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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.