-The House Genocide Resolution will negatively impact US-Turkish bilateral relations
-Possible repercussions of the Genocide Resolution include denial of strategic and logistics access for operations into Iraq
-US influence over possible Turkish military action in Northern Iraq has diminished
The passing of House Resolution 106: Affirmation of the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide by the House Foreign Affairs Committee has enraged the Turkish government and is seriously affecting bilateral relations between the United States and Turkey. The Armenian genocide issue has always been a contentious one in the US Congress and within the parameters of government administrations trying to balance a strategic relationship with Turkey.
The Resolution officially recognizes the tragic events, which resulted in the deaths of almost 1.5 million Armenians during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and World War I as organized genocide. The Turkish government acknowledges that numerous deaths occurred, but claims that the Armenian numbers are vastly over inflated and that both the Armenians, as well a number of Turks were killed in the civil unrest that ensued during the confusion in the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.
To this day, the Armenian genocide issue is one of the many reasons that Turkey and Armenia do not maintain diplomatic relations. Within Turkey, references to the Armenian genocide can be considered an insult to Turkishness and prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.
Congressional Action and the Armenian Diaspora
The United States is home to a large Armenian diaspora, mostly situated in the California region. Both the Armenian lobby and constituents have for years heavily lobbied Congress for the genocide classification. However, previous attempts have failed to gain traction until now. The last serious attempt in 2000 failed when a vote was cancelled in the House of Representatives at the behest of then President Clinton. Clinton at the time was concerned about the security situation in the region, and the Turkish government was also vocal about security commitments regarding Incirlik Air Base and defense contracts.
In March of 2007, the Genocide Resolution resurfaced in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Turkish government ramped up lobbying efforts and government visits to Washington (Previous Report). The Resolution was shelved until another legislative session. This meant that it was only delayed but not defeated for this year. Turkey once again stepped up its lobbying efforts and eight former Secretaries of State wrote a letter to the House Speaker stating that the Resolution would endanger national security interests. Three former Secretaries of Defense wrote their own letter saying that Turkey could cut off access to Incirlik Air Base. However, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Resolution by a vote of 27-21. It is now expected to go to a vote in the full House of Representatives sometime in November 2007.
Even though the Resolution is non-binding, and has only been passed in a House sub-committee, reaction from the Turkish government has been swift. The Turks believe the genocide label is an insulting one and is not an appropriate course of foreign policy from an ally. The Turkish ambassador to Washington was recalled, albeit it temporarily for consultations. The Turkish government and many of its citizens are furious. The Chief of the Turkish Armed Forces, General Yasar Buyukanit has described the situation as sad and sorrowful and has cautioned that military relations with the US will take a negative turn.
•If Congress approves the Resolution, the relationship between the two countries will drastically decline.
Repercussions for the United States
Turkey can make life very difficult for the United States foreign policy imperatives and military operations. Cuts in logistical support can severely impact US military operations in Iraq. Seventy percent of US air cargo bound for Iraq, either goes over or through Turkey. Turkish truck drivers also conduct a great deal of shipments into Iraq. Terminating or denying US access to Incirlik Air Base would be more extreme and complicated because of NATO membership and commitments, but it is an extremely important strategic asset in the region and is not something the US can afford to lose.
The larger strategic issue however is the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Turkey is currently considering a large-scale incursion into Northern Iraq to eradicate Kurdish rebels taking refuge there and launching attacks across the border (Previous Report). While the US has been trying to work with Turkey on finding a diplomatic solution to the PKK crisis, Turkish patience has eroded. The genocide resolution is likely to make the Turkish government less likely to listen to the US at this point.
The US House Speaker has stated that there has never been a right time to pass the resolution and it has been delayed long enough for a variety of reasons. The problem is that this is possibly the worst time for the resolution to pass, and the US will have to do an inordinate amount of damage control to fix the relationship with Turkey, especially in a region where the US has few friends.