* Signals break with pledge that Turkey first meet human rights benchmarks before being granted export license
WASHINGTON–In a letter to Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–President Clinton responded to Congressional opposition to a proposed $4 billion helicopter deal with the Turkish military–defending Turkey’s record on human rights and regional affairs–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
Earlier this year–Congressman Pallone joined with Representatives George Radanovich (R-Calif.)–Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and members of the Armenian and Hellenic caucuses in pressing the Administration to deny an export license for the proposed deal. They cited the Turkish military’s worsening human rights record and drew attention to the increased threat that this dramatic escalation in Turkey’s offensive military capabilities would present to Armenia–Cyprus and Turkey’s other neighbors.
In a statement on the House floor–Rep. Pallone–argued that the deal would "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."
Commenting on the regional implications of the helicopter deal–Rep. 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."
President Clinton’s letter signals a clear willingness by the White House to walk away from earlier commitmen’s that its approval for the attack helicopter sale would be contingent on Turkey meeting eight human rights benchmarks.
Despite these benchmarks and repeated State Department findings that the Turkish armed forces have used US supplied helicopters to commit human rights abuses–the Administration appears ready to grant an export license should Turkey award the contract to Texas-based Bell Textron. (TIME magazine’s European edition–in a May 22nd story on the controversy surrounding this deal–revealed that "Textron Inc. pumped more than $650,000 in contributions to Democratic and Republican Parties for the 1996 elections. And it has already spent $102,000 between both parties for this year’s race.")
The State Department–in 1988–set these human rights benchmarks based on 1997 discussions between Clinton and Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. The benchmarks–as reported by Amnesty International–are as follows:
1. Decriminalizing freedom of expression;
2. Releasing imprisoned parliamentarians and journalists;
3. Prosecuting police who commit torture;
4. Ending harassment of human rights defenders and re-opening non-governmental organizations;
5. Returning internally displaced people to villages;
6. Ceasing harassment and banning of political parties;
7. Ending the state of emergency;
8. Adopting clear rules of engagement and end-use monitoring for US-supplied weapons.
The May 22 TIME article noted that the White House is seeking to "sidestep" the "firm promise State Department officials gave human rights groups two years ago–when just allowing US firms to compete for the contract was the issue. The Administration pledged that it would not finally approve a sale unless Turkey had made ‘significant progress’ on seven human rights benchmarks. In February–the State Department’s human rights bureau released a scathing report on Turkey’s record in 1999. It still flunked all the benchmarks. Though Ankara has made some progress–police torture ‘remained at high levels,’ free speech restrictions were still ‘a serious problem,’ and government harassment of opposition groups continued."
Commenting on the reasons for the Administration’s readiness to break its pledge–Representative Pallone commented in March 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 our friends in Congress have 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."
The ANCA–in coordination with a coalition of human rights groups–arms control advocates–and friends in the Greek American community–has undertaken a national grassroots campaign against the granting of an export license for the helicopter deal. The May 22 TIME magazine article reported that:
"The American Hellenic Institute–the lobbying arm for 3 million Greek Americans–plans to fight the sale–as does the Armenian National Committee of America–which represents 1.5 million Armenian Americans. Amnesty International is organizing a letter-writing campaign to dissuade the State Department from granting an export license."
The ANCA action alert against the deal (available at www.anca.org) 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 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."