1998) Armenian Resolution Takes US-Turkey Relations Hostage Part I & II

Part I

Rumors vary regarding the possibility of the so-called genocide bill, HR-106, coming to the House floor to be voted on by the US Congress.

California’s Democrat Congresswoman Ms. Nancy Pelosi, a staunch supporter of the Armenian genocide allegations, assumed the position of speaker of the House of Representatives in January 2007.

According to some accounts, in September the Armenian diaspora will do whatever it takes to pass the bill, which seems possible given that the number of HR-106 co-sponsors suffices to do that and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was one of the early sponsors of the bill. According to others, Congress will not bring up the genocide issue for at least the rest of 2007, as Washington needs Ankara’s full cooperation to implement its partial troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Nevertheless, the genocide bill’s not coming up in the foreseeable future does not necessarily solve the most pressing problem affecting US-Turkish relations. Not only to immunize US-Turkish relations against the artificial genocide debate, which erratically breaks out, but also to relieve themselves of a great burden of being accused of genocide, Turks should pursue a just and final solution to the genocide debate. There is no better time than now to launch and wind the battle of ideas, given the American public’s increased awareness of the Armenian diaspora’s efforts to conceal crucial facts about the Turkish-Armenian atrocities during World War I and of its efforts to inhibit free speech on the subject.

An anatomy of the so-called genocide allegation

Not necessarily the entire Armenian diaspora in the United States, but the militant groups within it, label any language or conversation that calls to investigate the allegations regarding to the so-called genocide a form of an outright denial of what they call “genocide.” They seek to justify their unrelenting attitude on this most politicized issue by suggesting that it would be similar and, as such, meaningless to investigating the credibility of the Holocaust, which cost the lives of some 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany.

Beside its undermining of the Holocaust, and its motivation to exploit the Jews’ deep sorrow, on a moral and intellectual ground, these militant groups’ attitude itself is already self-defeating enough. One is naturally inclined to wonder why it would not be normal to investigate “a truth,” while doing so would only affirm it if it is really “the truth.” In addition to the diaspora’s inhibition of freedom of conscience and speech, the very fact that it is only the Armenian archives, which are vital to research in order to understand what really happened in 1915 and the following years, that remain closed, while the Turkish ones and all others -- including Russian, British, French and American -- are wide open to any researchers of any ethno-national origin, raises questions about the credibility of the Armenian allegations of genocide.

Moreover, that these archives are kept in Boston, MA, under the custody of an Armenian foundation headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and that they are inaccessible not only to Turkish but also to American researchers who are not ethnic Armenians further challenges the credibility of the Armenian allegations. According to Dr. Yusuf Halacoglu, head of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK) in Ankara, one frequently cited excuse for these archives remaining inaccessible to researchers is that they have not been organized yet. Dr. Halacoglu noted that he offered to donate $20 million to the Foundation out of TTK’s own budget, as opposed to the Turkish government’s budget, in order to expedite the process of organizing these archives and opening them to research, and yet his offer has been refused by foundation officials.

The US Congress under pressure

The statistical data indicating that the surge in support for the HR-106 resolution in the month it was introduced (January 2007) and the plummeting support thereafter suggests that the Congress members’ support for the resolution is driven primarily by Democrat peer pressure, if not by their commitment to fulfilling their pre-election promises to their Armenian American fundraisers and the fear of losing electoral support in the next elections. The mid-term congressional elections took place in November 2006 after which the Democrats seized the majority and California’s Democrat Congresswoman Ms. Nancy Pelosi, a staunch supporter of the Armenian genocide allegations, assumed the position of speaker of the House of Representatives in January 2007.

On Jan. 30, California’s Democrat Representative Adam Schiff whose constituency, and hence campaign sponsors, consist of Armenian Americans of Glendale, CA, introduced the HR-106 bill which “calls upon the president to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution” and “calls upon the president in the president’s annual message commemorating the Armenian genocide issued on or about April 24, to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian genocide.” The bill has been co-sponsored by five other representatives whose respective constituencies consist of a sizeable community of Armenian American voters. These co-sponsors include respectively George Radanovich (R-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI), Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI). On Jan. 31, some 158 members of Congress, including those who withdrew their support later on, signed onto the HR-106. The number of representatives pledging support for the bill has plummeted in the months that followed, averaging 10 per month adding up to the total of 226 as of today.

One misinterpretation of these numbers would be that more than half of the House of Representatives (226 out of 435) believe that what happened in 1915 was “genocide,” as the bill suggest, while the other would be that those who did not sign up onto the bill do not think what happened in 1915 was not “genocide.” In addition, interpreting these numbers as that the US Congress does not value its Turkish ally would probably be the most misleading one. Similarly, blaming the possible recognition of the so-called genocide in the US Congress on the Jewish American community, by the example of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) recent recognition of it, would not only be equally misleading, but also amount to shooting oneself in the foot and ironically rewarding the Armenian diaspora by giving up an enduring ally in the United States. No need to mention that it has been the Jewish-American Congress members and community leaders who have long advocated Turkish theses on this pressing genocide debate.

* Mehmet Kalyoncu is an international relations analyst and can be reached at kalyoncumehmet@gmail.com

Part II
‘Will Turks Lose The Battle They Have Never Fought?’

Both psychological and contextual reasons lay behind the somewhat incomprehensible ready support for the Armenian allegations in both public and political circles in the United States.

California’s Democrat Representative Adam Schiff, whose constituency and campaign sponsors consist of Armenian Americans of Glendale, introduced the so-called genocide bill, HR-106.

First of all, the primary reason for the relevant representatives’ introducing the HR-106 bill was not their own convictions about the Turks or the Ottoman Empire, but the insistence of their Armenian-American constituency for them to do so. After all, the representatives are supposed to be the voice of the very constituency who has elected them, be they right or wrong. A legislative aide to one of the chief sponsors of HR-106 noted that “we do not have a commitment to pass this bill, but to bring it up and keep it alive.” Similarly, conversations with both members of Congress and their political advisors reveal that the majority of co-sponsors of the HR-106 bill are not even aware of its content, but have pledged their support due either to the request of their fellow colleagues who introduced the bill, or most likely to get rid of the ceaseless pressure of the Armenian lobbyists, which in some case appear in the form of the threat of lost votes in the next elections.

Secondly, as explicit in the relentless attitude of the Armenian diaspora, those members who do not acknowledge the so-called Armenian genocide, let alone call for an objective investigation of it, are readily accused of being on the payroll of the Turkish government, as if, as some would argue, those who acknowledge it are not on that of members of the wealthy Armenian diaspora. Thirdly, under the influence of the constructed “Terrible Turk” image, just like any ordinary American, the Congress members are inclined to believe that the Turkish Ottoman state may well have carried out genocide against the Christian Armenians. One should not undermine the impact of the “Terrible Turk” image; especially so given that movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Midnight Express,” are still screened in some movie theaters across the United States. Finally, the silence of the Turkish-Americans in the whole genocide debate and their sluggishness to even call their representatives to express their objection to the HR-106 only encourages Congress members to support the resolution and move on.

The very fact that the battle of ideas in the so-called genocide debate has been fought by the official Turkey, meaning primarily Turkish diplomats and the Foreign Ministry, vis-à-vis the allegedly “underdog” people of the Armenian diaspora has undermined the credibility of the Turkish theses on what happened in 1915 and Turks’ commitment to finalize this prolonged debate. Illustrative of the general Armenian diaspora, in his article titled “Armenian Patriarch of Turkey in US on Turkish Propaganda Tour Once Again,” and published in the California Courier, Harut Sassounian alleges that His Beatitude Mesrob II Mutafyan’s visit to the United States and speaking engagements at various prestigious institutions such as the Capitol and Georgetown University is organized by the Turkish government to prevent the possible voting on the infamous HR-106 genocide bill in the House of Representatives. He continued to proudly explain how the Armenian-American Church had previously pressured the Southern Methodist University administration, a co-sponsor of a conference titled, “Turkish-Armenian Question: What to do now?” to withdraw its sponsorship, and succeeded in its endeavor. Yet, with almost complete denial or disregard of how the Armenian diaspora inhibits “free speech,” Sassounian accuses the Turkish government of inhibition of “free speech.” Apparently, according to him as well as a marginal, but noisy, political faction within the Armenian-American community, “free speech” is allowed only if what is to be said is what they want to hear.

However, not only the American public and members of Congress, but also the majority of the Armenian-American community is fed-up with and sick of the militantly hostile attitude of certain Armenian organizations, such as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and with their efforts to inhibit a possible reconciliation between Armenians and Turks. The Turkish-American organizers of the conference held in Dallas note that most of the Armenian scholars invited to speak at the conference had to decline the invitation, complaining about the likely attack on them to be launched by organizations such as ANCA and other militant Armenian-American groups. Similarly the members of Congress who have not signed on to support the infamous HR-106 bill complain about the Armenian lobby’s manipulation of the US Congress and about some members falling prey to such manipulation while the country is faced by much more severe problems ranging from healthcare to the war in Iraq.

Moreover, the intellectuals are raising their opposition to the one-sided story of the so-called genocide. In his article titled “Tawdry genocide tale,” The Washington Times columnist Bruce Fein disputes the alleged analogy between the Holocaust and the Turkish-Armenian atrocities which took place during World War I by pointing at the real causes of those atrocities, “As Bernard Lewis has observed, an analogy would have been if Adolf Hitler had left Jews in Berlin, Frankfurt and Vienna exempt from the Final Solution. For more than three centuries, under the Ottoman millet system, Armenians enjoyed religious, cultural and social harmony. Conflict with the Ottoman Empire was largely provoked by Armenian terrorism and plotting secession comparable to the Confederate States of America, not by a late-blooming desire to destroy Armenians as a group.” Similarly, Jerusalem Post columnist Lenny Ben-David notes that not only did Armenians massacre 2.5 million of the Muslim population of Armenia between 1914 and 1920, but also that some contemporary Armenians hold Jews to be accountable for the killings of Armenians in 1915.

The bottom line is that there is already great suspicion within the political and intellectual communities about the Armenian allegations of genocide. Yet the third parties, be they intellectuals or members of the US Congress, have either preferred to remain silent about it, or seemed to have supported it mainly to get rid of the Armenian lobby’s pressure. The absence of the Turkish grassroots within the whole genocide debate has only made it easier for US Congress members to rightly justify their support by asking this simple question, “If there was no genocide and the passage of this genocide bill is so detrimental to the Turkish interests, why does no single Turkish-American call our office to express his or her objection while we are overwhelmed with letters, emails, faxes and telephone calls from Armenian-Americans?” It is time for the Turkish grassroots to take over the task of tackling the Armenian allegations, and it takes only a few dedicated nongovernmental organizations to help the American public realize how they are being manipulated. Once the Americans realize it, they would certainly deliver justice.

* Mehmet Kalyoncu is an international relations analyst and can be reached at kalyoncumehmet@gmail.com

End Of Part II


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