BY ARA KKHACHATOURIAN
In a surprise move, the U.S. House this week, over Turkey’s objections, quickly adopted a resolution condemning Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, encouraging the protection of Cypriot religious artifacts, and calling upon Ankara to end its illegal military occupation of the island nation.
The measure, H.Res.1631, was introduced just two weeks ago, on September 16th, by Republican Congressman Bilirakis of Florida. He was joined by 27 of his House colleagues as cosponsors of the resolution.
With the support of Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership, the Cyprus measure by-passed the normal committee process, and proceeded directly to the House floor, under a motion, requiring a two-thirds majority, to suspend the rules.
On the House floor, debate on the measure lasted less than 40 minutes. Supportive remarks were offered by Representatives Bilirakis , Carolyn Maloney, Chris Smith, and John Tanner. Congressman Bilirakis offered special thanks to Chairman Howard Berman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member on the panel, for cosponsoring and also “fast-tracking” the measure to the House floor. The only vocal opposition to the measure that the Turkish lobby seemed able to muster was a lone statement by Congressman Dan Burton, a perennial advocate for Turkey and its illegal occupation of Cyprus, who called the measure “unnecessary and inappropriate.”
After this brief debate, the measure was adopted by voice vote.
As Armenian Americans, of course, we warmly welcome the adoption of this much-needed and long-overdue Congressional stand against Turkey’s ongoing aggression against Cyprus. We look, as well, for the lessons and insights we can draw from this successful “fast-tracking” of legislation sharply critical of Turkey in the last days of this session of Congress, particularly as they relate to the prospects for the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution. Sadly, it’s clear now, with Congress having adjourned, that, despite the broad bipartisan support enjoyed by the Armenian Genocide resolution, the leadership has chosen not to schedule a vote on this measure on prior to the November elections.
Certainly there are many things that these two pieces of legislation have in common. Most notably, although Ankara’s attacks on Armenian Genocide recognition are typically louder and more menacing, both measures are opposed by the Turkish government and its stable of lobbyists in Washington, DC. In fact, Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code outlaws any public statements at odds with the government’s position on both Cyprus or the Armenian Genocide. In addition, each resolution has benefited from the growing strains in U.S.-Turkey ties and the fact that Turkey and its allies are increasingly on the defensive, especially within Congress. But there are also a number of significant differences:
- First of all, the Cyprus resolution is sharply critical of modern Turkey, not only condemning its past actions, but explicitly calling upon its present-day government to end its occupation and its violations of human rights and international law. The Armenian Genocide Resolution, in contrast, does not call on Turkey’s government to take any actions at all. This measure simply reaffirms the American record documenting the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against the Armenian people, and calls on the U.S. government to use the lessons of this atrocity to prevent future crimes against humanity.
- In terms of Congressional backing, the Armenian Genocide Resolution has 149 cosponsors, more than 5 times more than the Cyprus legislation, which has 28. Both enjoy bipartisan support.
- As far as committee-level action is concerned, the Armenian Genocide Resolution has been adopted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2000, 2005, 2007, and 2010. Although the Cyprus issue has long been discussed in Congress, this particular legislation was never brought before the Foreign Affairs Committee.
- The U.S. House leadership, including Speaker Pelosi, and key members of the Republican leadership have, over the course of many years, spoken publicly for U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide and in strong support of the passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution. Not a single member of the leadership, in either party, went on the record in support of H.Res.1631 prior its adoption.
Clearly, there are meaningful differences, but also considerable similarities between these two measures and the legislative dynamics regarding their passage. But, just as clearly, any thoughtful comparison between the two begs the question: Why did the House leadership “fast-track” the Cyprus resolution while choosing not to schedule a vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution?
Perhaps the answer lies in the old adage: Where there’s a will, there’s a way (and vice versa).