By Kevin Bogardus - 10/10/09 06:43 PM EDT
Don’t expect the perennial lobbying battle over a contentious genocide
resolution to subside this Congress with Armenia and Turkey signing
protocols to reestablish relations Saturday after close to a century of
hostility between the two.
The resolution's lead sponsor, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), intends to move forward with the bill despite the two countries meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, on Saturday. After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Swiss counterpart helped hammer out the last-minute details, Turkish and Armenian representatives signed protocols that would establish diplomatic relations, reopen the common border and create a historical commission to examine the events surrounding the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.
“We intend to push forward with the recognition of the genocide,” Schiff told The Hill, hoping Turkey will “come to grips with the past.”
Despite Armenia and Turkey officially reconciling, lawmakers are still signing onto Schiff’s bill. Seven House members have added their names to its co-sponsor list since the two countries announced on Aug. 31 the protocols they intended to sign. Two lawmakers — Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) — joined others in supporting the resolution this past week, bringing a total of 134 co-sponsors for the legislation.
Schiff said he was not sure on when the resolution would come before the House Foreign Affairs Committee for approval and then moved onto the floor for a vote. Nevertheless, the California Democrat can expect support from Armenian advocacy organizations, who have mounted a grassroots campaign this year to get it passed in Congress, as he pushes for his resolution.
“We are still going to be working with members of Congress to push forward with the affirmation. Nothing has changed in that regard. It is still an important objective in its own right,” said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America.
Schiff and other supporters of the genocide resolution will face strident opposition from the Turkish government, which has threatened relations with the United States over the bill. Towards the end of 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed off bringing the resolution up for a floor vote despite it having more than 200 co-sponsors because of potential retaliation by Turkey, a key ally for U.S. military operations in Iraq.
Nabi Sensoy, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, said moving forward with the resolution in Congress now could harm his country’s normalization process with Armenia.
“This is something that will have a negative impact on what we are trying do, which is normalization of relations with the Armenians,” Sensoy said. “Carrying this argument from now on in the United States will not be helpful. That is what we have always said.”
Both sides of the debate offered measured praise to the initial framework Armenia and Turkey have reached. But disagreement still exists over some of the deal’s finer points.
For example, Schiff is concerned about the creation of the historical commission to reexamine the Armenian massacre during World War I. He compared the commission to asking historians to review Nazi Germany’s cleansing of Jews during World War II in order to appease Holocaust deniers.
“Agreeing to some sort of commission would be agreeing that there is some sort of dispute over what is undeniably fact: That the Armenians were subject to the first genocide of the 20th century,” Schiff said.
In turn, backers of the genocide resolution have battled back against the protocols Armenia and Turkey signed Saturday, asking the U.S. government to not pressure Armenia into signing them. A July 30 letter to President Barack Obama, signed by more than 80 House members, urged him “to separate the issues of normalization and genocide recognition.”
Ardouny sees normalization and recognizing the genocide as two separate issues and neither should affect the other.
“It shouldn’t be that the affirmation of the Armenian genocide be held hostage to the normalization of relations,” Ardouny said.
But Sensoy disagrees, saying the two are intertwined.
“It is not a separate discussion. This normalization is addressing not only the present but also the past,” the ambassador said. “The historical aspects of this issue will be discussed.”
The Turkish Embassy will have ready a stable of PR operatives and lobbyists to beat back the resolution this Congress.
According to Justice Department records, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and past House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) are lobbying for Turkey. Their respective firms — Dickstein Shapiro and the Gephardt Group — are joined by PR giant Fleishman-Hillard among other firms who have active contracts according to Justice and will be watching the resolution for Turkey.
Sensoy believes Saturday’s agreement between the two countries will help Turkey’s case against the resolution in Congress by bolstering its ties with U.S. lawmakers.
“I am confident that the signing of the protocols between Turkey and Armenia on the normalization of diplomatic relations is going to reflect very positively on the legislators on Capitol Hill,” Sensoy said. “It will help strengthen the relationship between Turkey and the United States.”