ANKARA: Parris: `Genocide’ reference would have frozen Turkey ties

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
May 2 2009

Parris: `Genocide’ reference would have frozen Turkey ties

President Barack Obama has figured out Turkey’s importance for the
United States much sooner than his predecessor, a former US ambassador
to Turkey has said, asserting that the ties would have been put into
deep freeze had Obama used the word "genocide" in a recent message to
refer to killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Obama refrained from using the "g-word" in the traditional message for
an Armenian remembrance day, but the fact that he said his views on
the issue have not changed and used the Armenian phrase to describe
the World War I events led to bitter complaints from Turkey.

"I have no doubt that had the statement contained the word ‘genocide,’
US-Turkish relations would have gone into a deep freeze that would
have taken years to thaw," former US Ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris
told a conference at the private Rumi Forum in Washington on Thursday.

Asked what would be the best time for the US to recognize Armenian
genocide claims, the veteran diplomat was cautious, saying there may
never be a good time for this.

Turkey rejects Armenian claims of genocide, saying both the death
toll, said to be 1.5 million by Armenians, was inflated and that the
killings occurred as the Ottoman Empire was trying to quell Armenian
revolts for independence. Obama made firm promises during his election
campaign that he would endorse the genocide claims. During a visit to
Turkey earlier this month, he said his views had not changed but that
he also did not want to harm the ongoing process between Turkey and
Armenia to normalize relations.

Parris said both Turkey and Armenia complained about Obama’s statement
but emphasized that "it did no lasting harm," as neither the
Turkish-US partnership nor the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process
have been damaged.

Parris also underlined that the Obama administration rejected an
argument that Turkey’s government has been systematically reorienting
Turkey’s foreign policy onto an Islamist axis and that therefore it
should not be rewarded by an early presidential visit. "Whatever the
merits of this argument, the Obama administration, by scheduling the
visit, have decisively rejected it," he said.

The US ambassador also asserted that the relationship with Turkey was
now being "managed at the very top levels of our new government." He
said the US administration has been "true to its public declarations
of readiness to listen and be responsive to Turkish viewpoints and
concerns" and added, "The approach seems genuinely to be: `we have a
common problem; how can we best solve it?’ rather than `we want what
we want when we want it’."

02 May 2009, Saturday
ALI H. ASLAN WASHINGTON

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