On Turkish lobbying in the US and the Armenian question

by Joseph Braude

The death of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in the final years of Ottoman rule has been officially recognized as a “genocide” by 11 of the 27 EU member states. A strong movement to persuade the United States government to do the same, led by the Armenian National Committee of America and other lobbying groups, has gained traction in recent years. Meanwhile, the present-day government of Armenia has intensified its anti-Ankara agenda: Beyond demanding that the Turkish government recognize Armenian genocide, some of the country’s politicians have begun to demand that Ankara surrender parts of eastern Turkey which Armenians regard as historically theirs.

In the United States, the campaign for Armenian genocide recognition has at times driven a wedge between Washington and Ankara. Notably in March 2010, the Congressional House Committee on Foreign Relations’ Resolution 252, characterizing Ottoman actions against Armenians as genocide, nearly led to a downgrading of relations between the two countries. The bill was defeated in Congress — in part, for American fears of losing access to Turkish military bases and the use of Turkish territory for non-lethal cargo missions to Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the campaign continues.

Struggling against Armenian Americans’ formidable lobbying efforts is a strategic priority for Ankara in the United States. Like Israel and Morocco, the Turkish government has invested in building a political infrastructure in Washington as well as academic and cultural institutions throughout the country serving to support its political agendas. Yet in recent years, Turkish lobbying efforts in the United States have suffered setbacks: The souring of relations between Israel and Turkey following the Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010 has perceptibly marginalized the country in the United States. Nor have some of the Obama Administration’s personnel choices proven to be to Ankara’s advantage. For example, Obama’s recently-appointed United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is the author of a seminal book on genocide and an outspoken advocate of Armenian genocide recognition.

A school of thought in Turkey calls for normalization of relations between the latter and Armenia as a potential means to reduce these long-festering tensions. Recent efforts along these lines have stalled, however. Meanwhile, the government of Armenia and its lobbyists in Washington have articulated a geopolitical vision of their own, including tacit support for the Assad regime, which appears largely to be animated by its enmity toward Turkey.

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