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Congressional resolution to recognize Armenian genocide is tabled

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Joshua Kucera
Publication Date 29 October 2007
Cite as EurasiaNet, Congressional resolution to recognize Armenian genocide is tabled, 29 October 2007, available at: [accessed 22 October 2016]
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Joshua Kucera: 10/29/07

A draft US congressional resolution that would have recognized the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman-era Turkey as genocide has been tabled after the White House, the US military and the Turkish government convinced many original supporters of the measure that its adoption would irreparably damage US-Turkish relations.

The bill appeared to be on track for approval after it passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 10. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The Armenian community and their lobbying groups in Washington have been pushing for such a resolution for years without success. This year, though, all the pieces seemed to be in place: The new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is a longtime supporter of Armenian-American causes, and Democrats, who generally are more supportive of genocide recognition, are in the majority. At one point, 227 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives had signed on as cosponsors, suggesting that the resolution would pass if it came to a vote.

But the closer the resolution came to success, the more Turkey and the Bush administration fought against it. All eight living former secretaries of state came out against the measure and President George W. Bush spoke publicly against it. The day after it passed the committee, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington, and Turkish officials threatened to cut off cooperation in Iraq. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, met privately with several members of Congress to try to convince them to withdraw their support.

In the days after it passed the committee, 11 of the bill's original co-sponsors removed their support from the bill and other cosponsors publicly said they would not vote for it. On October 24, four of the measure's most vocal supporters wrote to Pelosi, asking her not to bring the measure to a full vote. "We believe that a large majority of our colleagues want to support a resolution recognizing the genocide on the House floor and that they will do so, provided the timing is more favorable."

The forcefulness of the opposition to the genocide recognition turned the tide against the measure, said one Congressional staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The [Democratic House] leadership said 'we are going to bring this to the floor by Nov. 6,' and they were very adamant about it," the staffer said. "Then you saw the Turkish community, the Turkish lobby started to get very active about it. The Armenian community is very well organized and the Turkish community has not been. When it passed committee and Pelosi and Hoyer said that it's coming to the floor, then they said, 'now we've got to step it up.'"

Many members of Congress signed on to the resolution without recognizing the extent to which it offended Turkey. "When they recalled their ambassador, members realized they weren't joking," the staffer said. "I talked to the chief of staff of one of the members who got off the bill and I said 'I saw your boss got off the bill.' He said 'Yeah, I don't even know why we got on the thing in the first place.' I think people sponsored it without thinking very much about it."

Armenian lobbying groups put a brave face on the latest developments, refusing to admit defeat. "This is a retooling of the timeline," said Elizabeth Chouldjian, a spokeswoman for the Armenian National Committee of America. "We're confident it will come up again during this term," she said. The term of this Congress ends at the end of next year.

"The administration reinforcing these threats as opposed to standing firm to them, as well as the Turkish government's multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts definitely had an impact," said Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. "But this is not a defeat. It's an uphill battle."

The defeat of the resolution will likely help President Bush in early November when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Washington. One of the key issues on the agenda will be a spike in attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which uses rear bases in northern Iraq to attack targets in Turkey. US officials have urged Turkey to not use its military to pursue the PKK inside Iraq, and a top Turkish general said recently that Turkey would hold off on a decision until Bush and Erdogan meet on Nov. 5. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The resolution's defeat will help Bush's hand in negotiating, said Hugh Pope, an Istanbul-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. "It will help some. But there's a level of nationalist backlash here that will make managing the situation very hard for the United States, if they don't offer something that will limit the PKK," he said.

That "something" could include US attacks on the PKK, permission to send Turkish fighter-bombers into Iraq to attack PKK targets, or other sorts of military access. "Of course, this puts the United States into a very tough corner, but words aren't going to satisfy the Turks," Pope said.

Overall, however, the defeat of the Armenian resolution has helped temporarily shore up US-Turkish relations, which have been rocky over the past several years. "Lots of countries have passed bills. This is the first time that a country has decided not to go ahead so publicly," Pope said.

Editor's Note: Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

Posted October 29, 2007 © Eurasianet

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