08/24 Zaman: Time for a plan B over ‘genocide’

Ali H. Aslan
a.aslan@todayszaman.com Politics
Time for a plan B over ‘genocide’

Here we go. The Anti Defamation League (ADL) has issued a statement acknowledging the Armenian "genocide." This is the first public endorsement of the Armenian cause by a prominent American Jewish organization. Am I surprised? Not necessarily -- I sort of knew it was coming. From my conversations with representatives of American Jewish lobby groups, I had the impression that there was no consensus on this controversial matter. Make no mistake, there has always been some agreement in American Jewish community that those events were "tantamount to genocide." That's the same case with most other "friends" of Turkey. But believing something is one thing, and revealing it publicly is one another. Recently, there has obviously been a tendency to speak more openly on this matter.
The ADL's position is this: Yes, this was genocide, but the US Congress should not say so. Frankly, in some ways, I find the ADL intellectually more honest than many other Jewish organizations. The Jewish organizations investing in better Turkish-Israeli-American relations have been trying to be politically correct toward Turkey. The ADL is more honest because this is what most Jewish organizations have always believed but had yet to say it publicly. The ADL stops short of supporting the Armenian genocide resolution in Congress because they think it would be "counterproductive." If one believes the Jewish genocide (that is, the Holocaust) should have consequences but an "Armenian genocide" should not, that is not completely honest. That's the main problem with the ADL's position. On the other hand, to be fair, when it comes to talking about politically charged issues like the Armenian genocide allegations, to expect full honesty from any party involved would be luxury. There are serious gaps between public and private positions.

Take the US government for instance. Publicly, they fall slightly short of naming it "genocide." But I'm sure privately most of the officials believe it is. "Ethnic cleansing" and "forced exile" are not things any nation can be proud of. When the US government uses such terms instead of genocide, we Turks are relieved! In sum, although the executive branch deep inside agrees there was a genocide against Armenians, they refuse to call it such because that is "counterproductive." What's at stake here for them is further intimidating Turks and hurting US interests within Turkey and its neighborhood. The three foremost important foreign policy matters for the US in our region nowadays -- Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan -- require Ankara's uninterrupted cooperation.

The US Congress is another story. Again, even among the so-called "friends" of Turkey, including the Turkish caucus, there is less doubt the events of 1915 were tantamount to a "genocide." Two hundred and twenty-five of the 435 representatives have publicly endorsed the Armenian resolution. Again, most of those who have yet to publicly support the bill believe it is "counterproductive" to say what they think. It is easy to test my analysis. Tell me how many US representatives have publicly said so far there is no such thing as an Armenian genocide. You'll hardly remember any. The senators have generally a more statesmanlike attitude than the representatives; therefore the Senate position would fall somewhat between the executive branch and the House.

Now that the ADL has opened Pandora's box on the part of powerful Jewish lobby groups, Turkey faces a bigger challenge. Whoever I talk to in Washington has said sooner or later an Armenian genocide resolution would pass. It's just a matter of timing and convenience. Fortunately, the serious problems the US faces in our region have made it less convenient for American politicians to finalize the bill. Although current congressional leaders with the Democratic Party seem to be more inclined to go ahead, it is not completely unlikely that "national interest" and "national security" arguments would once again prevail.

The Armenian lobby groups and their collaborators in the US are trying hard to punish Turkey with this resolution. Frankly, I believe the process so far has been an even harsher punishment than the final outcome. The issue consumes a considerable deal of Turkish diplomatic energy and resources, which could have been otherwise spent in pursuing more tangible national interests. We can spend our and our supporters' political capital on other issues. I don't want to sound like a defeatist but as a realist in foreign policy matters I think Ankara needs to give a second thought to whether the issue deserves that level of commitment. The more Turkey seems to be intimidated, the more mistakes we might make, the more advertisement the Armenian genocide thesis gets and the happier our international adversaries become. We have obviously lost debates among US intellectuals, are increasingly losing them among NGOs like the ADL -- and it looks like sooner or later we will lose the battle in the US Congress. Perhaps now it's time for preparing the Turkish public for more negative outcomes and to reflect on better strategies rather than sticking with the same old tactics.

Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=120251