Image: Yasar Buyukanit
Serkan Senturk  /  AP file
Turkey's top general, Yasar Buyukanit, warned his nation's military ties with the U.S. would never be the same if Congress voted to label WWI killings as genocide.
updated 10/14/2007 2:10:03 PM ET 2007-10-14T18:10:03

Turkey's top general warned that ties with the U.S., already strained by attacks from rebels hiding in Iraq, will be irreversibly damaged if Congress passes a resolution that labels the World War I-era killings of Armenians a genocide.

Turkey, which is a major cargo hub for U.S. and allied military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations and warned that there might be a cut in the logistical support to the U.S. over the issue.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit told daily Milliyet newspaper that a congressional committee's approval of the measure had already harmed ties between the two countries.

"If this resolution passed in the committee passes the House as well, our military ties with the U.S. will never be the same again," Buyukanit was quoted as saying by Milliyet.

"I'm the military chief, I deal with security issues. I'm not a politician," Buyukanit was quoted as saying by Milliyet. "In this regard, the U.S. shot its own foot."

President Bush has said the resolution is the wrong response to the Armenian deaths, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the measure's timing was important "because many of the survivors are very old."

"It is a statement made by 23 other countries. We would be the 24th country to make this statement. Genocide still exists, and we saw it in Rwanda; we see it now in Darfur," she told ABC's "This Week" in an interview broadcast Sunday.

But Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the measure was "irresponsible."

"Listen, there's no question that the suffering of the Armenian people some 90 years ago was extreme. But what happened 90 years ago ought to be a subject for historians to sort out, not politicians here in Washington," he told "Fox News Sunday."

A passage point to Iraq
About 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military there. U.S. bases also get water and other supplies carried in overland by Turkish truckers who cross into Iraq's northern Kurdish region.

In addition, C-17 cargo planes fly military supplies to U.S. soldiers in remote areas of Iraq from Incirlik, avoiding the use of Iraqi roads vulnerable to bomb attacks. U.S. officials say the arrangement helps reduce American casualties.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has "urged restraint" from Turkey and sent two high-ranking officials to Ankara in an apparent attempt to ease fury over the measure which could be voted on by the House by the end of the year.

Buyukanit's remarks were published a day after a visit by Dan Fried, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, and Eric Edelman, who is the undersecretary of defense for policy.

"Secretary of State Rice Condoleezza Rice asked us before we came here to express that the Bush administration is opposed to this resolution," Edelman said Saturday.

The issue: 1.5 million deaths
At issue in the resolution is the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Many international historians contend the World War I-era deaths amounted to genocide, but Turkey says the mass killings and deportations were not systematic and that many Turkish Muslims died in the chaos of war.

The congressional resolution comes as the Turkish parliament debates authorizing a military campaign into northern Iraq to root out rebels who seek a unified, independent nation for Kurds in the region.

U.S. officials have urged Turkey not to send troops and appealed for a diplomatic solution with Iraq. The Kurdish self-rule region in northern Iraq is one of the country's few relatively stable areas and the Kurds here are also a longtime U.S. ally.

A Kurdish rebel commander on Saturday said Turkey would face a long and bloody conflict if it launched a large-scale offensive in northern Iraq.

Speaking to The Associated Press deep in the Qandil mountains straddling the Iraq-Turkish border, some 94 miles from the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, Murat Karayilan, head of the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, warned that an eventual Turkish incursion would "make Turkey experience a Vietnam war."

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Turkey says the rebels use Iraqi Kurdish territory as a safe haven. Iraqi and Kurdish authorities reject the claim.

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