Berman takes on Turkish Caucus

A controversial genocide resolution has led to some heated words between House members.

In an April 13 letter, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized lawmakers who opposed a resolution that would recognize the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide. Berman, a long-time backer of the measure, called some of the arguments being made against the resolution as “morally-blind.”

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“I disagree with many points in the letter, but I take particularly strong exception to the use of the phrase ‘so-called ‘Armenian Genocide Resolution,’’ which casts doubt on the historicity of the Armenian Genocide. In doing so, it flies in the face of the overwhelming weight of unimpeachable historical evidence and the virtually unanimous opinion of genocide scholars,” Berman writes in his Dear Colleague letter.

The California Democrat was referring to another Dear Colleague letter, this one dated March 29 and signed by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the three co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations. In their letter, the three lawmakers asked their peers to call on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to not let the resolution come up for a floor vote.

A spokeswoman for one of the members said it seemed as if Berman misread their letter.

“The chairman’s entire letter seems to emanate from a misreading of the words he referenced. The words ‘so called’ modify or refer to ‘Resolution’ — not to ‘Armenian Genocide’ — hence, the ‘so called Resolution’ or the ‘so called Armenian Genocide Resolution,’” said Whitfield spokeswoman Kristin Walker.

Walker also said the letter has not been released to Pelosi yet and has more than 20 lawmakers signing onto it so far.

In their letter, the three members argue the resolution will cause “irrevocable harm” to U.S. foreign policy as well as “derail” the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, which has been helped along by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, if it is voted on by the full House. They also believe the measure could hurt the U.S. economy, considering the more than $10 billion shipped to Turkey in U.S. exports each year.

In his response, Berman takes issue with all of the Turkish Caucus leaders’ points, saying that Turkey would not give up seeing U.S. intelligence on anti-Turkey militants in Iraq or forgo U.S. investment because of the measure. He also believes the normalization process between Armenia and Turkey has stalled not because of the U.S. resolution but because disagreements both sides have had on the deal instead.

On March 4, Berman’s panel approved the resolution on a tight vote of 23-22 in its favor. Armenian-American groups pushed for the measure while Turkey heavily lobbied against the resolution, recalling their ambassador in protest hours after the committee vote.

The fervor has since tempered. While remaining relatively quiet about the measure at first, the Obama administration made a more forceful case against it after the panel vote. Turkey’s ambassador has since returned to the United States.

It is unclear whether the resolution will get a House floor vote before the genocide’s anniversary of April 24, which Armenian-American groups would like to see — or even at all this year. It has gained some new supporters since the panel vote and now has 140 co-sponsors but Pelosi has not said when the measure will be considered by the full House.

Messages asking a Pelosi spokesman when a vote would take place were not returned before press time.

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