By Edmond Y. Azadian
Armenians around the world were euphoric, when, on March 4, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee voted by a narrow margin (23-22), to adopt HR 252, a resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Once the euphoria settles down, we need to give an objective assessment of what actually transpired in the subcommittee and what are its short- and long-term impacts.
It is not the first time that this scenario has played out in Washington. Actually, there were three near-misses in recent history when the panel adopted the Genocide Resolution with even wider margin, yet the resolution never made it to the House floor. Similar resolutions were voted on in the subcommittee in the years 2000, 2005 and 2007, and in the latter case, the vote was 27-21 in favor of passing the resolution.
The Clinton and Bush II administrations actively pressured the legislators to table the resolutions.
One may ask why did Armenians vote in mass to elect President Obama, when they knew full well that the candidate and incumbent presidents would act differently and would renegue on their pre election pledges?
The question may be answered with another answer: what was the alternative? Barack Obama’s moral stature, and Samantha Powers’ convincing arguments swayed many Armenians.
Remembering preceding reversals, Armenians did not have an alternative but to go through the process to further mobilize the inactive masses, to keep politicizing the Genocide issue and demonstrating to Turkey that the Armenian lobby is something to be reckoned with.
Not only was the administration’s reversal predictable, but also the Turkish government’s reaction. Turkish leaders act, react and behave similarly in all situations.
When France adopted the Genocide Resolution, Ankara recalled its ambassador, threatened to break a $2-billion military contract and announced that the adoption of the Genocide law would damage French-Turkish relations. Exactly the same scenario is being enacted today. Yet the French government did not budge and none of the Turkish threats were implemented. France is a relatively smaller power than the US and has less to give to Turkey than the US.
But Ankara’s scare tactics, matched with the lobbying power of the military industrial complex, are affecting some legislators in the US, especially the ones looking for copouts.
The Foreign Affairs Subcommittee’s narrow vote was only the first step. There is a long way to go and the subsequent stages will be even more challenging than this one.
If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama renegged on their pre-election pledges, what assurances have we that the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will prove to be more principled and less expedient than her superiors and bring the Resoultion to the floor for a vote? She may try to place the resolution on the House of Representatives’ agenda, only when she is convinced that there are not enough votes for passage; that will be a face-saving maneuver for the speaker of the House.
Thus far, we may claim a victory, albeit a small one.
What were the factors, which contributed to that victory?
• Armenians may claim their lobbying power is making headway on the Hill. That may be considered a factor, but not a major one.
• Hillary Clinton had made the Protocols one of the centerpieces of her foreign policy in the Middle East and the Caucasus. This vote could force Turkey to ratify them and offer a victory for Foggy Bottom.
• Another unspoken factor is the position of Israel and the Jewish lobby. Already anonymous sources at Turkish Foreign Ministry are accusing the Jewish lobby that it “did not raise a finger” to defend Turkey.
Indeed, Prime Minister Erdogan had gone too far (at least by Israeli estimates) by accusing Tel Aviv of committing genocide in its Gaza raids. That policy gained dividends for the prime minister domestically and in the Islamic world, but damaged his position in the US.
Already voices were being raised in the Israeli press to teach a lesson to the Turks by supporting the Armenian Genocide. And if that lesson is learned quickly, Armenians can no longer count on the Jewish lobby’s neutrality.
When the vote was cast in the Foreign Affairs Committee, the sensational news was covered by all the networks. To this was added the panic gripping the Turkish news media and politicians. That, perhaps was even more lasting victory than the vote itself, because it sensitized international public opinion about the Armenian Genocide and further educated Turkish people on the issue.
Unless the majority of the people in Turkey realize that there is an unresolved problem between the two nations and unless the international public opinion is not focused on the issue the cause cannot be promoted through meager means that Armenians possess worldwide.
Armenians have gone through this process year in and year out and recognize and anticipate all the hurdles that may come along the way.
Hillary Clinton has told the reporters that “the Obama administration strongly opposes the resolution that was passed only by one vote in the House Committee, and we will work very hard to make sure it does not go to the House floor.”
State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley has also told the reporters ahead of the vote that the United States was concerned about the impact the vote could potentially have on US-Turkish relations. Turkey, among other things, is considered a strong American ally and is home to a critical US air base.
Hillary Clinton, when asked in a Costa Rica press conference why she had a change of heart and position on the Genocide issue, responded that things have changed.
Of course these are all absurd arguments; when Obama, Biden and Clinton spoke in favor of Genocide resolution, they knew Turkey was an ally, that there was the Turkish base in Turkey, that war was taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan and that any word about the Genocide would anger Turkey. In fact, nothing has changed. The only thing which has changed is the position of the politicians, which is not surprising at all.
Before the election, the candidates have the habit of promising the sky. After the elections the reality settles in and political expediency becomes the norm.
Every time elections take place, legislators or executive branch statesmen may change but the bureaucrats remain entrenched to carry on the same agenda from one administration to the other, justifying that agenda under the guise of “national interest.”
With all his moral rhetoric, President Obama did not make good on many of his promises; the moral wound that Guantanomo torture chambers symbolize are still open, water boarding criminals are absolved, suspected terrorist renditions are hushed, and Blackwater embezzlement cases are no longer in the public eye. They are all compromised to save major agenda items such as national health care and economic recovery. Among the host of these issues, the Armenian Genocide is a minor issue, which can be traded or trampled on with impunity.
Turkey is making a lot of fuss so that the resolution would not move ahead. They are even talking about improving relations further with Russia.
The Armenian press and the Armenian politicians have more or less a subdued view of the situation, which is a déjà vu. Their main concern is the potential war on the Karabagh front. Turks and Azeris are building arguments that Karabagh and Armenian-Turkish negotiations are at a stalemate to justify war.
The excitement about the HR 252 will die down soon but the exercise is not a futile one. Every year that issue comes up in Washington more Armenians are involved in the lobbying effort; there is more news coverage in the US and worldwide and above all the Genocide becomes more and more a domestic agenda for Turkey to ponder. This is the nature of politics.
We must be convinced that persistent drops of water will eventually pierce the rock and when the major political issues are aligned properly we may expect a breakthrough.
Meanwhile Armenians around the world need not hold their breaths on the adoption of HR 252 by the US Congress.