Monday, April 16, 2007

Top Democrats "concerned" about Resolution; Turkey vs. Gaz de France; New York Times; and Nobel Laureates' letter

Published in April 14, 2007 Armenian Reporter

From Washington, in Brief
by Emil Sanamyan

* Key Congressmen “extremely concerned” about House resolution on Genocide

Three key members of Congress co-signed a March 28 “Dear Colleague” letter that communicated the Bush Administration’s opposition to the House Genocide resolution (H. Res. 106) and was made available to the Reporter by the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee.

Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), John Murtha (D-Pa.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) joined the Congressional Turkey Caucus co-chairs Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Kay Granger (R-TX) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) in urging their colleagues “to take into account all factors” as they are described in the March 7 letter from the Secretaries of State and Defense opposing the resolution’s consideration on the grounds that it might hurt relations with Turkey.

The member of Congress wrote that “While we do not seek to minimize the historical significance of the atrocities and murders perpetrated against Armenians from 1915 to 1923 as described in H. Res. 106, we are extremely concerned about the ramifications of passing this resolution and its effect on U.S.-Turkish relations.” H. Res. 106 is currently backed by 185 Congressmen.

Rep. Skelton chairs the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Murtha is chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (both are also members of the Turkish caucus) and Rep. Blunt is the Minority Whip (number two in the House Republican leadership). Rep. Murtha, who opposed U.S. affirmation of the Genocide in the past, is known as a close ally of the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been a consistent support of affirmation.

Meantime, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) issued a release on April 10 highlighting the support for the House resolution by 24 members seating on the Foreign Affairs Committee; 18 members on the Homeland Security Committee; 16 on the Armed Service Committee; 9 on the House Intelligence Committee; and 9 on the House Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the State Department.

* More companies deny they oppose the resolution

Xerox, American Express, Altria, and FedEx have joined Microsoft, Johnson and Johnson, and Cargill in distancing themselves from the letter sent by the American Business Forum in Turkey (ABFT) in opposition to the resolution, the ANCA reported on April 4 after inquiring with some 70 ABFT members about their position on the issue.

Altria includes the tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI), which is also a member of the American Turkish Council (ATC). ATC president Jim Holmes told Roll Call, the congressional news daily, that ATC member companies are working to stop the resolution. But Atria claimed in a letter to ANCA that “neither PMI nor Altria have taken a position – and neither company plans to take a position – on the proposed Resolution."

* Turkey issues “threat” against French company, then withdraws it

"Turkey sends blunt message to France. Ankara angered by Armenia bill, halts pipeline talks," said the April 6 headline in the International Herald Tribune, published by the New York Times. A senior Turkish energy official told Reuters that Turkey, unhappy with a French “bill” on the Armenian Genocide, would suspend talks with Gaz de France (GDF) over building a gas pipeline through Turkey to Europe.

But there were a couple of problems with the story.

First, there is no active proposal on the Genocide in the French Parliament at this time. France, including its president, senate, and the National Assembly, formally recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2001. Since then, the trade between France and Turkey has grown by 131 percent. Last year, the National Assembly voted for a proposal to punish Genocide denial, but it did not become law over opposition from the French government – and did not result in the threatened suspension of French-Turkish military cooperation.

Second, GDF is not a part of the Austrian OMV company-led gas pipeline consortium that includes the Turkish state-owned Botas company. An OMV spokeswoman would not confirm that any talks with GDF were underway to be suspended. And on April 7, Zaman cited Turkish Foreign Ministry officials as saying “There is no suspension decision yet.”

Almost lost in the coverage was a comment from an unnamed European Union diplomat, cited by Reuters. The diplomat suggested that the “threat” may have been an indirect message to the U.S. Congress over H. Res. 106. Indeed, opponents of the resolution who claim that the Genocide resolution would “damage” U.S.-Turkish relations are hard-pressed to find evidence that any such “damage” has occurred when other countries’ parliaments have passed similar resolutions.

* New York Times confirms editorial policy on the Genocide

In a “correction” published on April 5, the New York Times editors noted that “A headline on Friday [March 30] about a planned vote in Congress over the widespread killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government early in the 20th century incorrectly described the killings, in which 1.5 million Armenians died. It was genocide, not a ‘massacre.’”

The correction came after a number of readers wrote to complain about the story’s headline, “Planned House Vote on Armenian Massacre Angers Turks.”

* Nobel Laureates send a letter to Turks and Armenians

Fifty-three Nobel Prize winners co-signed a letter that called for “tolerance, contact and cooperation between Turks and Armenians,” the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity reported in an April 9 release. The Foundation’s executive director David Phillips told the Reporter that he drafted the letter on the initiative from Mr. Wiesel.

The letter urged “Armenians and Turks [to] encourage their governments to: open the Turkish-Armenian border; generate confidence through civil society cooperation; improve official contacts; and allow basic freedoms.”

While a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Phillips moderated the U.S.-sponsored Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) that created much controversy in the Armenian community, but did not bring about a breakthrough in relations.

Although Nobel laureates regularly sign joint letters on a variety of subjects, they are typically in their general area of expertise. For example, in February 2001, 80 laureates in the sciences urged President Bush to fund stem cell research; and in October 2006, 15 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates called on the United Nations to initiate a treaty restricting arms trade.

In the case of the Turkish-Armenian initiative, co-signers were a diverse group, including laureates in physics (14), chemistry (14), medicine (12), economics (6), peace (5, including Wiesel), and literature (2). The signers did not include Orhan Pamuk, who won the latest prize for literature and two months ago left Turkey fearing for his safety, in the wake of the murder of Hrant Dink.

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