A changed U.S. House to vote on Armenian Genocide

March 3, 2010
Source: The New York Times

By Brian Knowlton

WASHINGTON — As members of a House committee prepared to vote yet again on a resolution condemning as genocide the mass killing of Armenians starting in 1915, both Armenian supporters of the resolution and Turkish opponents said Wednesday that the ground had shifted since the last such vote, primarily because of President Barack Obama.

Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, has campaigned vigorously against the resolution, which states that “the Armenian genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923” and resulted in 1.5 million deaths.

Turkish groups took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post on Wednesday, while eight members of the Turkish Parliament spread out across Capitol Hill to argue that the deaths were a tragic but unplanned effect of World War I, and not genocide. At least three Turkish television stations planned to broadcast live the vote on Thursday of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But one of the Turkish lawmakers emphasized that the dynamic in Washington had changed.

"It’s a different environment from 2007," when a similar resolution, passed in committee, failed to reach the House floor, said the lawmaker, Suat Kiniklioglu. "In 2007, we felt the American administration was behind our cause."

Mr. Kiniklioglu, who heads an interparliamentary U.S.-Turkish friendship group, said that although Turkey had a generally more nettlesome relationship with the Bush administration than it has with Mr. Obama, the current president was not actively helping Turkey on this issue. At the same time, Aram S. Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said Wednesday that his group was confident the resolution would pass, partly because of Mr. Obama’s stance.

"The fact that the administration has not come out against it, I think, has been a big change," he said. "It represents a real shift since the Bush administration or the Clinton administration."

Advocates on both sides said it was telling that when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was questioned about the resolution in recent congressional appearances, she did not use the opportunity to speak forcefully against it. As a senator, she had supported the resolution, as did Mr. Obama when he was a member of the U.S. Senate
Appearing last week before the same House committee, Mrs. Clinton emphasized Mr. Obama’s message that "our interest remains a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts related to the historical events,”"but said that this should come first from the people closest to those events.

In contrast, in 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates — concerned partly about Turkish cooperation over Iraq — sent letters to Congress forcefully protesting the genocide resolution’s passage through committee. Earlier, President George W. Bush spoke out against it, saying it was "not the right response to these historic mass killings."

Mrs. Clinton has been intimately involved in nurturing a reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian governments. "I’m on the phone probably more with the leadership in Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan than any other part of the world," she told the committee.

Turks say the congressional vote could jeopardize not only the warming with Armenia but also the broader relationship with the United States. "If it comes to the floor and passes, there will be major repercussions on every aspect of our relationship," said Mr. Kiniklioglu, the lawmaker. "No Turkish government can tolerate such an affront. We all need to tread very carefully."