Saturday, February 3, 2007

U.S. Congress on Armenian Genocide

Congressmen Introduce Resolution Affirming U.S. Record on Genocide
Amid General Optimism for Passage a Tough Fight is Likely
By Emil Sanamyan (Special to the Armenian Reporter)

WASHINGTON, DC – Lawmakers have launched a new effort to have the U.S. Congress affirm the Armenian Genocide. The proposed House Resolution 106 (H. Res. 106), “Calling upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects... the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide,” was officially entered into the Congressional Record on January 31, 2007.

The House measure is championed by Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), George Radanovich (R-CA), and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), who announced the effort at a January 30 press conference.

As in the past, the Bush Administration is expected to oppose the resolution, which both its supporters and opponents agree has its best chance of passage in years.

H. Res. 106 has received an early endorsement from over 160 congressmen of the 435-member House of Representatives. These early co-signers comprise more than half of the Democratic majority and over one-fifth of the Republican minority in the House.

The Democrats’ victory last November has led to the election of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as the House Speaker, the first time a member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus and long-time supporter of Genocide affirmation has been chosen for the position.

“We feel very strongly that this year is the year we’re going to get [the resolution] passed,” Rep. Pallone said at the press conference.

Asked by the Reporter how soon the passage is expected, Rep. Knollenberg suggested that the resolution would come up in the “next 90 days,” around the time of April 24 commemoration.

But before it can be considered by the full House, H. Res. 106 will be taken up by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose members and legislation’s two other original co-sponsors Congressmen Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) will play an important role in securing a prompt Committee consideration.

Twenty-one of the 48 Committee members are among the early co-signers of the resolution. The Committee is chaired by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), who has a mixed record on affirmation.

A Holocaust survivor, Rep. Lantos nevertheless opposed similar affirmation measures in the past, citing Turkey’s importance to the United States. But in 2005, the last time a resolution on the Armenian Genocide received Committee consideration, Rep. Lantos voted for affirmation, citing Turkey’s obstructionism of U.S. policies. In January, Rep. Lantos co-signed a congressional letter to the Turkish government condemning the assassination of Hrant Dink and urging reform in Turkey.

Should the legislation clear the Committee, as similar measures have in the past, it will be up to the Speaker to bring the resolution to the House floor, something that Pelosi’s predecessors repeatedly refused to do, citing opposition from both the Bush and Clinton administrations.

The resolution’s original co-sponsors cautioned that passage would not be easy. “Make no mistake, the speaker will get a call from the president asking for [a vote not be scheduled] on the grounds of national security,” said Rep. Radanovich.

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson has already expressed the Administration’s opposition to the resolution. And the Turkish government is likely to use its paid lobbyists in Washington in combination with blackmail tactics, such as threatening trade embargoes and suspending military cooperation, to provide a rationale for the Administration’s opposition.

Turkey may also take steps to tighten its blockade against Armenia, as it did in 2000, when a Genocide resolution was pulled from congressional consideration at the last moment.

But even the resolution’s opponents have acknowledged that it has good chances of passage. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns agreed that there is a “lot of momentum behind” the effort to pass the resolution.

Burns made the comment while answering a question from one of Turkey’s leading journalists, Mehmet Ali Birand, who suggested that “there is an overall belief that the Bush Administration will not be able to block” the resolution.

This view was also shared by Turkey’s former President (1993-2000) Suleyman Demirel, who was quoted on January 23 by the Azeri daily Zerkalo as saying that, “this time around this legislation is expected to be adopted.”

During his visit to Turkey in January, Burns was repeatedly asked by major local media whether the murder of Hrant Dink would affect the chances for the resolution’s passage. While Burns dismissed such linkages as “inappropriate,” it appears that while strongly condemning the assassination the Turkish establishment also had in mind the imminent introduction of the resolution.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris (1997-2000) was quoted by the Turkish Daily News as saying that “the resolution is likely to pass in both the House of Representatives and the Senate” in spite of Administration’s opposition.

At this week’s press conference, the resolution’s co-sponsors argued that the opponents of affirmation were misguided, and that passage is in best interest of both U.S. and Turkey.

Rep. Schiff asked: “How can we demonstrate the kind of moral leadership we need to condemn the genocide in Darfur, if we do not have the courage to recognize the murder of a million and a-half people in the first genocide of the last century?”

(Published in February 3, 2007 Armenian Reporter)

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