Saturday, February 03, 2007

‘Turkey should start a new initiative to fight the genocide bill in Congress’

Today's Zaman

American Turkish Council President James H. Holmes says although much has been done behind closed doors, they need Turkey to give them a new initiative about the tragic events of 1915 to better defeat the Armenian genocide resolution in Congress.

Retired Ambassador James H. Holmes, the president and CEO of the American Turkish Council (ATC), visited İstanbul and Ankara this week to meet with members of the ATC prior to the ATC annual conference in March. Holmes' visit coincided with the introduction of an Armenian genocide resolution in the US House of Representatives, an issue that has the potential to deteriorate the delicate balance American-Turkish relations. Today's Zaman met with Holmes and talked about the action plan of the ATC against this resolution and what the ATC is expecting from the Turkish government to strengthen its lobbying hand on Capitol Hill.

Do you see the potential to harm US-Turkey relations in this resolution?

The Armenian genocide resolution is the cause of great distress for us, for the commercial interests of our members as well as for the national security and foreign policy interests of both countries. We, as the ATC, are fully committed to the preservation and promotion of these relations. We see an enormous potential for cooperation and growth in commercial relations between Turkey and the US. There is increasing commerce between Turkey and the European Union, but we don't want Turkey with its 72 million population to become the property of the EU. The strong future of Turkey is one in which the US should participate as well.
I hope that the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the President George W. Bush will exhibit the same courage as Hrant Dink did in identifying the massacres as what they are, Genocide, without fear of retribution from Turkey.
Beyond that, we can see that this resolution points to an overwhelmingly negative reaction from the Turkish government, military, media and public. And with the passage of such a resolution, we will no doubt see more reaction. Remember when the French parliament passed a similar resolution? There is no reason to think that Turkish public's reaction to the US would be different. It might even be more dramatic. In any close relationship when one of the parties feel betrayed the reaction might be more paralyzing.

For the US to risk our relations with Turkey on the basis of a meaningless resolution is just not right. Our interest is seeing this resolution defeated, derailed, delayed. I don't care what the formula is. We want it to fail. We want Congress to realize the consequences from the Turkish side.
The reaction from the Turkish side is pure unadulterated blackmail of the USA.
Do you have an action plan to fight this resolution? Do you have any suggestions for the Turkish government?

The ATC has put together an action plan that we are already executing as far as our members are concerned. This constitutes the education of our members so that they may inform their representatives in Congress that it is in the interests of Turkey and the US to defeat this resolution. We are going to be very active on Capitol Hill. We are not a grassroots organization, but we can't organize a letter writing campaign. We just don't have enough members for that. But we do have some influential members, some very large employers who are members of the ATC and who are very concerned that this will lead to several lost commercial opportunities.

We do have a request from the Turkish government. It has been almost two years since the Turkish government announced its call to set up a historical commission appointed by both Yerevan and Ankara. I know that lots of things have been going on quietly since then, such as off the record meetings and negotiations between Ankara and Yerevan. But if we are going to be successful on Capitol Hill, we need to have something more to work with, something more recent than April 2005.

As tragic as the assassination of Hrant Dink was, I think it illustrated that there is an opportunity here. There is an opportunity for some aggressive action on the part of both Yerevan and Ankara to make sure that current dynamics change. And if the government of Turkey could do something and do it publicly, like a version of what they did two years ago, that would give us a stronger argument. When we say to the congressmen “Don't pass this resolution, support this instead …” We can say “This is what you should support!” But the Turkish government has to give us that something, something more recent that we can work on. The call for the historical commission was good. But still speaking about the same thing gives the impression that nothing has happened since 2005. And I know that this to be wrong. But Turkey hasn't publicly said anything more.

Is there already anti-Americanism in Turkey? Is the ATC working on a project to fight this trend also?

First of all, I don't believe there is rampant anti-Americanism in Turkey. I think there is a profound and durable “love” and strength in the relationship between Turkey and the US. There are very strong anti-administration, anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war sentiments in Turkey. And I know that they have been presented in a variety of ways. But in my meetings with Turks I don't find anti-Americanism, I find anti-administration sentiments. There is a very strong reservoir of goodwill that can be built on and that needs to be protected.

I am concerned that this resolution could add to the litany of accusations against the US. “Wrong in Iraq; wrong on Turkey's relationship with its neighbors; wrong on the PKK.” If somehow we can come up with an activity which will mean something, which will be consequential on the PKK, my conviction is that the attitude toward the US will change in 48 hours.

As the ATC do you have contact with military personnel here in Turkey?

We regularly have contact with the military. Our members work with the military. I will be meeting with Chief of the General Staff Gen. Yaşar Büyükanıt two weeks from now. He is going to be speaking at an ATC event. Several times a week, either I or my staff are in touch with the Turkish General Staff.

Our readers would like to know why military activities dominate Turkish-American relations.

I don't believe that to be the case either. You have to remember where the Turkish-American relations come from. They come from the Cold War, the Truman Doctrine and Turkey's role as a frontline deterrent during the Cold War. Certainly there is a very strong US-Turkish buyer-supplier military relationship throughout over the years. But increasingly a more normal relationship pattern is evolving. We are one of Turkey's largest investment partners today and I think we will see a historically military dependent relationship increasingly turning into a far broader relationship. But still, military relations will continue to be an important part of the picture.

Up to 60 percent of our military personnel coming to Iraq or Afghanistan pass through our bases in Turkey and Turkish ports. The Turkish Parliament has to extend the existence of these bases in Turkey every year. This is a high risk for the US. This meaningless resolution would not serve anything but to anger the Turks. Why do we have to let American politics be lead by election campaigns? The answer is we don't have to.

The US Congress was critical of the Baku-Tibilisi-Kars railway as well. Why all this willingness to support Armenian policies?

The American Congress' decision with respect to the railway has been extremely biased. This goes back to the 1990s when Armenian troops moved into Azerbaijan. Now they are holding about 20 percent of Azerbaijani soil and 600,000 people are still refugees. Then, the US Congress pressed by the Armenian diaspora focused upon Turkey's decision to close the borders and the railway. I know that this was done as a consequence of what Armenia did in Azerbaijan. Turkey could not stay idle in the face of more and more battlefield successes by Armenia. They took the step to close the borders and railway to Armenia. Congress did not say to Armenia “What are you doing in terms of creating refugees,” rather they came to Turkey and to Azerbaijan and said if you don't open the railway, we are going to cut of all assistance to Azerbaijan, including the humanitarian assistance. And they did. They had the wrong end of the stick then and they still have the wrong end of the stick now.

This is because US history with regard to the Armenian tragedies of 1915-1923 was written by the Armenian diaspora. And for decades and decades there has been a constant drumming of their interpretation of history unchallenged by anybody in the US or Turkey. It is accepted as gospel. It is very hard to penetrate the American media, into the American political environment. We believe this is a bad history, bad public policy, bad for business. But to get that message across is going to take a long struggle.
This is a complete distortion of facts. US history was written in the US archives during WW1 by US. Armenians were too week and distraught at the time in order to influence US history . The Armenian Diaspora is just reminding the US of their own history written by them as opposed to the revised history of Turkey written by the Turkish nationalist elites soon after 1923 when the republic of Turkey was created from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire to be a uniquely a county inhabited by Turks. This begs a question. How much is James H. Holmes paid by Turkey off the military money Turkey gets from the US, to be President of the American Turkish Council?
Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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