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Turkey: Why 'Armenian genocide' resolution may hurt US interests

Turkey's deep emotional reaction to the 'Armenian genocide' resolution passed by a US congressional committee yesterday could have far-ranging implications for US policy in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

By Yigal SchleiferCorrespondent / March 5, 2010

Riot police stand guard as protesters shout slogans against the United States outside the US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, Friday. Thursday's 'Armenian genocide' resolution may hurt US interests.

Burhan Ozbilici/AP


Istanbul, Turkey

Those watching the mounting US-Turkey tensions over a congressional committee's resolution recognizing the Armenian 'genocide' could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu.

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A committee passed a similar resolution in 2007, leading Turkey to recall its ambassador to Washingtonsomething it did again after the resolution passed yesterday – and warn of a serious rupture in relations with the US. A last-minute intervention by the Bush administration kept the bill from going any further.

This year was supposed to be different. The historic accords that Turkey and Armenia signed this past October to restore diplomatic relations and put in motion a process to examine the past were supposed to take the legs out from under any effort to tar Turkey with the “genocide” label.

But the stalling of that reconciliation process, and Turkey’s deep emotional reaction to the genocide issue have, once again, created a potentially damaging situation for Turkish-US relations. It could have far-ranging implications for US policy in the Middle East, where Turkey is one of Washington's most important allies and an increasingly influential powerbroker.

“Turkey will certainly feel impelled to take retaliatory action against the US, which will take the form of noncooperation in terms of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly leading to restrictions on the use of strategic assets like the Incirlik air base – areas where there is important cooperation,” says Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul think tank.

“This is an area where identity and emotion are in a sense superseding pure interests," he adds. "On a topic like this, the national interest is trumped by a core question loaded with emotions that cuts deep to the issue of identity.”

Why accords with Armenia have stalled

The signing of the accords was initially hailed in Turkey as an important breakthrough. But Ankara seemed to put the brakes on the process after facing strong opposition from domestic forces and oil- and gas-rich Azerbaijan, a traditional Turkish ally that is also a key component of Ankara’s energy policy.