Armenia Hails Vote On Genocide Bill

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia on Wednesday welcomed the decision by a committee of the US Congress to endorse a bill that effectively recognizes as genocide the 1915 mass killings of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.

The International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday overwhelmingly in favor of the bill–ignoring vigorous protests from the Turkish government and objections of the Clinton administration.

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian argued that international recognition of the 1915 genocide would help Armenia’s and Turks overcome mutual antagonism and contribute to stability in the region. He said that the advance of the pro-Armenian bill in the US Congress must not damage Turkish-Armenia’s ties which he said are already at an "almost zero level."We do not think that recognition of the genocide may obstruct the future normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations," Oskanian told a news conference. "In the light of the latest events I again urge Turkey to accept our proposal to embark on a dialogue on all issues of mutual interest."

The two neighboring states have no diplomatic relations–with Turkey pegging their establishment to Armenian recognition of Azeri sovereignty over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Turkey has threatened to tighten the economic blockade of Armenia–accusing its leadership of encouraging anti-Turkish lobbying efforts in Washington. One of the options is the closure of Turkish airspace for civilian aircraft flying from and into Armenia. Oskanian said he hopes that Ankara will refrain from taking such steps.

Former and present Turkish officials have made it clear that Yerevan should not hope to normalize relations with Ankara as long as its insists on the genocide recognition. But Oskanian claimed that the likelihood of a normalization in the event of the bill’s passage by the House of Representatives will diminish only "in the short run" because "emotions will eventually fade away" in Turkey. "I am convinced that in the long run this would have a positive impact on Turkish-Armenian relations," he said.

Armenia’s membership of the Council of Europe should not depend on the conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan–Oskanian said on Wednesday. He urged member governmen’s of the Council–which favor the simultaneous accession of the two conflicting states to the unofficial club of European democracies–not to delay Armenia’s membership in the event that the Azeri elections fall short of democratic standards.

"We believe that this linkage must have a certain time limit and suggest that this time limit be set for November 5–the date of the Azeri elections," he told reporters. "Our diplomatic efforts are now aimed at having that linkage removed after November 5."

Senior officials from the Council of Europe have recently voiced concern at the Azeri authorities’ refusal to allow several leading opposition parties to contest parliament seats under the system of proportional representation and the perceived harassment of the pro-opposition media. The freedom and fairness of the polls is one of the main conditions for Azerbaijan’s membership set by the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly.

The PACE voted last June to recommend the member governmen’s to admit the two countries into the organization which promotes human rights and democracy. The Committee of Ministers is expected to make a final decision on the matter after the Azeri vote.

Yerevan fears that the Council’s main executive body could be reluctant to accept Armenia ahead of Azerbaijan if Baku fails to handle the elections in a way acceptable to the Europeans. The United States argued against such option last June. But Oskanian said European powers seem to agree with his country’s position and that he hopes they will formally approve the Armenian membership bid next month regardless of the situation in Azerbaijan.

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