President Obama is urged to correct course on Armenia-Turkey policy

In letter, 81 members of Congress call on president to recognize Genocide

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Thursday July 30, 2009

Some of the 81 signatures of members of Congress on a letter to President Obama urging him to separate the normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations from recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Washington - The United States should "separate the issues" of the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations and the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, 81 members of Congress said in July 30 letter to President Barack Obama. The president was urged to uphold his repeated campaign pledges to recognize the Armenian Genocide, while continuing efforts "to nurture the Armenia-Turkey normalization process without preconditions."

The letter was initiated on July 10 by Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), and George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), who are also the lead co-sponsors of House Resolution 252 affirming U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide. Seventy-seven other members of Congress signed on to the letter in the last three weeks.

Co-signers include Rep. Howard Berman (D.-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where H. Res. 252 was referred since it was introduced in March.

The congressional recommendation came as Western officials acknowledged that Turkey has not followed through on its April 22 pledge to implement the so-called roadmap toward normalization of relations with Armenia.

"An effort to block"

The members of Congress argued in the letter that Turkey, "in an effort to block U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, agreed to a roadmap it did not intend to uphold."

President Obama failed to use the term genocide in his April 24 remembrance message, referring to efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey. Congressional leaders have also held up the progress of H. Res. 252 in apparent deference to the president's choice.

Since April Turkish officials have reverted to their policy of conditioning normalization of relations on unilateral Armenian compromises vis-à-vis Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, hosting her Turkish counterpart on June 5, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provided an upbeat take on Armenia-Turkey relations, suggesting that there has been "no flagging of commitment" by Turkey toward normalization, while also counseling "patience and perseverance."

Process is "frozen"

A few weeks later, however, U.S. ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch was much less upbeat. In remarks at the Library of Congress on June 30, she acknowledged that while Armenia-Turkey normalization was "possible," it was also "not inevitable."

On July 23, the Economist cited an unnamed Western diplomat, who said Turkey's would-be "rapprochement with Armenia" was "on its last legs."

Even Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza, who is typically optimistic in his public statements, this week described the Armenia-Turkey process as "frozen," Armenian Public Radio reported citing RFE/RL.

But the implications of these developments for a correction in the U.S. course on Armenian Genocide recognition remained unclear.

Citing Secretary Clinton's recent description of Turkey as "an emerging global power," the Economist summarized the expectations with the words of the Western official: "When it comes to Turkey and Armenia, Turkey wins every time."

Text of the letter to the president

July 30, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to you with our concerns about Turkish backpedaling on the agreed upon roadmap to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia. 

On April 22, 2009, just two days before the 94th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, the Department of State released the following statement:

The United States welcomes the statement made by Armenia and Turkey on normalization of their bilateral relations. It has long been and remains the position of the United States that normalization should take place without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe. We urge Armenia and Turkey to proceed according to the agreed framework and roadmap. We look forward to working with both governments in support of normalization, and thus promote peace, security and stability in the whole region.

Two days later, instead of recognizing the Armenian Genocide, the Administration opted to focus on this new roadmap to Armenian-Turkish normalization.  "I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations," you wrote.  "Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization.  I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise."

While the Government of Armenia remains committed to this roadmap and has long offered to establish ties with Turkey without preconditions, Turkey's public statements and actions since April 24th stand in sharp contrast to this agreement and undermine U.S. policy that normalization take place without preconditions.

On May 13, 2009, Prime Minister Erdogan publically conditioned normalization of relations with Yerevan on Azerbaijan's approval of a future settlement of the Nagorno Karabagh conflict that fully meets Baku's satisfaction.  "I want to repeat once more that until the occupation ends, the border gates [with Armenia] will remain closed," Erdogan told the Azeri Parliament.

On June 17, 2009, EU South Caucasus Envoy Peter Semneby said Turkey had taken "tactical steps backwards" in the normalization process with Armenia.   

It would appear that Turkey, in an effort to block U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, agreed to a roadmap it did not intend to uphold.  Therefore, we urge your Administration to separate the issues of normalization and genocide recognition.  We hope that renewed efforts and focused resources from the Administration can be utilized to nurture the Armenia-Turkey normalization process without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe, and continue to remain strongly supportive of your stated campaign policy to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.  

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