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General: Resolution a Threat to U.S.-Turkish Ties


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Turkey's top general issued a stern warning today. He said U.S.-Turkish military ties will never be the same if the U.S. Congress passes a resolution labeling the killings of Armenians in Turkey as genocide. The massacres took place nearly a hundred years ago in Ottoman, Turkey.


Last week, after the genocide resolution want approval in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington. Yesterday, the Bush administration sent two envoys to Turkey to try to calm the diplomatic waters. Bush administration officials have expressed fear that Turkey might stop the U.S. from using its transit routes to get supplies to U.S. forces in Iraq.

I asked NPR's Ivan Watson in Istanbul if the Turkish officials were talking about this.

IVAN WATSON: Not yet, Andrea, or at least, not publicly yet. But they have shown their displeasure: the navy chief for the Turkish military cancelled the visit to the U.S.; the government minister cancelled the trip to attend the U.S.-Turkish trade conference in New York, which has also have been canceled. And then we have these statements from General Buyukanit, the chief of staff in a newspaper interview today. He said that that the Americans shot themselves in the foot with this Armenian genocide resolution.

It's important to note that when the French parliament passed a similar resolution recently, Turkey also cut off ties with the French military including very lucrative defense contracts. The problem here for the U.S. is that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, 70 percent of American supplies airlifter into Iraq go through Turkey's interleague Airbase, as well as a large amount of the fuel shipments which go by tanker truck and that could conceivably be curtailed. It's also not clear how this Armenian genocide resolution, the aftermath of this, could affect Turkey's cooperation with the U.S. on dealing with two somewhat difficult neighbors: Iran and Syria.

SEABROOK: Now, it's not just the Armenian genocide resolution that has the Turks riled up, is it?


WATSON: Not at all. Of course, first of all, for the Turks the U.S. invasion of Iraq was very unpopular here. In addition to this, the Turks are very concerned about the Kurds of Northern Iraq. And in particular, their concern about PKK separatist who operate out of mountain basis on the Iraqi side of the border. The U.S. considers the PKK a terrorist organization but it has never taken action against the PKK.

Meanwhile, clashes between the PKK and Turkish Security Forces on Turkish territory have intensified over the past several years with more than 30 Turkish Security Forces killed in just the last two weeks. Some American weapons issued in Iraq by the U.S. military have popped up in PKK hands, and the most conspiracy-minded Turks are convinced that the U.S. is actually helping the PKK against Turkey. So, this is another real sore point between the two allies.

SEABROOK: And, Ivan, I can hear the call the prayer in the background there.

WATSON: Absolutely. Five times a day and I've got a 400-year-old mosque, about 20 yards from my office, so.

SEABROOK: Not a bad place to work, I'd say.

WATSON: Difficult to record an interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Ivan, what are the chances that this friction on the border between Turkey and Northern Iraq where these Kurdish rebels are would cost Turkey to mount some kind of invasion into the Kurdish Northern Iraq?

WATSON: Well it's important to know here that the Turks have already been routinely bombing the border area with artillery from more than a year now. Not very forward into Iraqi territory, but nonetheless, they have been carrying out artillery attacks. And throughout the '90s, the Turks did mount large scales military incursions on the ground to fight the PKK. There's a build up of troops on the border, there are serious fears that the Turks could go in and they're expecting to put this measure to a parliamentary vote this coming week in Ankara.

SEABROOK: And, Ivan, one last question. What is the view from Turkey of the American politics that have led to this resolution passing, through at least a committee, in the U.S. Congress?

WATSON: I think many Turks will say, wow, American politicians are slaves or servants of the Armenian lobby in the U.S. Of course it's all more complicated than that but the Turkish position on the Armenian genocide is that, yes, a hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed but they refuse to accept the term genocide. They say that the Armenians were killed in mutual massacres that involved the deaths of many Ottoman Muslims that happened during World War I as the Russian army was trying to invade into this part of what is modern day Turkey, and this is where the Turks have refused to accept this. I do have to say, though, that there is a bit of a taboo here. You don't have a lot of academic discussion about the Armenian massacres, in fact, the Nobel Prize winning Turkish author, Orahan Pamuk, - he was taken to court just a year or two ago for writing more than a million Armenians were killed here and nobody dares to talk about it.

SEABROOK: NPR's Ivan Watson in Istanbul.

Thanks you very much, Ivan.

WATSON: You're welcome, Andrea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.