Friday, March 5, 2010İLHAN TANIR
Make no mistake: The successful passage of the Armenian “genocide” resolution in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee has started a very difficult and painful period for all of us who want peaceful solutions for regional problems.
In my last column, I stated that “a miracle is needed to stop the resolution at this point.” Even though the 23-against-22 tally in the committee looks like it was not an easy win, it was nevertheless a win. The resolution sailed through from the committee to the hands of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House and another staunch supporter of the bill.
Turkey did not waste time recalling its newly appointed ambassador to Washington, Namık Tan, back to Ankara for consultations, in an apparent diplomatic protest. What comes next is the focus of this column.
Canceling Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan’s upcoming visit to the U.S. in two weeks would be another opportunity to display the anger of the Turkish administration, as would Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s scheduled visit to Washington, D.C., in the second week of April for the nuclear summit – unless Erdoğan decides to use that visit to cajole Obama into working harder to stop the bill for the last time.
Mr. Suat Kınıklıoğlu, the head of the Turkish-American Caucuses in the Turkish Parliament, said to me after the voting that “even though the U.S. administration and the Jewish lobby did not back the Turkish position this time around, it was still a victory to make the result a close call. Armenians were relaxed and thought before the vote that they could have gotten an easy victory; instead, they got a good beating.” He added that “this bill will not come to the General Assembly after what happened Thursday.”
Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, stated, however, “the committee passed the motion despite a well-funded lobbying effort by the Turkish government supported by major defense corporations doing business with Turkey.”
The delegation from the Turkish Parliament that has been worked hard to lobby against the bill this past week in Washington did not hide its anger with the Obama administration at the press conference after the voting. The administration was absent in Washington in showing the political muscle needed to get the committee members in line.
The Obama administration has told the Turkish administration in many different venues in recent weeks that it actually views the Armenian constitutional court’s recent decision, which found the protocols in line with its constitution, as a positive step for the normalization process. As Şükrü Elekdağ, one of the members of the Turkish delegation and a member of the main Turkish opposition party, told me in an interview, it was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon who elaborated this stance to Feridun Sinirlioğlu, a high official from Ankara who visited Washington a couple of weeks ago.
I not only confirmed this with other sources in Washington, but also heard from other reputable sources that Elizabeth Sherwood, senior director for Europe at the White House, also took a similar stance when she had a meeting with Sinirlioğlu and basically said that America expects Turkey to move ahead with this process as quickly as possible.
Spokespeople for both the White House and the State Department have been quiet for weeks, and it was Michael Hammer, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, who made a statement three days before the voting, giving the White House’s position on the resolution for the first time. “As the President’s 2009 Remembrance Day message states clearly, the President’s ... view of that history has not changed,” he said. “Our interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts.”
There were also personal issues for Obama to deal with while taking a position on the issue this year. As a senator, he vigorously supported the previous Armenian resolutions and accused former President Bush very harshly in the past for working to stop the resolution. As president, he now finds himself in such a position from which there is no easy exit strategy. In addition, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also supported similar bills in the past and Congress is dominated by a Democratic majority. Obama hid behind this quietness and “did not move his little finger,” as one Turkish deputy stated.
Where to go from here is the question. There are several factors to watch now. Turkey lists three obstacles for not stepping forward to ratify the protocols, the third one just added a day ago: 1) Armenia’s unwillingness to take any positive action in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. 2) The Armenian constitutional court’s preambles to its decision, which Turkey sees as changing the spirit of the protocols. 3) With Thursday’s vote, the head of the Turkish delegation, Murat Mercan, also added another obstacle, and it is for Obama to stop the “genocide” bill from coming to the House floor.
Armenia now, amid a victory after the Thursday voting, sees no reason to make any concessions on any of these issues. Armenia’s responses to Turkey’s claims are as follows: 1) The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is not a pre-condition for the protocols, therefore it is not linked to the ratification process. 2) Armenia, amid the U.S. and other countries’ backing, vows that its constitutional court’s decision is in conformity with the protocols, therefore the decision is a positive step for the normalization. In addition, according the constitution of Armenia, the court’s decisions are final and irreversible, so Armenia simply claims that there is nothing it can do about this decision now.
3) On top of all these discrepancies, the Armenian officials, starting with the Armenian ambassador to Washington, who was present at the committee vote in Congress, and others from the Armenian administration, welcome the passage’s move to the full House, thinking they already possess unbending supporters of the Armenian diaspora cause, such as Nancy Pelosi and Majority leader Steny Hoyer, to name just two.
Amid an already irate Turkish public and administration, expecting any kind of positive step from the Turkish administration at this stage is similar to daydreaming. And likewise the Armenians, who see now recognition of the “genocide” by the U.S. House of Representatives within their reach, will not play nicely either.
So what is left for us while moving forward? What we will see in the coming days is probably a game of chicken. Turkey will harden its rhetoric and take more retaliatory steps, while the American side will calculate that it can use the resolution in the House to put more pressure on Turkey and hope that Turkey give in to move forward with the normalization process, while being full aware how important it is for Turkey to stop the resolution.
We might need to fasten our seatbelts while getting into this turbulence. How and when this turbulence might end, nobody can predict now, not even the administrations in Washington, Ankara and Yerevan, but we hope it will not spin out of control.