10/11 IHT: Israel expresses concern over Turkish-Armenian massacre dispute

Israel expresses concern over Turkish-Armenian massacre dispute

The Associated Press

Thursday, October 11, 2007

JERUSALEM: Israel on Thursday expressed concern over the dispute over the World War I killing of more than 1 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks but tried to deflect pressure from Turkey to take its side.

During his visit to Israel this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan pressed Israel to use its influence in Washington to help kill a Congressional effort to label the mass killing as genocide. Turkey has been resisting such efforts for decades.

In media interviews, Babacan warned that Turkey's relations with Israel and the United States could suffer if the genocide resolution is approved. U.S. President George W. Bush has called on Congress to defeat it, pointing to the importance of Turkey as an ally.

Armenians say more than 1.5 million people were killed from 1915-17 in a systematic genocide of Armenians waged during the Ottoman Empire before the birth of modern Turkey in 1923.

The Turks refuse to call it genocide, saying the Armenians were the victims of widespread chaos and political upheaval as the 600-year-old empire collapsed — not genocide.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev confirmed the issue came up during talks between Babacan and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

"We take the Turkish concerns very seriously. We have an excellent relationship with Turkey," Regev said Thursday.

He declined to discuss Israel's response or say whether Israel would ask its allies in Washington to intervene. In recent months the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group known for fighting anti-Semitism, changed its policy and declared the killing of the Armenians "tantamount to genocide," provoking Turkish wrath.

The debate in Washington over the World I massacre of Armenians has put Israel in an uncomfortable position. Turkey is a key Israeli ally and one of its few friends in the Muslim world. At the same time, Israel was built in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, and genocide is an extremely sensitive topic.

Alon Liel, a former director of Israel's foreign ministry and expert in Israel-Turkey relations, said the U.S. legislation could ultimately hurt ties between the two countries.

"We tried all these years not to get into it," he said. But because of the ADL's new position, "Turkey will blame the Jewish organizations, and then this could bounce back to us."

Israel has acknowledged that massacres were perpetrated against the Armenians and expressed sympathy for their suffering. But the government has stopped short of calling it genocide.

Regev said Thursday "there is no change" in Israel's policy.

Earlier this year, the parliament shelved a proposal for a discussion on the Armenian genocide at the request of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. At the time, Livni expressed concern the issue could destabilize ties with Turkey.

"As Jews and Israelis, we have special sympathy and a moral obligation to commemorate the massacres that were perpetrated against the Armenians in the last years of Ottoman rule," said a statement from Livni at the time, hoping "both sides will reach an open dialogue that will enable them to heal the wounds that have been left open."

Source: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/11/africa/ME-GEN-Israel-Turkey.php