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EFFORTS FOR GENOCIDE RECOGNITION INTENSIFY

Armenian News Network / Groong
November 10, 2000


With the French Senate's recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the
heated debates in the US House of Representatives in September, Turkey
is under international pressure on the question of the Genocide.
Meanwhile, Yerevan and Armenian communities around the world have
stepped up their efforts for the recognition of the "crime against
humanity".

By Groong Research & Analysis Group


The French Senate passed a bill on November 8, submitted by five
parties, which simply stated: "France publicly recognizes the Armenian
genocide in 1915."  The bill passed with a 164-40 vote, with four
absentees. In May 1998, the French parliament had voted unanimously in
recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As France is Turkey's most
important foreign trade partner, the Senate vote is surely to
complicate bilateral relations, as well as Turkish-EU relations.
France currently holds the presidency of the European club.

Turkey is coming under increased pressure: the Italian parliament is
also considering the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The French
recognition follows similar acts in the Belgian Senate, the Greek and
Swedish Parliaments, as well as the Russian Duma. 

Indeed, since the US House committee debates in September, there is
unprecedented public discussion of the issue in Turkey. The proposed
resolution in the House called upon the US President to ensure that
American diplomats dealing with human rights are educated about the
Armenian Genocide and urged the President to properly characterize the
mass killing of Armenians as "genocide" in his annual April 24th
address. However, on October 19, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL)
caved in to intense pressures from President Bill Clinton, the
Pentagon, the State Department and lobbyists paid by Turkey, and
withdrew H.Res.596 from the agenda shortly before the final voting in
the House of Representatives.

Previous US resolutions and other government lip service to the
Armenian Genocide were rarely noticed outside the beltway and the
Armenian American community. However, H.Res.596 became a highly
charged demarcation line between the forces of affirmation and denial
of the Genocide, with possible geopolitical consequences in Middle
East affairs. Why is it different this time?


Shift in Yerevan's Foreign Policy

When Robert Kocharian became president of Armenia in 1998, he made the
pursuit of recognition of the Armenian Genocide a significant foreign
policy issue. This was a fundamental change of policy in contrast to
the previous administration. Kocharian reiterated his administrations
commitment to the "genocide policy" during the Armenia-Diaspora
Conference last year. Unlike former President Levon Ter Petrossian's
realpolitik-driven disregard of the issue, which failed to yield any
significant results or benefits in terms of closer Turkish-Armenian
relations, Kocharian re-aligned Armenia's goal on this issue with the
Diaspora's. Kocharian made it clear that the affirmation of the
Genocide is not the Armenian Diaspora's 'cause' only, but the entire
Armenian nation and the state. This policy opened new processes of
indirectly influencing Turkey in such areas as its support of
Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict.

This change of policy in Yerevan sent a strong signal to many
diasporan communities that their efforts to raise the Genocide
recognition issue with their own governments would be welcomed by the
Armenian authorities. Hence, the Armenian community in the US could
pursue its "politics of affirmation" without fear of contradicting
Armenia's official policy.

In recent decades the Armenian-American community has increased in
number -- as a result of waves of immigrations from Iran, the Middle
East and (ex-)Soviet Armenia -- and has become politically more active
and savvy. The new immigrations revitalized the institutional life of
the Armenian American community and contributed to a new awareness of
Armenian issues among the second and third generation Armenian
Americans. In fact, the Armenian community in Southern California,
estimated at over a quarter million, has become a politically
significant community in US national affairs.

Moreover, the Armenian community has prospered and is generally highly
educated. Most Armenian Americans are university graduates, working in
skilled professional fields and have adapted to the Information
revolution and the Internet as the new medium of communication without
skipping a beat. Armenian grassroots and lobbying organizations, among
them the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National
Committee of America, an ARF-affiliate organization, reach their
targets efficiently and with good response.

A decade after independence, Yerevan realizes that the Genocide
recognition issue is the single, most unifying theme that mobilizes
the heterogeneous Armenian Diaspora. This comes at a time when the
Diaspora is progressively disengaging itself from working together
with Yerevan on other "national" issues and is troubled by the
existing political turmoil in Armenia, the economic inefficiency,
corruption of the state structures, and mass migration. The alliance
between Yerevan and key Diaspora communities on the fight for Genocide
recognition could create a new dynamics for Armenia-Diaspora
cooperation.

Worldwide Armenian communities are celebrating their victories. "The
Armenian community in France is very happy and satisfied, but the
struggle continues," said Hilda Tchaboian, director of Armenian
Cultural Center in Lyon.

Armenia's foreign policy and the increasingly sophisticated political
activism of the Armenian communities in the Diaspora present major
challenges to Turkey.


Ankara Caught Off-Guard

In recent months, the Armenian Genocide has became a problem in
Ankara's relations with the US, the European Union and Israel. The
first major "confrontation" came at the UN Millennium Summit in New
York when Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer was caught off-guard by
Kocharian's direct accusation of Turkey for denying the Genocide.
Sezer could only reply with an ill-prepared form response.

Subsequently, and in response to the US House resolutions debate, the
Turkish political establishment has responded very strongly, with a
knee-jerk and pathological reaction denying the Armenian Genocide, no
matter how non-binding and ceremonial these resolutions or
pronouncements are.

The Turkish government leaked multi-point "action lists" (a 5-point
list and a 34-point list) to the press, threatening friends and foes
alike with steps that Turkey would take in case the resolution in the
US House is passed. President Sezer made four personal calls to
President Clinton, stipulating Turkey's expectation of the US
administration and asked Clinton to personally intervene in stopping
H.Res.596 from reaching the House floor. The Turkish military
threatened to close the Incirlik military base, which the US uses in
Operation Northern Watch (ONW) to enforce the northern no-fly zone
over Iraq. Turkey moved to upgrade its relations with Iraq to the
Ambassadorial level, and let through planeloads of humanitarian
supplies to Baghdad. Furthermore, Turkey threatened that the safety of
American armed forces personnel on its territory could no longer be
guaranteed, if the resolution were to pass, and that Turkish support
for the Baku-Ceyhan main Caspian oil export pipeline would be in
doubt. Turkey also threatened Armenia, with Punitive steps from
closing humanitarian air corridors to shutting down trading, and
organizing military maneuvers in southern Georgia, near the Armenian
border.

Such reactions highlighted the haphazard and problematic nature of
Turkey's response. However, on a more general level, Ankara finds
itself in a bind which is rooted in the framework of international
relations: how to respond to the activities of a diasporan group, who
are citizens of Turkey's most important ally, and not tied - officially
or institutionally - to the state of Armenia. Turkey's state-centric
vision of the world is ill prepared to deal with diasporan politics.

Meanwhile, the Armenian Genocide became front-page news in major
Turkish newspapers. In recent months over 200 articles have appeared
in Turkish papers. The Turkish media, with very few exceptions, denied
the Genocide on the basis of the conventional Turkish denial policy:
that the number of victims were much less than 1.5 million; the deaths
were the results of harsh conditions during the deportations; and that
Turks also died during World War I.

The development in recent months has weakened Ankara's negationist,
denial policy and it has become obvious that the Turkish administration
does not have an alternative policy to deal with the situation. There
have been various, at time opposing, Turkish responses to these
developments. Some former Turkish diplomats have proposed opening the
Ottoman archives, some scholars have openly recognized the Genocide in
the Turkish press, and others have advocated the continued policy of
denial and repression of those who question the 1915 Genocide inside
Turkey. In any event, a loose debate is taking shape within Turkey,
especially because of external pressure. Most importantly, the
significance of this "debate" is beyond the recognition of the
Armenian Genocide. It is about the process of democratization of
Turkey.


A New Diaspora-Armenia Alliance

President Kocharian has repeatedly called for direct dialogue between
Ankara and Yerevan as a necessary step to normalize bilateral
relations.  However, Turkish response continues to be negative, as it
was during the presidency of Levon Ter Petrossian whose "overtures" to
Turkey were not reciprocated. In fact, Turkish State Minister
Abdulhaluk Cay last week ruled out normalization of relations with
Armenia as long as Yerevan pursues recognition of the genocide.

However, Turkish threats for reprisals will have little effect on
Armenia. As explained by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian,
Armenian-Turkish relations could not get worse, because there are no
existing relations to be damaged. Turkey has left itself few options
to influence Armenia. Turkey's "condition" to drop the genocide issue
is in addition to its long held policy of making the reestablishment
of diplomatic relations with Armenia conditional on the resolution of
the Karabakh conflict -- in favor of Azerbaijan. As a result, there
are no diplomatic ties between Armenia and Turkey, the borders are
closed, and trade is negligible. Turkey's hostile attitude toward
Yerevan has also contributed to Armenia's arms build-up and its
reliance on Russia as a guarantor of security.

One thing has become very clear. The issue of the Armenian Genocide
will not go away and will remain to be a major headache for Turkey as
long as it refuses to deal with its dark past. The ball is in Turkey's
court. Armenians and the world will be watching.

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