STUTTGART, Germany — Military officials are worried about the fallout if Congress passes a symbolic resolution to recognize the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey as “genocide.”
The Turkish government claims the deaths, which mostly occurred from 1915 to 1918 during World War I, were not genocide but part of civil war, disease and famine as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. Armenians, who originate from Armenia on Turkey’s eastern border, want the deaths acknowledged for historical and moral purposes as atrocities and genocide at the hands of Turks.
Post-empire Turkey, a moderate, Muslim-majority nation and NATO member since 1952, hosts Incirlik Air Base, home to 1,500 U.S. troops and an important cargo and refueling hub. A resolution could sour Turkish public sentiment toward the U.S., possibly leading to restrictions regarding Incirlik and Turkish air space.
“I’m worried about the potential impact to our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Robertus Remkes, director of strategy, policy and assessments at the U.S. European Command.
House Resolution 106, introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and backed by House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., among others, could come to a vote in April.
A number of nations have already recognized the deaths as genocide. France passed a similar resolution in October, which the Turks viewed as an insult, and it sparked threats of Turkish boycotts and sanctions against France.
“If you see Turkish public opinion going away from the West, where do you see it going?” Remkes said.
Remkes made his comments as weeklong meetings in Germany were concluding between mid- to senior-level officers from the U.S. and Turkish militaries.
The meetings, which took place in Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Ramstein, were to strengthen ties among the officers, whose jobs are to prepare their respective generals for high- level discussions and decisions. The meetings with their Turkish counterparts were pleasantly frank, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Jordan Thomas, the planning directorate’s Turkey desk officer.
“We didn’t agree on everything, but we walked away saying, ‘Yes, we understand you,’” said Thomas, adding that the next round of talks will be held in Turkey.
A number of analysts agree that the resolution, if passed, could damage relations between the U.S. and one of its most important allies in the volatile region.
“Some 60 percent of all U.S. military equipment destined for Iraq goes through the territory or airspace of Turkey,” according to a February article by F. Stephen Larrabee and Suat Kiniklioglu of Rand Corp.
“If this route to Iraq were restricted or closed entirely, the ability of the United States to effectively combat the insurgency and violent militias in Iraq would be impaired.”
Philip Gordon and Omer Taspinar of the Brookings Institution wrote in August that the U.S. and Europe must do what they can to ensure that Turkey sees itself as aligned with the West.
“An Armenian genocide resolution would certainly trigger a tremendous nationalistic backlash in Turkey and a deep rift with the United States,” they wrote.
But Schiff, who like Pelosi has a large Armenian constituency in his congressional district, has said the long-tried resolution needs to finally be passed.
“How can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?” Schiff said when introducing the bill.