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Q&A: Turkey and the Armenian 'genocide'

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was deeply saddened  by bill
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was deeply saddened by bill
  • Analysts explain why 1915 killing of Armenians remains emotive issue
  • "Turkey has always refused to accept that it was a planned event," says Katerina Dalacoura
  • "Turkey is becoming more liberal... genocide is no longer a taboo word," said Fadi Hakura
  • Turkey
  • Armenia
  • U.S. Government
  • Genocide

London, England (CNN) -- Turkey has reacted angrily to a U.S. congressional panel decision to pass a resolution calling the 1915 killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a genocide.

Turkey recalled its envoy to the United States and condemned the narrow 23-22 vote in favor by the House Foreign Affairs Committee recommending that the US recognize the killings as genocide.

Here two experts on Turkey -- Dr Katerina Dalacoura, lecturer in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Fadi Hakura, Turkey Analyst at Chatham House, a London-based think tank -- explain why this is such an emotional issue for the country.

Why is this a sensitive issue for Turkey?

Dalacoura: It has always been a sensitive issue... Turkey has always refused to accept that it was a planned event. They argue that genocide only applies if it was a plan to exterminate people.

Hakura: Turkey says "yes, Armenians did die," but disputes the historical definition as a genocide... It says they died in war, of disease, from the general chaos at the time, but the deaths were not part of a deliberate systematic plan to eliminate the Armenians. They say that intention is an important part of genocide.

Why did the House Foreign Affairs Committee vote on this now?

Hakura: On April 24 each year the president of the U.S. makes a traditional statement commemorating the 1915 killings and I suspect the timing of this is related to that.

Could this harm US-Turkey relations?

Hakura: If the resolution was passed then it could cause lasting damage... although this is not the first time the two countries have been through this. In 2007 the recommendation vote was 27-21 so the vote has narrowed this time. Hillary Clinton (U.S. secretary of state) says that passing the resolution would damage U.S./Turkey relations, although I think this is a fig leaf and the real reason is U.S. national security. Turkey is militarily important to the U.S.... it has a military base at Incirlik and in February several senior defense staff signed a letter asking for the resolution to be withdrawn.

Dalacoura: U.S.-Turkey relations have been going through a relative low in the last few years... there is less warmth in the relationship, but the relationship has been strong for a decade and is very strong on a variety of issues and Turkey will deal with it now.

Do any countries recognize the killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 as genocide?

Hakura: Twenty countries do, including France, Germany, Sweden and Canada. Ronald Reagan in 1981 is the only U.S. president who asked for the killings to be called a genocide.

What is the public opinion in Turkey regarding the Armenian massacre?

Dalacoura: Relations between the military and the government is the key issue for many Turks, I think this (Armenia massacre) is a secondary issue.

Hakura: Turkey is becoming more and more liberal... genocide is no longer a taboo word when it comes to talking about Armenia and things have been progressing, but the population does not like foreign powers defining their history, it generates a lot of misgivings.

Could this reverse the tentative measures Turkey and Armenia have taken to normalize relations?

Dalacoura: It depends on how profound the event is... although it is one of many events. The relationship with Turkey is a new one and the Turkish government has invested in it.