Friday, October 12, 2007

Big Step Closer: Genocide resolution gets approval of US House committee

Oct. 12, 2007, Armenia
By John Hughes / ArmeniaNow reporter
From internet and local sources

Members of this committee have a sobering choice to make. We have to weigh the desire to express our solidarity with the Armenian people and to condemn this historic nightmare through the use of the word “genocide” against the risk that it could cause young men and women in the uniform of the United States armed services to pay an even heavier price than they are currently paying. This is a vote of conscience, and the Committee will work its will.
Tom Lantos
Chairman House Foreign Affairs Committee

Against heavy lobbying by the Turkish government and in defiance of the wishes of President George W. Bush and his cabinet, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27-21 yesterday in favor of House Resolution 106, which recognizes the Armenian Genocide.

A New York Times article today included photos of Genocide survivors who attended the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

The vote does not guarantee that the resolution will be adopted, as it is only a first step in a process that would likely end in veto. But its symbolism is significant, as it represents a willingness by the Congress to push for Genocide recognition despite top-level objections inside and outside Washington.

Just hours before the vote, Bush had urged the Committee to defeat the resolution, saying that to acknowledge the Genocide would seriously damage US-Turkey relations. (Turkey severed military ties with France after it passed a similar resolution. Trade between the countries, however, was not damaged and in fact grew.)

“We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915,” said Bush (who during at least one political campaign before being elected used the term “genocide” – which is now against US policy). “This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued similar statements, saying that losing Turkish support (and potentially the use of air bases) would damage America’s “war on terror” in Iraq and the region. (About 70 percent of US military cargo bound for Iraq goes through Turkey.)

The US leaders fear that Turkey would withdraw its support of the war in Iraq, as indeed was insinuated by President Abdullah Gul of Turkey before the vote.

In a late-night reaction from Ankara, Gul called the Committee approval “unacceptable”, saying that the decision “has no validity and respectability for the Turkish people.” His response also suggested that the Committee had overlooked the larger issue, presumably referring to Turkish-American relations.

“Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States ignored appeals for common sense and once again moved to sacrifice big issues to petty games of domestic policies,” Gul said.

This is not the first time a proposed resolution has found committee backing. A previous version was approved in 2000, before being withdrawn from a House vote at the urging of then-president Bill Clinton. During debate at that time, Turkey threatened to cancel arms deals with the US and to withdraw support for American forces patrolling Northern Iraq as part of United Nations deployment.

Armenians have been encouraged of the resolution’s success since Democrats gained Congressional majority last fall, paving the way for Nancy Pelosi (California) – historically friendly to Armenian issues – to become Speaker of the House.

Perhaps a gesture of her support, Pelosi invited Catholicos Garagin II to deliver the traditional convocation prior to Wednesday’s session of Congress.

Supporters of HR 106 were encouraged but cautious.

“Despite President George Bush twisting arms and making deals, justice prevailed,” said Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat who is a sponsor of the resolution. “If we hope to stop future genocides we need to admit to those horrific acts of the past.”

Reaction from the world-wide Armenian community was predictably enthusiastic.

Today (Thursday) in Brussels, President Robert Kocharyan praised the decision, adding that “the recognition of historical justice cannot damage the US-Turkey bilateral relationship.”

At the opening of today’s parliament session, Speaker Tigran Torosyan commended the Foreign Affairs Committee for “having shown high moral qualities not to succumb to various pressures . . .”

Also in Yerevan, Arpi Vartanian, country director for the Armenian Assembly of America told journalists: “Though it is not law, it is a big victory for Armenia”.

Vartanian also pointed out that US states that have passed their own recognition resolutions have maintained good business relations with Turkey and in fact have increased their trade since.

A House vote on the resolution has not yet been scheduled, though supporters are hopeful of getting it on the agenda before Congress breaks for holiday near the end of November.

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.



Post a Comment

<< Home