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Senate Debates ‘Armenian Genocide’ Resolution

February 21, 1990 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate is embroiled in debate over the ″Armenian genocide″ that is pitting GOP members against the Bush administration and threatening to poison relations with Turkey.

Led by Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., supporters of the controversial resolution say the measure is an effort to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed in 1915-1923 during the Ottoman Empire because of their ethnic background. The Ottoman Empire is now Turkey.

Opponents of the measure said it could sour U.S. relations with Turkey, a NATO ally, and threaten the future of military bases in the Moslem country.


The Senate was expected to continue debate today, with a cloture vote scheduled on Thursday to cut off debate. Sixty senators must approve that motion before a vote on the measure can be taken.

″It is time for the Senate, the Congress, the United States government - it is time, finally, for all of us to do what is right,″ said Dole. ″It’s time for the United States, officially, to commemorate the Armenian genocide.″

Dole sponsored the resolution to make April 24 a national day of remembrance of the anniversary of the ″Armenian genocide, 1915-1923.″

Turkey is fiercely opposed to the measure and has objected to the term ″genocide.″ Prime Minister Turgut Ozal has said the measure has united all Turks.

″I am deeply concerned that if the Senate passes the resolution, it will unwittingly slap the face of a very important NATO ally,″ said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., an opponent.

Byrd was the only senator to speak against the measure Tuesday. Others supporting it included Sens. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Pete Wilson, R-Calif., a gubernatorial candidate in a state with a large Armenian-American population.

Much of the debate centered Tuesday over the term ″genocide,″ which Byrd said may not apply to the massacre of Armenians under the strict definition of the Geneva Convention.

Although the Bush administration opposes the resolution, the measure is a potential source of embarrassment for President Bush, who said during the 1988 campaign that he would be inclined to support it.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., quoted Bush as saying during 1988 that the United States ″must acknowledge the attempted genocide″ of the Armenians. ″I would join Congress in commemorating the victims of that period,″ Simon quoted Bush as saying.

″Clearly a different signal is coming from the White House today,″ he said.

Dole’s spokesman, Walt Riker, said the senator and White House officials had tried unsuccessfully to arrive at compromise language on the resolution. Dole has rejected any effort to water down the language, but said he might offer amendments that contain ″less offensive″ words when the measure reaches the Senate floor.

Dole complained about the ″massive lobbying effort″ to block the measure, which was passed last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He said the resolution had 61 co-sponsors last year, but today has only 46 co-sponsors.

″What has changed is the launching of a massive lobbying effort against the resolution - by the administration, by the government of Turkey, by American businesses who operate in Turkey and - regrettably - by some private organizations and individuals who ought to be supportive of the resolution,″ he said.

Last year, Dole wrote to the Israeli ambassador asking if Israel had asked some Jewish groups to work against the measure, according to Riker. Turkey is a Moslem country that has relations with Israel.

Meantime, Turkey has already taken steps to show its displeasure at the resolution. The country has banned ports of call by U.S. nuclear-powered warships and barred flights by training missions into a gunnery range, according to Mike McNamara, who represents Turkey.