According to the majority of Washington, D.C., insiders, the Armenian genocide resolution will pass the House Foreign Relations Committee in early March. Similar resolutions have already passed several times in the past, and the issue is being handled like a “Sword of Damocles” against Turkey, according to the Turkish side.
Turkey sees the resolution as poison for the normalization process. Some argue that it is a poison not just for the Turkey-Armenia relationship. As one important foreign-affairs official said when I was in Turkey recently, “it has the potential to poison Turkish-American relationships as well.”
The Armenian genocide resolution being taken up by the House Foreign Relations Committee has huge implications for international relationships, though it is essentially being steered by U.S. domestic politics. As former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler pointed out, many members of Congress feel they have to honor the promises they made when they were running for their seats under pressure from members of the Armenian diaspora in their districts.
Another equation in the matter that relates to American domestic politics is the Democratic Party’s extremely vulnerable standing in a mid-term election year. According to the Cook Political Report, one of the best handicappers, there is a chance that the Democrats could lose their majority in the Senate in the upcoming elections, after losing the filibuster-proof, super-majority in the Massachusetts elections Jan. 20. Therefore, in such a difficult year, many Congressional figures do not want to ire the Armenian voter base.
Therefore, the “all politics is local” principle is very much alive when it comes to this issue as well, especially in this year. The problem is, this time, the results of the domestic political interests of members of the U.S. Congress might have a tremendously damaging impact on both American-Turkish and Turkish-Armenian relations.
The Turkish administration also thinks that such a resolution, which will urge U.S. President Barack Obama to recognize the tragic events early last century as genocide, “will prejudice the possible findings and studies of the History Commission that is expected to be created by ratifying protocols.”
I think all parties would accept that the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia is not going the way one would like to see it going. However, as Wexler pointed out in the same speech at Seta D.C., both countries’ leaders should be applauded and encouraged for their courageous risk-taking in domestic and foreign affairs instead of threatened by other countries’ legislation branches.
In my last column, I openly criticized the Turkish administration for the way it is handling the protocols process so far, as it seems to me that Turkey has missed some of the tactical steps badly and at present it is tumbling.
However, criticizing Turkey’s approach to the protocols does not mean one should overlook the U.S. Congress’ mismanaging or using the resolution in a seemingly very narrow-minded and domestic-focused fashion.
When Obama came into office, there was a moment of “Obama bounce” in many countries, including Turkey, as his election changed many of the misgivings of the past, though anti-Americanism is still an important factor among the Turkish public. According to Turkish officials, this image-building work would be hit immensely if such a resolution passes. And this is not a guess.
“If the resolution passes, Turkey would not step back, and its reaction could be very severe,” one high-ranking Turkish official says, referencing what happened in 2007, when Turkey recalled then-Ambassador Nabi Şensoy back to Ankara for the first time in history, as a traditional showing of protest.
Turkish foreign affairs, “with its new Caucasus vision, would like to regard the region as a whole concept.” And the Turkish-Armenian normalization process should also be seen as an element of this concept. Therefore, according to Turkey, America’s legislative branch should not take actions to make matters worse for U.S. national security and geopolitical interests in a time when America is already going through a tough period in the same region.
Still, what happens if the resolution passes in a key U.S. congressional committee early next month and consequently passes on the floor of the House of Representatives? First of all, so far none of the people I have talked to, many of whom are extremely involved with the process, predict that the resolution will pass on the House floor, even if the majority of the same people think that the resolution will pass at the committee level. However, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, even successful passage at the committee level will “torpedo” the ratification of the protocols in the Turkish Parliament.
Turkey’s position against the recognition of genocide at the presidential level would be much starker than the congressional level. With its new-found proactive foreign affairs, Turkey believes it can recalculate the changing dynamics in the region and reconsider its positioning with respect to the relations in its traditional U.S. alliance.
When I asked Congressman Wexler at Seta D.C. why the U.S. administration has been surprisingly quiet so far over the Armenian genocide resolution, he agreed that there is indeed a silence on the U.S. administration side, though he added that he expects the State Department and Pentagon to put up the same kind of fight against the resolution as past administrations did. Nonetheless, he openly stated that the U.S. administration’s attitude toward the resolution “remains to be seen.”
Stephen Larrabee from the RAND Corporation said that he expects Obama to be talking behind the scenes with congressional leaders to stop the resolution. Two leaders in the Jewish community in Washington that I talked to, however, acknowledged off the record that this time around, neither Jewish representatives nor the various Jewish lobbies in Washington will fight against the resolution. The reason, I think is obvious: to protest Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attitude toward Israel.
The president of the American-Turkish Council, Ambassador James Holmes, stated in an interview with me that “the U.S. Congress was shut down last week because of snow, and this week it is also in Presidents’ Day holiday recess. There will be only four or five days left to reach out to different House Foreign Relations Committee members to explain Turkey’s position. It seems to me, they are trying to pass this resolution in a quick and clandestine fashion this year.”
It might be safe to say that there is very little convincing evidence to argue that the genocide resolution will be stopped in early March.
Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan will be presenting his credentials to President Obama on Feb. 25 and will resume his post right after, in a very toilsome period. As one congressional source who is close to the Jewish lobbying forces told me this week, “Tan’s appointment to Washington is one of the best pieces of news to come out of the Turkish side in recent times.”
I hope Ambassador Tan will be able to do his job adequately during this difficult time. The ambassador is expected to resume his post by many of Turkey’s friends in Washington and he should be able to have enough time and opportunities to display his diplomatic skills in years to come.