Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Analysis: Congress debates Armenia genocide

UPI Correspondent

WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- In 1896 former U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire Oscar Straus convinced President Grover Cleveland to ignore a controversial resolution passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives that would have called for the Ottoman Sultan to stop his killing of ethnic Armenians.

More than 100 years later the U.S. Congress is at a similar crossroads on the very same issue. House and Senate Resolutions 106 call for American foreign policy to recognize the killings of Armenians by the former Ottoman Empire as "genocide." The Republic of Turkey is the official successor state to the Ottoman Empire because of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

Being the official successor state is part of the reason for the Turkish government wanting to deny that the Armenian killings were a genocide, said Brian Kabateck, a senior partner in Kabateck, Brown & Keller, a law firm that has represented about a half-dozen Armenian-Americans in cases against U.S. insurance companies and banks that have denied claims and accounts to relatives of deceased Armenians who took out insurance and had accounts before they died in the Armenian Genocide. Kabateck said that the Ottoman state seized property and businesses and that Turkey would be responsible for reparations to Armenians and the nation of Armenia if they admitted that what the Ottoman state did was genocide.

Kabateck's suits throw into light the fact that there are 1 million or so Armenians living in the United States. The main sponsor of Resolution 106 in the House is Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., whose constituency has a large population of Armenians.

Schiff is sponsoring this legislation because he believes that the U.S. cannot have the moral authority it's projecting in the current Darfur crisis without recognizing a genocide that happened 90 years ago. He said it is important for the United States to recognize the killings as genocide despite the fact that Turkey is a friend and an ally.

"More often with friends than foes you have to speak candidly," Schiff said. "I happen to believe ... that the final act of genocide is the denial of genocide."

In 2004 a similar resolution, also sponsored by Schiff, was met with resistance from the Bush administration because it feared it would damage relations with Turkey, Schiff said. Schiff said that if the current resolution passes it will affect U.S.-Turkey relations, but he believes the Bush administration should spend less time appealing to Congress not to pass the resolution and work on repairing the damage it did to relations with Turkey because of the Iraq war.

"They keep saying now is not the time," Schiff said. "It's been 90 years. If this is not the time, when is?"

A central tenet of this bill is to recognize that what happened was genocide, Schiff said. This is something the Bush administration is protesting fearing a negative impact on relations with Turkey. However, in every letter the administration sends to Congress it recognizes what happened was genocide, Schiff said.

Tuluy Tanc, the minister counselor at Turkey's Embassy in Washington, said that while this resolution will most likely not result in restrictions on the U.S. military or hurt cooperation between Turkey and the United States over security in Iraq, it will hurt the Turkish people.

"There will be a reaction and Turkey will be deeply hurt," Tanc said. "How the government will react I cannot say, but there will be feelings of unfairness towards a friend and an ally. ... This will be like a little slap in the face."

Tanc said that the Armenian lobby's presentation of facts to the U.S. Congress was one-sided and that Congress was not taking into account the Turkish side of the story.

For instance, Tanc provided Ottoman Empire census documents that showed there were only 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey at the time of the killings. Historians claim 1.5 million Armenians were killed, which Tanc said was part of the inaccuracies in the current resolution.

Mehdi Noorbaksh, an associate professor of international affairs at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, said that if this resolution passes it will have a negative impact on U.S.-Turkey relations.

"It will be a disaster in a sense for Turkey," Noorbaksh said. "I really do not think this administration is ready for a resolution like this. ... This will not help the United States."

It will be necessary for the current Islamist government in power in Turkey right now to react strongly to this in order to remain in power, Noorbaksh said.

Some 20 other nations have passed resolutions similar to Resolution 106 and have gotten similar threats of dissatisfaction from Turkey, said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America. When France passed a similar resolution in 2001 it was met with a stern reaction from the Turkish government, however, the very next year trade rose by 22 percent between France and Turkey.

The United States has a long history of weaker resolutions of the genocide dating back to the 1980s that have not hampered relations with Turkey, Hamparian said. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan recognized the Armenian Genocide in a speech about the Holocaust. In 1984 Congress passed a resolution setting April 24 as a day of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide. In 1996 and 2004 resolutions were passed that limited the usage of U.S. aid to Turkey that was being used to fund the Turkish lobby in the United States. Throughout all of these resolutions, trade with Turkey has steadily increased Hamparian said.

"U.S. relations with Turkey will certainly endure this (resolution 106)," Hamparian said.

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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