ANKARA: Turkey should start new initiative to fight genocide bill

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Feb 1 2007

`Turkey should start a new initiative to fight the genocide bill in Congress’

American Turkish Council President James H. Holmes says although much
has been done behind closed doors, they need Turkey to give them a
new initiative about the tragic events of 1915 to better defeat the
Armenian genocide resolution in Congress.

Retired Ambassador James H. Holmes, the president and CEO of the
American Turkish Council (ATC), visited Ýstanbul and Ankara this week
to meet with members of the ATC prior to the ATC annual conference in
March. Holmes’ visit coincided with the introduction of an Armenian
genocide resolution in the US House of Representatives, an issue that
has the potential to deteriorate the delicate balance
American-Turkish relations. Today’s Zaman met with Holmes and talked
about the action plan of the ATC against this resolution and what the
ATC is expecting from the Turkish government to strengthen its
lobbying hand on Capitol Hill.

Do you see the potential to harm US-Turkey relations in this
resolution?

The Armenian genocide resolution is the cause of great distress for
us, for the commercial interests of our members as well as for the
national security and foreign policy interests of both countries. We,
as the ATC, are fully committed to the preservation and promotion of
these relations. We see an enormous potential for cooperation and
growth in commercial relations between Turkey and the US. There is
increasing commerce between Turkey and the European Union, but we
don’t want Turkey with its 72 million population to become the
property of the EU. The strong future of Turkey is one in which the
US should participate as well.
Beyond that, we can see that this resolution points to an
overwhelmingly negative reaction from the Turkish government,
military, media and public. And with the passage of such a
resolution, we will no doubt see more reaction. Remember when the
French parliament passed a similar resolution? There is no reason to
think that Turkish public’s reaction to the US would be different. It
might even be more dramatic. In any close relationship when one of
the parties feel betrayed the reaction might be more paralyzing.
For the US to risk our relations with Turkey on the basis of a
meaningless resolution is just not right. Our interest is seeing this
resolution defeated, derailed, delayed. I don’t care what the formula
is. We want it to fail. We want Congress to realize the consequences
from the Turkish side.

Do you have an action plan to fight this resolution? Do you have any
suggestions for the Turkish government?

The ATC has put together an action plan that we are already executing
as far as our members are concerned. This constitutes the education
of our members so that they may inform their representatives in
Congress that it is in the interests of Turkey and the US to defeat
this resolution. We are going to be very active on Capitol Hill. We
are not a grassroots organization, but we can’t organize a letter
writing campaign. We just don’t have enough members for that. But we
do have some influential members, some very large employers who are
members of the ATC and who are very concerned that this will lead to
several lost commercial opportunities.
We do have a request from the Turkish government. It has been almost
two years since the Turkish government announced its call to set up a
historical commission appointed by both Yerevan and Ankara. I know
that lots of things have been going on quietly since then, such as
off the record meetings and negotiations between Ankara and Yerevan.
But if we are going to be successful on Capitol Hill, we need to have
something more to work with, something more recent than April 2005.
As tragic as the assassination of Hrant Dink was, I think it
illustrated that there is an opportunity here. There is an
opportunity for some aggressive action on the part of both Yerevan
and Ankara to make sure that current dynamics change. And if the
government of Turkey could do something and do it publicly, like a
version of what they did two years ago, that would give us a stronger
argument. When we say to the congressmen `Don’t pass this resolution,
support this instead …’ We can say `This is what you should support!’
But the Turkish government has to give us that something, something
more recent that we can work on. The call for the historical
commission was good. But still speaking about the same thing gives
the impression that nothing has happened since 2005. And I know that
this to be wrong. But Turkey hasn’t publicly said anything more.

Is there already anti-Americanism in Turkey? Is the ATC working on a
project to fight this trend also?

First of all, I don’t believe there is rampant anti-Americanism in
Turkey. I think there is a profound and durable `love’ and strength
in the relationship between Turkey and the US. There are very strong
anti-administration, anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war sentiments in Turkey.
And I know that they have been presented in a variety of ways. But in
my meetings with Turks I don’t find anti-Americanism, I find
anti-administration sentiments. There is a very strong reservoir of
goodwill that can be built on and that needs to be protected.
I am concerned that this resolution could add to the litany of
accusations against the US. `Wrong in Iraq; wrong on Turkey’s
relationship with its neighbors; wrong on the PKK.’ If somehow we can
come up with an activity which will mean something, which will be
consequential on the PKK, my conviction is that the attitude toward
the US will change in 48 hours.

As the ATC do you have contact with military personnel here in
Turkey?

We regularly have contact with the military. Our members work with
the military. I will be meeting with Chief of the General Staff Gen.
Yaþar Büyükanýt two weeks from now. He is going to be speaking at an
ATC event. Several times a week, either I or my staff are in touch
with the Turkish General Staff.

Our readers would like to know why military activities dominate
Turkish-American relations.

I don’t believe that to be the case either. You have to remember
where the Turkish-American relations come from. They come from the
Cold War, the Truman Doctrine and Turkey’s role as a frontline
deterrent during the Cold War. Certainly there is a very strong
US-Turkish buyer-supplier military relationship throughout over the
years. But increasingly a more normal relationship pattern is
evolving. We are one of Turkey’s largest investment partners today
and I think we will see a historically military dependent
relationship increasingly turning into a far broader relationship.
But still, military relations will continue to be an important part
of the picture.
Up to 60 percent of our military personnel coming to Iraq or
Afghanistan pass through our bases in Turkey and Turkish ports. The
Turkish Parliament has to extend the existence of these bases in
Turkey every year. This is a high risk for the US. This meaningless
resolution would not serve anything but to anger the Turks. Why do we
have to let American politics be lead by election campaigns? The
answer is we don’t have to.

The US Congress was critical of the Baku-Tibilisi-Kars railway as
well. Why all this willingness to support Armenian policies?

The American Congress’ decision with respect to the railway has been
extremely biased. This goes back to the 1990s when Armenian troops
moved into Azerbaijan. Now they are holding about 20 percent of
Azerbaijani soil and 600,000 people are still refugees. Then, the US
Congress pressed by the Armenian diaspora focused upon Turkey’s
decision to close the borders and the railway. I know that this was
done as a consequence of what Armenia did in Azerbaijan. Turkey could
not stay idle in the face of more and more battlefield successes by
Armenia. They took the step to close the borders and railway to
Armenia. Congress did not say to Armenia `What are you doing in terms
of creating refugees,’ rather they came to Turkey and to Azerbaijan
and said if you don’t open the railway, we are going to cut of all
assistance to Azerbaijan, including the humanitarian assistance. And
they did. They had the wrong end of the stick then and they still
have the wrong end of the stick now.
This is because US history with regard to the Armenian tragedies of
1915-1923 was written by the Armenian diaspora. And for decades and
decades there has been a constant drumming of their interpretation of
history unchallenged by anybody in the US or Turkey. It is accepted
as gospel. It is very hard to penetrate the American media, into the
American political environment. We believe this is a bad history, bad
public policy, bad for business. But to get that message across is
going to take a long struggle.

02.02.2007

KERÝM BALCI ANKARA

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