Pallone Rallies Congressional Opposition to Helicopter Deal

*Speech on House floor warns of increased human rights violations–danger to regional stability and growing threat to Armenia’s security.

WASHINGTON–Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) has called on his colleagues to block a proposed $4 billion helicopter deal with Turkey–citing the Turkish military’s worsening human rights record and the growing threat to Armenia and Turkey’s other neighbors which would be created by this dramatic escalation in Turkey’s offensive military capabilities–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday evening–Representative Pallone–who co-chairs the Congressional Armenian Caucus–argued against the arms deal on the grounds that it would "serve to increase tensions and instability in a region of the world that is vital to US interests and which is already plagued by conflicts and human rights violations. Put very simply–I am concerned that the Turkish armed forces will use this advanced American military technology to threaten its neighbors and abuse its own citizens."

With regard to the regional implications of the helicopter deal–Congressman Pallone noted that–"the neighboring country that has suffered the most from the Turkish Government’s aggressive militaristic and nationalistic posture is Armenia. In the years between 1915 and 1923–Turkey perpetrated Genocide against the Armenian people–resulting in 1.5 million innocent Armenian civilians being murdered." He added that–"in the year 2000–Turkey continues to maintain an illegal blockade of its border with Armenia–which has prevented the delivery of vitally needed supplies to Armenia," and that "Turkey has also backed Azerbaijan in the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. Given this pattern of hostility–the people of Armenia have every reason to fear the acquisition of these helicopters by Turkey."

Despite the concerns raised by Congressman Pallone and repeated State Department findings that the Turkish armed forces have used US supplied helicopters to commit human rights abuses–the Administration–under pressure from lobbyists hired by the Turkish Embassy and the defense industry–appears intent on granting an export license.

Commenting on this pressure–Representative Pallone said that–"the Government of Turkey knows how the game is played here in Washington. They have recently signed a $1.8 million-a-year contract for the lobbying services of several former Members of this Congress to push for the helicopter deal. I urge the Administration to resist this type of pressure–and I call on my colleagues in Congress to join me in using our position as elected officials to prevent this helicopter deal."

"Sending $4 billion worth of attack helicopters to an already over-armed Turkey runs against the interests and values our government should be advancing in the region," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "As Congressman Pallone stressed–this deal represents a setback to the cause of human rights–a danger to regional stability–and an increased security threat to the people of Armenia."

Earlier this week–the ANCA initiated a national grassroots campaign against the granting of an export license for this helicopter deal. Along with Amnesty International and other human rights groups and arms control advocates–the ANCA has helped educate members of Congress about the negative implications of this deal and urged them to make full use of their constitutional oversight authority regarding foreign arms sales.

An ANCA action alert being distributed nationally urges Armenian Americans to contact Vice President Al Gore–through his national security advisor Leon Fuerth–to encourage him to take a stand against this irresponsible foreign arms sale. The alert warns of the dangers this deal presents to human rights and explains that sending these advanced attack helicopters to Turkey threatens Armenia–noting that:

"The increasingly over-armed Turkish government remains to this day an unrepentant perpetrator of genocide against the Armenian people. As recently as eight years ago–former Turkish president Turgut Ozal publicly threatened to ‘teach’ Armenia’s the ‘lessons of 1915,’ a brutal and menacing reference to the Armenian Genocide."

Below if the text of Congressman Pallone’s March 9 remarks on the floor of the US House of Representatives:

Mr. Speaker–the Clinton Administration is currently considering a $4 billion sale of attack helicopters to the Republic of Turkey. I am here today–Mr. Speaker–to express my strong opposition to this proposal.

Providing these helicopters to Turkey will only serve to increase tensions and instability in a region of the world that is vital to US interests and which is already plagued by conflicts and human rights violations.

Put very simply–Mr. Speaker–I am concerned that the Turkish armed forces will use this advanced American military technology to threaten its neighbors and abuse its own citizens.

Mr. Speaker–several organizations have called upon the Clinton Administration to refuse an export license for the attack helicopters to the Turkish Army because Turkey has failed to make progress on human rights benchmarks set by the Administration in 1998 as a condition for approval of the export license.

Among those organizations working to block the export license is Amnesty International. Dr. William F. Schulz–Executive Director of Amnesty International USA–stated that–"Based on the State Department’s own annual human rights report–Turkey fails to meet the human rights benchmarks."

Indeed–Mr. Speaker–the section on Turkey in the State Department’s annual human rights report issued just a few weeks ago–states that–"The security forces continue to torture–beat and otherwise abuse persons regularly. Torture–beatings and other abuses by security forces remained widespread–at times resulting in deaths. Security forces at times beat journalists."

In a particularly relevant issue with regard to the helicopters–both the State Department and Amnesty International have reported the use of helicopters to attack Kurdish villages in Turkey and to transport troops to regions where they have tortured and killed civilians. Do we really want to see American advanced technology used by Turkey to accomplish these operations against the Kurdish people with even more ruthless efficiency?

Mr. Speaker–this helicopter deal is also a danger to regional stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus.

Recently–there has been a thawing in Greek-Turkish relations–a trend which we all welcome. The sale of these helicopters to Turkey has the potential to upset this recent progress in the relations between these neighbors. It could well be seen by Greece as a destabilizing step–at a time when we are seeing renewed efforts to resolve the Cyprus conflict–an issue that the Administration considers a major priority.

In terms of Turkey’s legitimate defense needs–it’s hard to see any justification for these advanced attack helicopters. Indeed–Mr. Speaker–it is apparent that Turkey is already over-armed.

The neighboring country that has suffered the most from the Turkish Government’s aggressive militaristic and nationalistic posture is Armenia. In the years between 1915 and 1923–Turkey perpetrated Genocide against the Armenian people–resulting in 1.5 million innocent Armenian civilians being murdered.

In the year 2000–Turkey continues to maintain an illegal blockade of its border with Armenia–which has prevented the delivery of vitally needed supplies to Armenia. Even Turkish business people would like to see the opening of corridors of trade and transport with Armenia. Turkey has also backed Azerbaijan in the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. Given this pattern of hostility–the people of Armenia have every reason to fear the acquisition of these helicopters by Turkey.

Mr. Speaker–the Government of Turkey knows how the game is played here in Washington. They have recently signed a $1.8 million-a-year contract for the lobbying services of several former Members of this Congress to push for the helicopter deal. I urge the Administration to resist this type of pressure–and I call on my colleagues in Congress to join me in using our position as elected officials to prevent this helicopter deal.

Providing these helicopters to Turkey does nothing to promote American interests or values–does nothing to promote stability–and does nothing to advance the cause of human rights.

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