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Armenian lobbyists are facing a lost cause

 
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 PostPosted: Fri Aug 13, 2004 4:41 pm    Post subject: Armenian lobbyists are facing a lost cause Reply with quote Back to top

Ha'aretz, Israel
Aug 12 2004

Armenian lobbyists are facing a lost cause

By Nathan Guttman

Activists again failed to obtain U.S. congressional recognition of
the Armenian genocide. The obstacles they face include America's ties
with Turkey and the Jewish lobby.

WASHINGTON - For a moment it seemed to Armenian activists in the U.S.
that they had made progress toward obtaining U.S. congressional
recognition of the massacre perpetrated by the Turks against the
Armenian people 89 years ago. U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, a
California Democrat, succeeded on July 15 in getting approval from
the House of Representatives for an amendment to the Foreign
Operations Appropriations bill, which would bar Turkey from using the
annual American aid it receives to hire political lobbyists in
Washington to lobby against the decision recognizing the Armenian
genocide. Ostensibly, a marginal amendment and not terribly
important, but in the eyes of supporters of the Armenian cause in the
U.S., even approval of a minor amendment is considered an
achievement.

The battle to gain recognition of the Armenian genocide by the U.S.
Congress is transformed annually into a fight between the small group
of Armenian supporters in Congress and the rest of the world - the
Turkish representatives and the lobbyists working on their behalf,
the administration, the supports of the administration in Congress,
and also several of the large Jewish organizations. When the U.S.
tries to maintain good relations with Turkey, the price is paid by
those who want to see the American Congress include the Armenian
genocide in the decision denouncing such actions, Resolution 193,
which also recognizes the Armenian genocide as such, approval of
which has been delayed.

The minor achievement in Congress, which is now referred to as the
Schiff Amendment, did not last long. Republican leaders in the House
of Representatives - Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt - issued an especially
sharply worded statement the day after the amendment was approved, in
which they made it clear that the amendment was unacceptable to them
and that they would seek to annul it when the Foreign Operations
Appropriations bill came before the conference committee that
attempts to bridge the gap between the Senate and House of
Representatives positions, before a bill is sent to the president for
his signature. When the House leadership mobilizes to kill a bill,
chances are the effort will be successful and therefore it seems that
despite the Schiff Amendment, no one will deduct from U.S. aid to
Turkey the sums it uses to finance activities against the resolution
recognizing the Armenian genocide.

`The resolution is dead'

Even the chances of House Resolution 193 now seem slimmer than ever,
given that at the conclusion of their statement, the House majority
leaders declared that "Furthermore, we have no intention of
scheduling H.Res. 193, as reported out of the Judiciary Committee in
April, during the remainder of this Congress." The practical
significance of that is the resolution is a lost cause. Elizabeth
Chouldjian, of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA),
believes there is a still a chance for getting the amendment passed.
The organization is currently urging its supporters to call and write
to the House of Representatives in order to overturn the decision of
the House leadership and nevertheless schedule a vote on the
resolution. "We're getting good response in the House of
Representatives and have 40 co-sponsors on a similar resolution in
the Senate," she said, but history teaches that even interest groups
that are stronger than the Armenian lobby have no chance when the
administration and the Congressi
onal leadership are working against
them. Another Armenian activist openly admitted that "the resolution
is dead" and this year again there is no chance of passing the
resolution that recognizes the Armenian genocide.

Don't upset Turkey

The main obstacle facing supporters of the Armenian cause in the U.S.
and their attempts to gain recognition for the Armenian genocide is
the administration's basic position and that of many others, whereby
friendship with Turkey is more important than anything else. The
Turkish government, via its diplomatic representatives and lobbyists,
has made it very clear to the Americans that any recognition of the
Armenian genocide will be perceived in Ankara as a slap in the face
and will adversely affect ties between the two countries.

So, for example, when France was considering a similar law, the Turks
threatened a series of sanctions and in the end recalled their
ambassador from Paris for six months. In the U.S., the situation is
much more sensitive - the Americans need Turkey as a crucial ally in
its region, as a base for U.S. forces and primarily, to maintain
relative quiet in northern Iraq. "Our relationship with Turkey is too
important to us to allow it to be in any way damaged by a poorly
crafted and ultimately meaningless amendment," said senior House
leaders in their reaction to the Schiff Amendment. The administration
maintains a similar position. The debate does not revolve around the
question of whether there was an Armenian genocide or its scope, but
around contemporary politics and Turkey's possible reaction if
someone upsets them with regard to this issue.

The Jewish community in the U.S. and the Israel issue are also
entwined in the pressure campaign preventing approval of the
resolution. "The community is certainly a player on this issue," said
a key Jewish activist in Washington, who like many others involved in
the issue, asked to remain off the record. Representatives of Jewish
organizations reported "a sense of discomfort," as one described it,
when coming to explain their position on the Armenian resolution; on
one hand, the Jews as a community are sensitive to the tragedy
experienced by the Armenian people, but on the other hand, there are
Israel-Turkey relations to consider. "We have always had a level of
uncertainty regarding the balance that should be kept between the
moral factors and the strategic interests," one Jewish organization
official cautiously explained.

Last year, Jewish organizations, primarily the American Jewish
Committee (AJC), have been more active in thwarting the resolution
acknowledging the Armenian genocide. This year the politicians
managed of their own accord and the resolution will be postponed even
without the involvement of Jewish organizations. But a central
activists in a Jewish organization involved in this matter clarified
that if necessary, he would not hesitate to again exert pressure to
ensure the resolution is not passed and the Turks remain satisfied.
The same activist said he had received numerous requests in the past
to work against the Armenian cause in Congress. "The State Department
asked us, other people in the administration did, even the Turkish
Jewish community asked us to act on this issue," he said. The
prevailing opinion among the large Jewish organizations is that
"Turkey's relations with the United States and Israel are too
important for us to deal with this subject," according to one
community activist who was involved in blocking Resolution 193 last
year. The more expansive explanation, offered in meetings and
discussions, is that "the Armenian genocide is a matter for
historians, not for legislators."

Even though ties between Israel and Turkey are the determining factor
in decision-making in the Jewish community, there is also some weight
to the matter of definition. The American term proposed in the
resoluti
on refers to "genocide" of the Armenians, while the Nazis'
acts against the Jews during World War II are defined as "Holocaust."
The distinction does indeed exist, but according to many Jewish
activists, there are some who feel discomfort over the mention of the
Armenian genocide alongside the Jewish Holocaust, for fear of
cheapening the concept of a holocaust.

The Jewish community's involvement in the issue of the Armenian
genocide is affected by the status of Israel-Turkey relations. One
senior organizational official related that during the honeymoon
years of Turkish-Israeli ties, the Jewish organizations were more
enthusiastic about openly helping Turkey thwart previous
Armenian-related resolutions in Congress. Now, he adds, since ties
have cooled off somewhat, many Jewish activists are trying to lower
their profile in this matter. The organized Jewish community in the
U.S. has close ties with the Turkish government and one of Turkish
Prime Minister Racep Tayep Erdogan's senior advisers even promised
recently at a Washington meeting with a Jewish audience that
Erdogan's criticism of Israel was misunderstood and that Turkey will
do everything to restore ties to the way they were.

Armenians for Kerry

The insistence of the administration and Congressional Republicans to
bar the resolution on Armenian genocide does not make President
George Bush very popular among Armenians on the eve of elections. One
of the large Armenian organizations in the U.S. has already publicly
endorsed Kerry and the Democrats have two groups of Armenians for
Kerry working for them. So far, no Armenian group has voiced support
for Bush. But the Armenian community's electoral power is not
significant. There an currently an estimate 1-1.5 million Americans
of Armenian descent, but most are second, third or fourth-generation
immigrants and therefore, not all of them vote based on the
candidates' views on faraway Armenia. "There are those who base their
decision on the Armenian issue, those who vote only based on their
political views and those who vote based on different reasons
altogether," explained Ross Vartian, the executive director of the
Armenian Assembly of America.

However, the Armenian community has also kept track of President
Bush's record. He promised in his 2000 election campaign to recognize
the Armenian genocide and after his election worked to thwart such
resolutions; he allocated a smaller amount of foreign aid to Armenia
than he had recommended to Congress and favored issues relating to
Azerbaijan over Armenian ones; and the Armenians in the U.S. were
insulted when Bush's administration announced that Armenians residing
in the U.S. would be required to register at the offices of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, as foreigners from Arab and
Muslim countries were required to do after September 11. Following
pressure from the community, the decision was retracted after 48
hours.

Next year, the world will mark the 90th anniversary of the Armenian
genocide. Activists in the U.S. hope the international pressure and
perhaps also the results of the U.S. election will enable them to
obtain approval of the resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide
in the next session of Congress. Past experience shows that the
chances of that happening are slim.

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