updated 10/12/2007 7:54:05 PM ET 2007-10-12T23:54:05

Armenian lawmakers rose to their feet in applause, and their president urged the United States to go further after a U.S. House panel approved a resolution labeling the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Turks genocide.

The decision of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was a triumph for Armenian-American interest groups who have lobbied Congress for decades. The resolution is expected to pass a House vote despite the Bush administration’s concerns about harming relations with Turkey — a key supply route to U.S. troops in Iraq.

“Historical justice is restored,” said the headline Friday in Respublika Armenia, a pro-government newspaper.

In parliament, opposition deputies joined their pro-government colleagues Thursday in a prolonged standing ovation for the House committee’s decision.

“We express our gratitude to our colleagues in Congress who demonstrated great moral qualities and, not giving into different pressures, voted for the resolution,” said Tigran Torosian, chairman of the National Assembly.

If Congress recognizes the killings as genocide, it could be a cathartic moment for this landlocked republic of rugged highlands. Armenians have been striving for decades to gain recognition of their stance in a dispute that has poisoned relations with modern Turkey.

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Scholars view it as the first genocide of the 20th century, but Turkey says the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Armenian leader: 'No doubt' on events
Armenian President Robert Kocharian called for “a full recognition by the United States of America of the fact of the Armenian genocide.”

“All of our foreign contacts around the world demonstrate that there is no disagreement or that there is no doubt anywhere in the world about the events that took place in Turkey in 1915,” Kocharian said Thursday during a trip to Belgium. “The fact that Turkey has adopted a position of denial of the genocide doesn’t mean it can bind other states to deny historic truths as well.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the resolution would hamper efforts to improve ties between Turkey and Armenia, which have no diplomatic relations.

“Are relations between Turkey and Armenia possible? The way things are going, no!” Erdogan said.

Some Armenians fear the resolution could bring problems for Armenians living in Turkey, or the thousands who try to make a living by traveling there to buy goods for resale back home. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a Muslim ally of Ankara, and maintains a virtual blockade that hurts Armenia’s economy.

Turkey response feared
Susanna Papikian, a 55-year-old computer programmer, said she was afraid Turkey might respond harshly, possibly even with military action.

“As a descendant of refugees from western Armenia, I experience such negative emotions deep in my genes,” she said. “But I’m really happy that the Foreign Affairs Committee made this decision. I hope the whole House adopts this resolution.”

Many Armenians believe things between the two countries cannot get much worse. Trade is virtually nonexistent, and Armenia already considers Turkey’s conditions for establishing diplomatic relations unacceptable.

“Ankara will be mad for a few more days and then it will calm down,” was Friday’s headline in the centrist newspaper Azg, the Nation.

Andranik Migranyan, a Russian analyst who focuses on former Soviet republics, agreed that Turkey was unlikely to take action against Armenia.

“Turkey is in negotiations to join the European Union,” he said in Yerevan. “The country must conform to certain norms and principles.”

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