From Washington, in Brief
by Emil Sanamyan
Prime Minister Margarian remembered in Washington
A steady stream of officials from the federal and Washington city governments, a number of U.S.-accredited ambassadors and diplomats, and Armenian-Americans came to the Armenian Embassy on March 28 to honor the memory of Prime Minister Andranik Margarian who died of heart failure on March 24.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza flew to Yerevan to attend the funeral on March 28 and deliver a letter of condolences from President George W. Bush. Co-chairs of the Congressional Armenian Caucus Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.) issued a statement mourning Margarian’s passing. Heads of several U.S. federal agencies and non-governmental organizations sent letters of condolences.
Senate Committee approves amended resolution honoring Hrant Dink
On March 28, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.), secured committee passage of S. Res. 65 “Condemning the murder of Hrant Dink,” after amending several passages in the resolution’s text. Armenian-American organizations, including the Armenian Assembly, the Armenian National Committee, and USAPAC welcomed Sen. Biden’s effort.
The original text said, “Mr. Dink was prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for speaking out about the Armenian Genocide.” The State Department and the Turkish government opposed that statement. (See the March 17 edition of the Reporter for the original resolution’s full text.)
“Ankara fears that a Senate approval of the original text may act as a precedent for future congressional action,” the Turkish Daily News reported on March 26. The amended version, which passed the committee and was made available to the Reporter, said, “Mr. Dink was subjected to legal action under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for referring to the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide.”
A State Department reaction to the final text was not available at press time.
Another amendment was made to the part of the text that called on Turkey to normalize relations with Armenia. The text that passed the committee called on both “the Government of Turkey and the Government of Armenia to act in the interest of regional security and prosperity and reestablish full diplomatic, political and economic relations.” Unlike Turkey, Armenia has been ready to establish relations without preconditions.
At this time it is unclear whether and when S. Res. 65 might come to the Senate floor.
Major U.S.-Turkish military deal suspended (no relation to Genocide resolution reported)
Turkey suspended plans to purchase 30 F-16 fighter jets and associated equipment from Maryland-based Lockheed Martin. The parties have apparently not agreed on the price, variously estimated between $1.65 and $2.9 billion. There may be political reasons too.
Defense News on March 19 cited sources in the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, Turkey’s procurement agency, as saying that the reason for suspension is Lockheed Martin’s inability to start delivering the planes by 2010.
In the period 2014 to 2034, Turkey also plans to spend $10.7 billion to buy 100 of the U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF), also co-produced by Lockheed Martin. Defense News’ sources said that Turkey views the modernized F-16 purchase as a stopgap solution to fill Turkey’s need for more modern jets before F-35 production begins. It would be “meaningless” for Turkey to begin taking delivery of the F-16s in 2014, as has been proposed.
But on March 26, www.F-16.net blamed the suspension on a passage inserted as part of congressional approval of the sale. The passage specifies that the sale should “not adversely affect either the military balance in the region or U.S. efforts to encourage a negotiated settlement of the Cyprus question." It provides no clear benchmarks or enforcement mechanisms.
This passage is similar to the restrictions on U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan that it not "be used for offensive purposes against Armenia or the Armenian communities in the South Caucasus." But Azerbaijani special forces and air bases modernized by the U.S. are under the control of a government that is overtly planning to use them for exactly these “offensive purposes.”
Meanwhile Turkey's Zaman cited a military source as saying, “Rather than the Armenian genocide bill, the [Kurdish] issue has the potential to turn upside down Turkish-U.S. strategic relations…. If the U.S. does not take action against the [Kurds] in northern Iraq or allow the Turkish military to stage a cross-border operation, [Turkey] may even [drop plans to buy] 100 JSF fighters from the U.S.”
Turkish lobby in the U.S. is upbeat on chances of stopping congressional resolutions
Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Philip Morris were “silver sponsors” of the 26th annual conference of the American-Turkish Council (ATC), held in Washington March 25-27. Other ATC members include BAE Systems, Boeing, Chevron, Citigroup, and Sikorsky.
According to the Turkish media, Ankara’s concerns with congressional affirmation of the Armenian Genocide dominated conversations at the conference.
The ATC conference featured a special message from President George W. Bush. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was the keynote speaker. Mr. Gates was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, "Our two nations should oppose measures and rhetoric that needlessly and destructively antagonize each other. That includes symbolic resolutions by the United States Congress as well as the type of anti-American and extremist rhetoric that sometimes finds a home in Turkish political discourse."
Turkish NTV cited Economy Minister Ali Babacan of Turkey as saying, "things looked extremely dark two months ago, but thanks to the efforts exerted by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the staff at our Washington Embassy, as well as our lawmakers and non-governmental organizations, I see better chances that the resolution would not be submitted to Congress."
ATC president Jim Holmes, a retired U.S. ambassador, told the Turkish Daily News on March 22 that following intense lobbying by ATC, he is "hopeful … that the leadership of Congress will not bring either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives this legislation to the floor for vote."
Mr. Holmes said in an interview with Roll Call, a congressional news daily, that ATC member companies (including those listed above) are working to stop the resolution. Roll Call’s sources in the companies’ Washington lobbies confirmed that such efforts were underway.
"At the end of the day, the U.S. policy will not change regardless of what Congress does on this," U.S. ambassador to Ankara Ross Wilson said during the ATC reception, according to the Turkish Daily News. "We would like to see the resolution not pass."
Mr. Holmes served as deputy chief of mission in Ankara from 1992 to 1995. The ATC board is chaired by Gen. Brent Scowcroft (ret.), national security advisor to the first President Bush. (For more information, see www.the-atc.org)
Business giants deny opposing resolutions
At the urging of the Turkish government, the American Business Forum in Turkey (ABFT) – an entity separate from the ATC – sent a letter to Congress opposing congressional resolutions on behalf of American companies with business interests in Turkey.
The Armenian National Committee of America inquired with some 70 ABFT members, asking them to clarify their position on the issue. Three companies that responded so far – Microsoft, Cargill, and Johnson and Johnson – denied they were involved in Turkey’s efforts to stop the resolutions.
U.S., United Nations aiding “special populations” displaced from Iraq
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), several million Iraqis have been displaced since the war in Iraq began in 2003. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey furnished this estimate during the March 26 hearing called by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East.
Discussing U.S. and international assistance efforts, she referred to “special populations,” including “religious minorities such as Christians” – that in Iraq include Arabs, Assyrians, and Armenians. “We intend to ensure that these special populations receive the same consideration and access to the U.S. resettlement program as others and we are encouraging them to contact UNHCR to make their needs known,” Ms. Sauerbrey said.
On March 24, PanArmenian.net carried an interview with Baruyr Hagopian, chair of the Armenian National Committee of Iraq, who estimated that the number of Armenians in Iraq declined from 18,000 to 15,000 as a result of the war. Of those who left, most are now in Syria, Armenia, and Jordan.
Since 2003, 28 Iraqi Armenians have died, and as many have been kidnapped for ransom. Increasingly, Armenians and others from central Iraq are moving to the relative safety of the Iraqi Kurdistan. (See our story on page B1 about the new Armenian church is the area.)
Mr. Hagopian was also quoted as saying that “a significant part of Armenians living in Iraq are not satisfied with their situation and isolation from their historical motherland” and would like to become Armenian dual citizens.