* 'Turkey should not relax thinking that April 24 is over. Actually Turkey should intensify its efforts. The resolution has the potential to come to the [US] General Assembly, and if it does it is likely to pass. If it comes up for a general vote then unfortunately, with the current power distribution in the House of Representatives, for the first time there is a serious danger that it may pass'
If the pending "Armenian genocide resolution" passes at the US Congress, there will be repercussions, said Şuhnaz Yılmaz, an expert on US-Turkish relations.
"For instance, when the US had an arms embargo on Turkey from 1975 to 1978, Turkey responded by closing some of the [US] bases [in Turkey]. It is not going to be the end of Turkish-US relations, but it is going to put the relations through a rather difficult phase," said Yılmaz, who is an assistant professor of international relations at Ko+ū University, İstanbul.
However according to Yılmaz one crucial strategy for the Turkish government is not only to deal with the Armenian diaspora, which is more radical, but also try to normalize and enhance relations with Armenia, because Armenians living in Armenia have more reasons to improve relations with Turkey.
Traditionally each year on April 24 US presidents issue a declaration commemorating the killings of Armenians in 1915, at the end of the Ottoman Empire. This year President George W. Bush's speech carried added importance because of the resolution at Congress.
Meanwhile the Turkish Foreign Ministry published advertisements in four major US newspapers; The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times and Politico. The advertisement says that Turkey has given assurances for the opening of all archives and expects the same from other parties, i.e. Armenia.
* For 'Monday Talk' Yılmaz answered our questions on the Armenian issue that is now affecting Turkish-US relations more than ever before.
- On this April 24 President Bush again commemorated the Armenian killings in 1915, but he did not use the term ‘«›genocide.' Was he choosing his words carefully?
It has become a tradition for US presidents to make a speech on April 24 commemorating the killings of the Armenians in 1915, but in order to strike a delicate balance they have always referred to "massacres" in this period but refrained using the term "genocide." I think Bush's speech was in line with that tradition. I think the Armenian community in the US was also predicting this, although they have constantly pressured for the use of the term genocide, but they were also expecting a precise reference to the issue of massacres, which Bush did to a certain extent. On the Turkish side, the expectation was of course avoiding the usage of the term genocide. One issue perhaps the Armenian community considered as a success this time was in President Bush's speech, while he mentioned the necessity of a joint effort to review the history [of the events], he did not make a direct reference to the formation of a joint commission. The Turkish side had started a campaign in leading US newspapers like The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Times favoring the formation of a joint history commission to study this period from a historical perspective in an effort to depoliticize the issue. In the past there has been significant support from the US side for this issue, this time Bush did not make a direct reference to it.
- Why do you think he avoided the issue?
In a way to balance the sensitivities of both sides. While he didn't use a direct reference, indirectly he mentioned that there is a need for a joint understanding of history. On the US side it is a delicate balance. On the one hand relations with Turkey are at stake, because this is an extremely sensitive issue and all at the executive level have been aware of this. That's why, despite enormous pressure from the Armenian lobby, Bush avoided using the term genocide. At the same time they try to use terms in reference to the massacres of the people, try to, in a way, appease the Armenian lobby. His speech reflected this delicate balance, trying not to offend either side too much and trying to address the sensitivities.
- Do you think Turkey has been doing enough to present its point of view? You've mentioned the newspapers adverts‘«–
I think it was a good strategy. It will not be enough. Turkey has not done enough to voice its position. So far mainly the Armenian side has been extremely active in the US, bringing the issue to the public platform, lobbying particularly strongly since the 1970s onwards, but it goes all the way back to the 1927, for instance, when the Armenian lobby was effective in blocking the ratification of the Turkish-US Treaty of Lausanne. The Armenian diaspora in the US has been very active whereas on the Turkish side there has been a significant neglect of the issue. In that respect this push for a joint commission is definitely a very good step. So far all the information regarding the issue has been one-sided and the whole discourse was determined by the Armenians. The Turkish government has to do its share in terms of opening the archives, facilitating this kind of dialogue and interaction. One crucial strategy for the Turkish government is not only to deal with the Armenian diaspora, which is more radical, but also try to normalize and enhance relations with Armenia.
- So you think Turkey should look at the Armenian lobby in the US differently than the relations with Armenia?
Exactly, because they are two different forces regarding the Armenian issue. On the one hand there is the well-established diaspora in the US which has the recognition of the so-called genocide as the main item on their agenda, and there are the Armenians in Armenia, who have much more practical concerns, like their economic interests, strategic interests, and the recognition of the so-called genocide is just one of their concerns. They have a lot to benefit from improving relations with Turkey. There is also one more thing Turkey needs to understand, and it is not simply related only to the Armenian issue; effective lobbying does matter. The Turkish lobby has been much less effective than the Armenian lobby.
- There is a pending ‘«›Armenian genocide resolution' at the US Congress. It has a lot of supporters. How do you think the US lawmakers will decide?
After the Congressional elections the situation has become quite delicate since Nancy Pelosi became the leader of the House of Representatives. She comes from California with a strong Armenian-American constituency. The Armenian lobby wanted to bring the resolution to a vote in the General Assembly even before April 24. This did not work out. This was not only related to the demands from the Administration, but also was also related to the dynamics of the House of Representatives. This does not mean that this might not come to the General Assembly for discussion. So far Pelosi's position has been that this will probably be one of the critical issues of 2008. The issue will be on the table according to the calendar of the Democratic side, they are in a way waiting for the election process to be over in Turkey, and it can also be a tool used effectively before or after the elections in the US. In the meantime, I think, we'll see a war of lobbies and strategies on both sides. In this period Turkey should not relax, thinking that April 24 is over. Instead Turkey should intensify its efforts. The resolution has the potential to come to the General Assembly, and if it does it is likely to pass. It has fewer supporters in the Senate than in the house, but if it comes up for a general vote then unfortunately with the current power distribution in the House of Representatives, for the first time there is a serious danger that it may pass.
- How have such resolutions' been prevented before?
They were prevented by the Administration because it is never in the interest of the State Department or an existing government in power to pass such a resolution at the expense of relations with Turkey. While the presidency is in the hands of the Republicans, both House and Senate are controlled by Democrats. They would not necessarily be concerned about hindering the power of the Republicans in that respect.
- If the resolution passes, could it lead to a crisis in relations between Turkey and the US?
It would certainly have a detrimental impact. It does not have any binding power, but symbolically it is very important. It is mainly recognition of the term genocide. Nevertheless it is symbolically important given the fact that relations are going through a relatively difficult period because of the situation in Iraq.
- What do you think about both countries' approach to the Iraqi situation in regards to the relations with each other, the US and Turkey that is?
In terms of the Iraqi issue there are issues of convergence and divergence. It is in the interest of both countries to have a stable and democratic Iraq. But the country is in civil war. Wining a war was relatively easy in Iraq, but winning the peace has not been and it has not been accomplished yet. Turkey, as a neighbor of Iraq, has been directly affected by developments there. That's been a significant concern. Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist activities in northern Iraq have in particular been a major cause of concern for Turkey. Both the Kurdish administration and the Americans have not been doing enough to fight the PKK.
- Do you think Turkey would not allow the passage of US supplies to Iraq if the ‘«›genocide' resolution passes?
There are going to be some repercussions. For instance, when the US had an arms embargo on Turkey from 1975 to 1978, Turkey responded by closing some of the [US] bases [in Turkey]. It is not going to be the end of Turkish-US relations, but it is going to put the relations through a rather difficult pace. Turkish-US relations should not remain hostage to the Armenian issue. Probably that's what the Armenian lobby wants. But we should not neglect that this is also an important issue for the Turkish side. Turkey should be persistent in its lobbying efforts, not only on the evening before April 24, but also with an ongoing effort to address the root causes of the issue behind the forming of this commission, debating the issue more and enhancing ties with Armenia. So we need a more comprehensive and proactive approach.
- Do you think Turkey should try more to talk directly with Nancy Pelosi?
There has been an attempt, but she avoided speaking with the Turkish officials. For the time being the Turkish officials could use other effective channels. For instance Nancy Pelosi is very much in touch with the Italian-American community. They are an effective channel, given Turkey's good relations with Italy. I mean you can get creative about this. She (Pelosi) is a key figure. There are different ways of approaching her. For example the Armenian lobby works in different ways. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) distributes congressional report cards for all congressmen and senators to constituents during each electoral cycle, showing what their positions are on the Armenian issue and other matters. They follow it closely. They have meetings with congressmen. They use their congressional caucus effectively. It is not focused on one person or one channel. So far Turkey has not been that effective. In the last couple of years the Armenian lobby has increased its effectiveness through its intense collaboration with the Greek and Kurdish lobbies. Whenever there is a [pro] Armenian resolution, you often see the signatures of the Greek and Kurdish lobbies under it. Of course Turkey has been getting significant support from the Jewish lobby. We also need an effective Turkish lobby.
- Anything you would like to add?
Speaking in general about Turkish-US relations, the great strategist and statesman [Zbigniew] Brzezinski described the Eurasia land mass as a "grand chessboard." In this chessboard there are a lot of areas open to cooperation between Turkey and the US. Even though relations went through problematic periods throughout history -- like the 1964 Johnson letter, 1975-1978 arms embargo and more recently the crisis over the March 1 resolution [of the Turkish Parliament, to not allow US use of bases in Turkey for the invasion of Iraq] in 2003 -- despite all these low points, the relations have maintained their importance.
30 April 2007
Source: Todays Zaman
* Who is Şuhnaz Yılmaz?
She is an assistant professor of international relations at Ko+ū University, İstanbul. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in near Eastern studies at Princeton University, specializing in international affairs and the Middle East. She conducted her post-doctoral studies at Harvard University working on a project on the role of third-party mediation in conflict resolution focusing particularly on the US role in Turkish-Greek relations. Her areas of interest and expertise include foreign policy analysis, Turkish foreign policy, Turkish-US relations, Eurasian politics, Mediterranean cooperation and security, European Union foreign and security policy and international development. She has been published in journals such as ‘«›Middle Eastern Studies,' ‘«›Insight Turkey,' ‘«›O Mundo em Portugues' (the world in Portuguese), ‘«›World Today,' ‘«›Middle East Journal' and ‘«›Political Science Quarterly'