Turkey threatens retaliation over US genocide Bill

Turkey on Tuesday accused Washington of playing “petty” politics and threatened reprisals if the United States Congress votes on a motion branding the World War I massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks an act of genocide.

“We see that common sense is gradually losing ground to petty political calculations. Therefore we will adopt a corresponding attitude,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party.

“Whatever damage Turkey suffers, its opponents will suffer ten-fold,” he said.

Erdogan did not specify what reprisals Ankara has in mind against its long-standing Nato ally.

“We have come to the point of considering new ways and means,” he said. “The limits of our tolerance are being exceeded.”

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee last week endorsed a resolution labelling the 1915 to 1917 Armenian massacres as genocide.

The White House opposes the measure, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she is determined to submit the Bill to a full vote in the House.

Turkish officials have signalled that adoption of the Bill may lead to Ankara barring the US from using the Incirlik Air Force Base in southern Turkey, a key facility in the transport of US cargo to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The genocide Bill put further strain on bilateral ties at a time when Turkey, defying US pressure, is preparing the legal ground for a possible incursion into neighbouring northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish rebels taking refuge there.

Erdogan warned that the prospect of improving ties with neighbouring Armenia would also suffer.

“Those who expect openings from Turkey will be left alone with their problems,” he said. “They will have to pay the cost of their hostility towards an important country like Turkey.”

Turkey refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia because of its campaign for the international recognition of the massacres as genocide.

Turkey dealt a heavy economic blow to the impoverished ex-Communist nation in 1993 as it shut their common border in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with Armenia over the territory of Nagorny-Karabakh.

An estimated 70 000 Armenians are working illegally in Turkey, tolerated by the government. Opposition parties have called for their expulsion as a measure of reprisal.

In 2005, Ankara suggested to Yerevan that a joint commission be created to study the genocide allegations as a first step towards normalising ties.

Erdogan regretted on Tuesday that Yerevan had not responded to the proposal.

In June, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said Yerevan was ready “to create any commission that is needed to address whatever issue” if Turkey opens the border between the two countries.

Armenians say up to 1,5-million of their kinsmen died in deportations and systematic killings under the Ottoman Empire.

Ankara counters that 300 000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife during World War I when the Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with Russian troops invading the crumbling empire. — AFP

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