. House Democratic leaders had long set aside consideration of the draft resolution, and the measure was expected to expire as a new Republican-led House takes office next month.

House aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment, said Friday that Democratic leaders have been discussing a possible vote with lawmakers. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi had no immediate comment.

Turkey has said frequently that the resolution would drive a wedge in its relations with the United States. It sees the measure as a historical affront. In March after the House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed the proposed resolution, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Washington.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

The issue is awkward for Obama, who pledged as a presidential candidate to recognize the Armenian deaths as genocide. The administration reversed course, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Thursday.

Turkey, a NATO ally with a pivotal role for U.S. interests in the Middle East and Afghanistan, has warned that the resolution's approval could jeopardize U.S-Turkish cooperation and set back negotiations aimed at opening the border between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey also currently holds one of the rotating seats in the United Nations' Security Council that will have to approve sanctions against Iran.

Armenian American groups have sought congressional affirmation of the killings as genocide for decades.

"We continue to look to the House Democratic leadership to schedule a vote allowing a bipartisan majority to vote for the Armenian Genocide Resolution," Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said Friday in a statement.

Opponents of the treaty, including the Turkish government, have begun ramping up their lobbying as it became clear that a vote might be in the works shortly before Democrats hand over leadership of the House to Republicans next month.

"We are very concerned that there is a backroom deal going on led by the Democratic leadership to sneak the Armenian resolution through in the final hours of the 111th Congress," said G. Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America.

The Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar genocide measure in 2007, but it was not brought to the House floor for a vote following intensive pressure by then-President George W. Bush.