Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"April 24" Approaches . . .

With the Turkey-Armenia protocols now deadlocked, Washington is applying pressure on the Turkish government to move forward with ratification despite the Turkish government's recalcitrance and diffuse public opposition. On February 4, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg to Yerevan to meet with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, and then onto Munich to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The signing of the Protocols in October, with plenty of last mnute wrangling by Secretary Clinton, have been played up as a political success by the Obama Administration, and the United States most certainly does not want to see the deal fall through. Hovering above the pressure is April 24, the day on which Armenian community memorializes the onslaught of the 1915 massacres, which it defines as "genocide." The Armenian diaspora in the United States have long lobbied the United States government to "re-affirm" the Armenian massacres as "genocide," but an American president has yet to apply the definition. Perennial efforts to secure a U.S. House resolution labelling the massacres as "genocide" are also underway.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to consider this year's "genocide resolution" on March 4, and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the chief group lobbying for the resolution, is optimistic. According to many Washington observers, President Obama and the State Department seem to have given the green light to the House committee in hopes that it would apply pressure on the Turkish government to move forward with ratification. And, there are reasons why the resolution might be successful this year. The Israel lobby, which has long opposed the resolution on the grounds that it would damage Turkey's alliance with Israel and the United States, has expressed ambivalence about its passage, no doubt largely a pressure move and no doubt a means of punishing Turkey for its criticism of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. Mehmet Ali Birand also cites doubts about Erdogan. Additionally, with the death of Rep. John Murtha, Turkey has lost a valuable ally in the U.S. Congress. Yet, Turkey does have leverage thanks to its influence on Iran and position at the UN Security Council, where the United States is seeking a strong resolution on Iran's nuclear weapons program. This is all par for the course in Washington politics, and it is unclear just what will happen with the resolution as a result.

If President Obama or Secretary Clinton think they will successfully pressure Turkey via the genocide reslution, they are most likely mistaken. By the same token, Turkey cannot be so sure a resolution will not pass. The extremely powerful American-Israel Public Affairs Committee has hinted Turkey can turn it all around, and if so, just what will the Turkish government be willing to concede? Former congressional ally to Turkey, Robert Wexler, speaking at an event organized by SETA-DC, urged Turkey to be one step ahead of the game -- just what is this step?

. . . . . .

Turning away from Washington to assess why the protocols have failed so miserably, Today's Zaman columnist Andrew Finkel responds to the recent "Zero Progress" headline in an Economist article about Turkey's rapprochement with Armenia. According to Finkel, the difference between the Syrian and Armenian rapprochement is that the Turkish government had "the winds of public opinion" at its back in regard to the former. Perhaps it is better for the government to focus on building support for intiatives in the public before embarking on them, and just what does Finkel's column say about the low level of Turkish support for the European Union accession process at the moment? Leadership appears to be more than signing accords and devising grand-scale architectures for foreign policy initiatives.

In other Armenia-related news, the clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh appear to be increasing.

UPDATE I (2/25) -- The Armenian parliament has passed a law allowing President Sarkisian to remove his signature from the protocols, as well as to suspend the ratification process.

UPDATE II (2/28) -- A delegation of Turkey-U.S. Interparliamentary Friendship Caucus led by Suat Kiniklioglu will hold meetings in the United States between February 28 and March 6. The House Foreign Affairs Committee vote is this Thursday, and there are still no signs of opposition from the Obama Administration.

CORRECTION (3/6)-- President Reagan applied the word "genocide" in an April 22, 1982, address memorializing the Holocaust and victims of past genocides.

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