Friday, December 24, 2010
Once more, Washington became a battlefield for Turks and Armenians last week over HR 252, a resolution urging the United States House of Representatives to recognize the World Ward I era killings of Armenians during the final days of the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”
There are quite a few upshots of this latest face-off. One of the first results was a strong showing of the newly energized and vibrant American-Turkish community which is better organized at this time due to mainly social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, and as a leader of this vibrant respond, the Turkish Embassy in Washington, which swiftly got its acts together early hours in Friday morning to determine the strategy to encounter the Armenian pressure.
Though one of the Armenian-American leaders that I talked to this week, who wanted to stay an anonymous, disagreed with me on this point and said that this factor had a very little real effect in terms collision of the bill: “On the contrary,” the source said, who has been in this fight for decades, “it was a decision that the State Department, White House and Congressional leadership had taken sometime ago that they cannot push the current Ankara government further to the East and did not want to risk alienating it.”
I had a long conversation with the US Representative from Tennessee’s 9th district, Mr. Steve Cohen over the phone this week as well following the end of the 111th session of the U.S. Congress. The Congressman also made some similar observations about Turkey’s image in the Congress. Cohen, whose grandfather Abraham Hassan or Hassen (spelled differently in different documents) was born in Turkey in 1895, and who proudly calls himself a “descendant of a Turkish family,” stated that this last battle was more difficult for Turkey’s friends in the Congress to encounter, especially because of Turkey’s strained relations with Israel. “In the past, supporters of Israel in the House were meant also supporters of the Turkey cause. Not anymore. Turkey’s NATO membership and solid alliance to the West also used to be a strong argument. Now, in addition to Turkey’s Israel policy, dealing with Iran also raised questions and attributed to debate about Turkey is turning its face from West to East. And this was certainly not helpful either.”
Mr. Lincoln McCurdy, the president of the Turkish Coalition of America, credited Steve Cohen, along with Rules Committee senior ranking member Alcee Hastings (Democrat-Florida), Gerald E. Connoly (Democrat-Virginia) and Bill Delahunt (Democrat-Massacheusetts, who left the Congress) for they were significant voices in energizing the opposition against Democratic leadership not to bring the bill to the floor within the party.
His opposition to the bill was based on practical reasons and Cohen conveyed to me his conversation with General David Petraues, who is in the charge of the U.S. Central Command currently. Petraues described the genocide resolution as “harmful” and “mistaken,” and talked about Turkey’s traditional help to the US troops around the world.
While the US Congress was going to through its last hours and it was unknown to us whether HR 252 was going to be brought to the floor by the Speaker Pelosi, I was at the White House to talk about Turkey-US relations of 2010 with the spokesperson of the White House National Security Council, Mike Hammer. In our conversation, I heard many compliments about Turkey and how much President, personally invested in the relations with it with exception of two matters. (Hammer also said that early Turkey visit was fully President’s idea.) It was worth paying attention on Hammer’s cautionary note over Turkey’s dealing with Iran and strained relations with Israel.
Whether it is about powerful Jewish lobbies or historic bonds between the US and Israel, Israel is still an exceptional ally for the U.S. Even the Netanyahu government, which made everything about the Middle East Process more difficult for the Obama administration, did not diminish the popularity of Israel among Americans and for their administration. Therefore, unless something extraordinary happens to the bond between the two, which was defined as “unbreakable” by Obama at his speech in Cairo, there is little evidence for the U.S. to change its stance when it comes to Israel.
However, if there are still some who imagine that the U.S. administration would break its ties with Turkey just because there are some significant policy differences on these or potential other matters in the future, they also are badly mistaken. As Hammer explained to me in so many different levels and various partnerships that the two carry currently, it became clear to at the end of our talk that the U.S. administration will not retreat to invest and improve the bilateral ties with Turkey.
For realpolitik and national security reasons, today’s Turkey is too important an ally to be mistreated by Washington. And we have witnessed this during the most difficult times in 2010 when the U.S. administration was extremilty careful not to criticize Ankara publicly. In addition to all of that, finally, the latest Cablegate revelations, and impending thousands of cables also makes the U.S. government extra cautious in the relations with Turkey, not to anger it with such resolutions.
“The Armenian Genocide bill” of HR 252, at a time when almost all Democratic leadership positions both in the US administration and the House have been occupied by the supporting voices of the bill in the past, had failed this week. And this failure happened also when the U.S. Congress and the Ankara administration are on odds on number of issues that are cited above.
So was the battle a complete win for the Turkish side and loose for the Armenian side? No it is not.
Even though there is a lesser chance in coming years for another passage of a similar bill in the U.S. Congress, since the new Republican House majority appears to be more in line with the Turkish arguments, the Armenian diaspora still made enough damage to Turkey’s image or brand within a week, which Ankara works hard to polish for sometime.
It is true that the Armenians failed in effort to get the recognition of the genocide bill, though as the same Armenian leader confided in me this week that Armenians believe that “this is not end of the story. 1915 wiped out a nation,” he told me, “and our properties got stolen. This fight will go on with various tracks, whether by blocking an Ambassador to Azerbaijan, pushing for the Genocide bill or following the legal actions until we get the justice.”
One unchanged truth out of the battle, which a considerable part of it was conducted in the cyber world, is that the resolution fight continues to poison the relations between the two communities once or twice measure in every year. And the gap between them appears to be getting wider.Turkey’s Washington Ambassador Namik Tan, who talked to scores of Congressmen and used twitter and other social networking sites to rally the Turkish community against the resolution, during a press conference this week to the Turkish press, stated that he indeed would like to reach out to the Armenian community to talk and engage, instead of a fight.
I also echo Ambassador Tan's wish in this holiday season and applaud this spirit of engagement, and hope that still miracles can happen.