Armenia’s Should Remain Vigilant to Counter Turkish Pressures on Obama

Now that Sen. Barack Obama has been elected President, Armenian-Americans need to remain vigilant in order to counter Turkish pressures on the President-elect and his inner circle.

Already, the Turkish government has embarked on a full-scale campaign to influence the next administration on a variety of critical issues for Turkey, such as the Armenian Genocide, Cyprus, the Iraq War, and the Kurds.

Only a few days before the presidential election, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan sent two top officials to Washington to meet with close aides of Senators Obama and McCain to make sure that whoever is elected President would not make decisions against Turkish interests. Several American lobbying firms hired by Ankara are also hard at work to convince the President-elect and his advisors to support Turkey on a variety of issues.

Clearly, the Turkish government is alarmed by Sen. Obama’s repeated promises to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Prime Minister Erdogan, in his letter of congratulation, went as far as expressing the hope that Obama as President would not carry out the promises he made as a candidate to the Armenian-American community.

Moreover, Erdogan requested a meeting with Sen. Obama, presumably to dissuade him from acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish Prime Minister is one of the leaders of 20 countries who are invited by Pres. George Bush to the White House Economic Summit later this week. The President-elect’s aides should reject Erdogan’s request for a meeting, reminding him that last January he insulted Sen. Obama by calling him "an amateur in politics," just because the presidential candidate had issued a statement on the Armenian Genocide. As I had written in a column at that time, "Erdogan’s insulting words about Obama may haunt him after the election."

Despite the Turkish government’s intense lobbying efforts, it may be easier for Armenian-Americans to push their agenda forward during the Obama Presidency. Armenia’s have several significant advantages with the incoming administration over the outgoing one:

* Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been staunch supporters of Armenian issues;

* The new Congress is more likely to pass legislation favorable to Armenia’s, since there will be a sizeable Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, joined by a large number of pro-Armenian Republicans in both Houses;

* The Departmen’s of State and Defense would be less likely to oppose a congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide, given the likelihood that the White House would either support the measure or at least not oppose it;

* Although it appears some high-ranking pro-Turkish officials will be serving in the Obama administration, they are likely to be outnumbered by those who are either sympathetic or impartial on Armenian issues.

Despite such a favorable balance of forces, the final outcome of any pro-Armenian legislation in Congress still hinges on two important prerequisites:

* The Armenian-American community’s vigilance and implementation of a full-scale grassroots and media campaign to counter all Turkish threats against the U.S.;

* The Armenian government’s postponement or preferably cancellation of a planned joint Armenian-Turkish historical commission that would have been exploited by the Turkish government to undermine efforts to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the U.S. and other countries.

Those in the Armenian community who remain skeptical about the next U.S. President keeping his campaign promise on the Armenian Genocide and/or support a Congressional resolution on this issue, should know that, no matter how justified their skepticism, they should not create the false and harmful impression that it is impossible for a U.S. President to acknowledge the Genocide. After all, a very prominent former President — Ronald Reagan — did issue a Presidential Proclamation back in 1981, which mentioned the Armenian Genocide. Pres. Obama would be simply repeating what was already stated 27 years ago by Pres. Reagan!

Similarly, those who say that the House of Representatives would never pass a resolution on the Armenian Genocide, should be reminded that the full House did pass such a resolution twice, once in 1975 and a second time in 1984. Thus, House Speaker Pelosi would be simply reaffirming what was already adopted by the House twice before!

To be sure, Turkey’s denialist leaders can be expected to issue empty threats against the U.S. and repeat last year’s charade by recalling their Ambassador from Washington for a brief period. They would then send their envoy back to Washington after realizing that Turkey needs the United States more than America needs Turkey!

If Armenian-Americans want the Obama administration to support their cause, they should more energetically support their political friends and counter their foes. The incoming administration, on the other hand, should show moral courage in the face of bullying tactics by Turkey, a third world country that should not be allowed to muzzle the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States.

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