Monday, November 19, 2007


David Merahn

Turkish Daily News
Nov 12 2007

The past few weeks have shown a dramatic turn around in one of
the most contentious issues facing American-Turkish relations: the
so-called Armenian Genocide resolution. After the Oct. 10 vote in
the Committee of Foreign Affairs, it looked like the resolution was
on a path towards a general vote in the House of Representatives.

Turkish officials were outraged, and sympathetic Americans railed
against the measure on the floor of Congress. Then, all of a sudden,
the resolution found its support decreasing, as many Representatives,
including co-sponsors began to drop out. From outside Congress, this
seemed like a dramatic and sudden turn around. The media seemed to
lack a cohesive explanation, and other stories, mostly surrounding
Turkey's southern border, distracted from the issue.

On the surface it looks like that if this resolution were ever going
to succeed it would have been now; the Speaker of the House, who sets
its agenda, is Nancy Pelosi. She is from California, a state that
has a substantial and powerful Armenian constituency. Yet discussions
with three leaders in congress, Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-Texas),
Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) and Congressman Robert Wexler
(D-Florida), reveals why this resolution needed to be defeated and
the multifaceted effort that was executed to ensure that it was -
efforts taken by both those in Turkey and the US.

These discussions revealed that on the larger scale Turkey's reaction
was extremely important. Initially many criticized Turkey for the
threatened actions, which would weaken both the U.S. and Turkey
itself. However, as Rep. Whitfield points out "while it sounds tough,
Turkey was right to speak out, there is no reason for [the resolution]
to pass. Prime Minister ErdoĆ°an is a mature and measured leader,
and I believe he wouldn't put our continued work together at risk."

Turkey's aggressive reaction, which included governmental threats
accompanied by civilian protests, demonstrated the importance of the
issue in Turkey, an importance of which many in the U.S. were unaware.

The measure was also opposed by informed and powerful figures within
the American foreign relations community. "The resolution has been
opposed in a letter from all living Secretaries of State, and three
Secretaries of Defense, that is a diverse group of people, and I
think it took a lot of my colleagues by surprise," said Rep.

Whitfield. A point further supported by Congresswoman Granger: "Many
in congress think that because it's just a resolution and doesn't have
any action attached to it, they don't see it as important as it is,
to take action against an ally." She goes on to highlight how the
legislative nature of the resolution led to a more flippant approach
to the issue, "If you don't understand how it's viewed in Turkey it's
easy to think it's not such a big deal - I mean we pass resolutions
to congratulate sports teams."

How the change came?

The fact that the Turkish reaction took many in Congress who originally
supported the resolution by surprise opened the door to begin the
process of changing their minds. However, supporters really began to
drop after action taken by their fellow Representatives. As Granger
commented, "A lot of people worked very hard to change our colleagues'
minds, literally one by one when needed."

Congressmen like Robert Wexler made a point to demonstrate how
important it is to preserve the two nations' "strategic partnership,"
saying, "My sense is that most people have great empathy for the
tragedy and suffering of the Armenian community but they understand
[Congress members'] first priority is to protect American lives and
anything that disrupts the safety of the troops, like this resolution
might, will make them stop and ask 'why are we doing this?'" The
combination of all these collective efforts makes it look like the
resolution has been defeated for now.

While it is unlikely that the resolution will be called to vote anytime
soon, the prospect is not entirely removed: "The resolution has been
around forever, it's one of the reasons we formed the Turkish caucus
in Congress," Granger said.

The U.S. and Turkish relationship has been strained, regardless of
whether the resolution is ever called to vote. While the governments
of the two nations have had several high-ranking meetings in the
past weeks and are collectively ushering in a new phase of their
relationship, the potential lasting damage from the resolution is
its effects on popular sentiment.

With Turkish opinions of America already at an all time low, this
most recent incident is only salting a wound that has already been
in need of treatment for sometime, a sentiment best summed up by
Congressman Whitfield: "Turkey is a vital part on our war on terror
and a key diplomatic ally, but what's more important than all that is
the relationship between the two nations, and the two peoples. We need
to stop thinking these relations matter only when there is a crisis."

* David Merahn is with the BAC Military Science.

No comments: