Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 6 15:00:41 UTC 2010

Yigal Schleifer 3/05/10

Turkey watchers in Washington must have been feeling a sense of déjà
vu after the March 4 passage by a congressional committee of a
resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians during World War
I as genocide. The same House Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a
similar resolution in 2007, leading Turkey to recall its ambassador to
Washington and warn of a serious rupture in relations with the United
States. A last-minute intervention by the Bush administration kept the
resolution from coming up for a vote in the full House of
Representatives. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Post-vote developments this time around are playing out in much the
same way as in 2007. Ankara has again recalled its ambassador and has
said its ties with Washington could be severely damaged, if the
resolution continues on its way to a full vote. [For background see
the Eurasia Insight archive].

"[For] a whole year Washington and Ankara are getting along very well,
but come March storm clouds start forming," political analyst Mehmet
Ali Birand wrote in his March 5 column in the English-language
Hurriyet Daily News. "We are watching the same movie over and over
again. The only difference is that with each passing year the
intensity increases." This year, the saga supposedly had a different
plotline. The historic reconciliation framework that Turkey and
Armenia signed last October was widely thought to take the legs out
from under any effort to tar Turkey with the genocide label. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

But analysts say a stalled reconciliation process, along with Turkey’s
deep emotional reaction to the genocide issue, have, once again,
created a potentially damaging situation for Turkish-US relations.
[For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

"We would not have been here, if the protocols had gone forward," says
Hugh Pope, Turkey analyst with the International Crisis Group, a
Brussels-based policy and advocacy group. "Turkey’s insisting on the
conditionality, which was not part of the protocols, has led us to
where we are today." Pope was referring to a government demand that
Turkish ratification of the reconciliation accords was contingent on
movement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan
occupied by Armenian forces.

The signing of the accords was initially hailed in Turkey as an
important breakthrough. But Ankara seemed to put the brakes on the
process after the protocols whipped up strong domestic opposition, as
well as criticism from Azerbaijan, a traditional Turkish ally that is
also a key component in Ankara’s energy policy. [For background see
the Eurasia Insight archive].

"Obviously there was an attempt by the Turkish authorities to try
something else [other] than what they were doing for the last 95
years, and it failed," says Cengiz Aktar, director of the European
Studies Department at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University.

Now faced with another genocide resolution in Washington, Turkey
appears to have returned to the same strategy that it relied on in
previous years, one informed by a mix of deep emotional responses and
political concerns. "It’s emotional because Turks are very much
enraged to be portrayed as grandsons of people who committed genocide,
especially when it happened during a time when tumultuous things were
happing all over," says Sinan Ulgen, Chairman of the Center for
Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), an Istanbul think tank.

"The second aspect [of the Turkish reaction] is the political and
legal question; namely if such a bill is adopted in congress, that
might lead to a situation where Turkey might find itself as a
defendant in a number of legal cases in the United States, which is
something Turkey doesn’t want to find itself in," Ulgen added.

One of the important questions now is how far is Ankara willing to
take things if the resolution goes to the House for a full vote --
something that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to decide on.

Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, called Turkey a "paper
tiger" and noted that, although France passed a resolution recognizing
the genocide in 2001, trade between those two countries has since

Bahcesehir’s Aktar says he also believes Turkey’s threats are a
"bluff." But Ulgen predicted that "all bets are off" if Congress
actually adopts the resolution, noting that the genocide issue is "an
area where identity and emotion are in a sense superseding pure

"Turkey will certainly feel impelled to take retaliatory action
against the United States," Ulgen said. He went on to suggest that
retaliation could "take the form of non-cooperation in terms of Iran,
Iraq, Afghanistan, and possibly leading to restrictions on the use of
strategic assets, like the Incirlik air base - areas where there is
important cooperation."

Another important question is just what happens to the stalled
Turkey-Armenia reconciliation process?

"We are determined to press ahead with normalization of relations with
Armenia," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on March 5
during a news conference in Ankara.

But analysts believe the fragile protocols may become a victim of
political maneuvering in Washington over the genocide issue. "[Passing
the resolution is] a bad idea. Even if it’s done with best intentions
by the congressmen, what it will do is hand the process back to the
nationalists on both the Turkish and Armenian sides," says the ICG’s

Added Aktar: "Yesterday’s vote is the last nail in the coffin of these
protocols, at least for the time being. I can’t imagine a Turkish
government ratifying the protocols right now, even if the Armenian
government unilaterally ratifies them."

Posted March 5, 2010 © Eurasianet


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