Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Armenians working to shore up support on genocide resolution

October 18, 2007
The Hill, DC
By Kevin Bogardus and Jackie Kucinich
At the end of the day Turkey may win because of its bullying tactics but will not gain any respect in the eyes of the world. Because of its intransigence Turkey will be looked at by others as a country which is not able to face its past mistakes. Turkey has got some maturing up to do. Nationalism built on false premises is a failed nationalism.
Drawing parallels to the plight in Sudan, Armenian-American groups have begun to push back to regain support in Congress for a genocide resolution as cracks have appeared in their once-solid coalition.

Advocates are appealing to House lawmakers’ consciences to vote for the resolution, which recognizes the killing of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 by the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Groups are turning back to their phone banks and petitions to keep the resolution’s support intact.

“If we can’t speak with moral clarity on genocide overall, like the one in Armenia, how can we speak with moral authority in condemning the genocide in Sudan?” said Elizabeth Chouldjian, communications director for the Armenian National Committee of America.

Momentum has clearly shifted against the bill. Since its introduction in January, 21 co-sponsors have dropped their support of the resolution, with 11 lawmakers reversing their backing this week. A substantial number of members — 214 — remain as co-sponsors of the bill, but the total number does not comprise a majority of the House.

On Wednesday, five House Democrats, including a powerful ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), asked their leadership not to bring the resolution to the floor.

The chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee said 55 to 60 Democrats would vote against the resolution if it came to the floor Wednesday.

“If it came to the floor today, it would not pass,” Murtha said.

Murtha said Democratic leadership had miscalculated support for the resolution within the caucus. He added that many members were not clear as to what they were signing when they co-sponsored the measure, which is why over a dozen have since pulled their endorsement.

“As with almost all legislation in Congress, there are many members who are not listed as co-sponsors of the resolution but support the measure,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the resolution’s main sponsor.

Turkey’s opposition to the non-binding resolution has been aggressive. U.S. defense officials have warned that Turkey could block access to a critical air base that the U.S. military uses to supply troops in Iraq. Turkey has already recalled its ambassador to the United States after the resolution survived a tough vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Heeding Turkey’s warnings, Murtha cautioned that the resolution could jeopardize the United States’ relationship with one of its few supporters in the Middle East.

“We don’t have any damn allies. That’s the problem,” he said.

Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said the threats by Turkey to withdraw support for the Iraq war amounted to “blackmail.”

“You can’t ignore history. We’re not going away,” said Ardouny.

Both Ardouny and Chouldjian intend to rely on their groups’ large memberships in contacting Congress as grassroots efforts continue through phone calls, letters and e-mails to offices on Capitol Hill. Ardouny’s group has 10,000 members, while Chouldjian said she has a roll of 100,000 activists across the country.

In addition, Chouldjian is organizing a screening of “Screamers” — a documentary that speaks about the killings in Armenia and Sudan as told through the eyes of Armenian-American rock band System of a Down — on Thursday night in the House Judiciary Committee room. Schiff is an honorary co-host of the event.

Comparisons to the events in Sudan have been a common tactic by Armenian interests in Washington. Ardouny’s group has supported legislation in the past calling for divesture from Sudan and is a member of the Save Darfur Coalition.

“It’s important that members of Congress push back on denial” in all cases, said Ardouny.

He also criticized Turkey’s expensive lobbying effort. One firm representing Turkey, the Livingston Group, earned more than $970,000 for their work in 2007, according to Justice Department records — close to half of the $2.28 million that Ardouny’s group has spent on lobbying since 1998, according to disclosure records filed with Senate.

In years past, resolutions recognizing the massacre of Armenians as genocide passed committee but never made it to a floor vote. For example, in 2000, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) took the measure off the voting schedule after being asked by President Bill Clinton to do so.

But Pelosi is resolved to bringing the measure to a vote, according to Murtha.

“She feels very strongly about this,” he 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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