Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expresses concern in Ankara on Thursday about a U.S. congressional committee's declaration that the First World War-era killing of Armenians was genocide. Davutoglu said the resolution could hurt ties between Turkey and the U.S. ((Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press))

A U.S. congressional panel has approved a resolution declaring the Ottoman-era killing of Armenians genocide.

In Turkey, the government said it was recalling its ambassador from Washington in response.

The U.S. foreign affairs committee endorsed the resolution with a 23-22 vote Thursday, even though the Obama administration had urged Congress not to offend Turkey by approving it.

The resolution now goes to the full House, where prospects for passage are uncertain.

In April, Obama broke a campaign promise to brand the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide. Obama said that while he had not changed his personal views, he did not want to upset promising talks between Turkey and Armenia on improving relations and opening their border.

The Thursday vote by the congressional committee could alienate Turkey, which plays an important role for U.S. interests in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Mike Hammer, a National Security Council spokesman, said in a statement that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had spoken with foreign affairs committee chairman Howard Berman on Wednesday and indicated that "further congressional action could impede progress on normalization of relations" between Turkey and Armenia.

Prospects in House uncertain

Hammer would not specify whether Clinton urged Berman to cancel Thursday's hearing or to vote against the resolution.

Still, Berman urged fellow members of the committee to approve the resolution. The committee appeared likely to endorse it, sending it to the full U.S. House of Representatives, where its prospects are uncertain.

"The Turks say passing this resolution could have terrible consequences for our bilateral relationship, and indeed perhaps there will be some consequences," Berman said. "But I believe that Turkey values its relations with the United States at least as much as we value our relations with Turkey."


Sirapi Khogyan, right, and others, attend a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, on the Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide Resolution. ((Harry Hamburg/Associated Press))

The U.S. relies on Turkey as a key supply route for American troops in Iraq and Turkey's troops serve in the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. is also pressing Turkey, which holds a rotating seat in the UN Security Council, to support sanctions against Iran, Turkey's neighbour.

Hammer said Obama called President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday to express his appreciation for Turkey's efforts to normalize relations with Armenia.

Hammer said Obama called President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday to express his appreciation for Turkey's efforts to normalize relations with Armenia.

The Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar genocide measure in 2007, but it was not brought to the House floor for a vote following intensive pressure by George W. Bush, the president at the time.

First genocide of 20th century

Following the 2007 committee vote, Turkey promptly recalled its ambassador, and U.S. officials feared the Turks might cut off American access to a Turkish air base essential to operations in Iraq. After intensive lobbying by top Bush administration officials, the resolution was not considered.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will wait to see the result of the committee vote before deciding whether to bring the resolution before the full House.

Armenian-American groups have for decades sought congressional affirmation of the killings as genocide. The killings around the time of the First World War is an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey says the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide.

In October, Turkey and Armenia signed an agreement to normalize relations, but Turkey has yet to ratify it.