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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

House Panel Approves Genocide Bill

ISTANBUL -- Turkish leaders Thursday reproached a U.S. congressional panel decision to approve a bill describing the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide.

Despite intense lobbying by Turkish officials and opposition by U.S. President George W. Bush, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill by a 27-21 vote -- a move likely to be considered an insult by most Turks.

Bush had warned that the bill could harm U.S.-Turkish relations, which are already tense as Turkey considers staging a military offensive into Iraq against Kurdish rebels who have hideouts there. The United States fears that such an operation could destabilize one of the few relatively peaceful areas in the country.

"Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once again sacrificed important matters to petty domestic politics despite all calls to common sense," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said after the U.S. vote on the genocide bill.

In a statement, the Turkish government condemned the panel's vote.

"It is not possible to accept such an accusation of a crime which was never committed by the Turkish nation," the statement said.

"It is blatantly obvious that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs does not have a task or function to rewrite history by distorting a matter which specifically concerns the common history of Turks and Armenians."

Turkish newspapers denounced the decision.

"27 foolish Americans," the daily Vatan said on its front-page headline, in reference to legislators who voted in favor of the bill.

Hurriyet called the resolution a "Bill of hatred."

Bush had urged Congress to reject the legislation, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates also conveyed their concerns.

Passing the measure "at this time would be very problematic for everything we are trying to do in the Middle East," Rice told reporters at the White House hours before the vote

On Wednesday, hundreds of Turks marched to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul to protest the bill.

The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, urged its citizens to be alert for possible violence after the vote, amid fears of an increase in anti-American feeling in Turkey.

The Turkish anger over the bill has long prevented a thorough domestic discussion of what happened to a once sizable Armenian population under Ottoman rule.

Armenia says up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a systematic genocide from 1915 to 1917, before modern Turkey was born in 1923.

Turkey says the killings occurred at a time of civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart and that the numbers are inflated.

Turkey has told both Bush and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that passing the bill could strain U.S.-Turkish ties, already stretched by Washington's unwillingness to help Ankara crack down on Kurdish rebels holed up in Iraq.

After France voted last year to make it a crime to deny the killings were genocide, the Turkish government ended its military ties with that country.

Many in the United States also fear that a public backlash in Turkey -- a key NATO ally -- could lead to restrictions on crucial supply routes through Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the closure of Incirlik, a strategic air base in Turkey used by the U.S. Air Force.