Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Armenian Issue: Ready on Day One

President Barack Obama has come into office with the promise of a new era in American politics. While the rest of the world is celebrating that promise, in Turkey – as Today’s Zaman puts it in an article that ran on inauguration day – Obama’s pledge is cause for “both expectations and fears” (with “fears” coming first).

What we are talking about, of course, is the Armenian genocide issue. As the paper explains: “Turkey's most obvious fear is about recognition of the Armenian claims of genocide by the administration. Obama already pledged during his election campaign that if elected he would recognize the Armenian claims.”

“Obama's choices of Joe Biden as vice president and Hilary Clinton as secretary of state have made it clear to Ankara that the US will never be as friendly as it has been in the past when it comes to speaking about the Armenian claims.”

The issue certainly has the potential to dominate – if not possibly damage – Turkish-American relations, as we saw in 2007, when Congress came very close to passing a resolution recognizing the genocide and Turkish-U.S. relations went through a period of high tension.

Obama will likely have to deal with the problem very soon. Not far away is April 24, the date on which Armenians commemorate the genocide, and on which American presidents have to find a way of acknowledging what happened in 1915 without calling it a "genocide" (and angering Ankara). Meanwhile, with Congress now controlled by people more receptive to the Armenian cause, the possibility of a genocide resolution finally passing is greater than ever.

For a more in-depth look at how the issue is playing out in Turkey, read Meline Toumani’s piece in Global Post, a newly launched international affairs news site. For the view from Washington, read this column by the Brookings Institution’s Omer Taspinar, which warns of “the coming storm” over the genocide issue.

UPDATE -- In a new column, Taspinar says Ankara and Washington might be heading towards a collision on the Armenian issue even earlier than April 24, with supporters of a genocide resolution hoping to bring it to a vote in Congress as soon as possible. 

"Is there a way out of this ordeal? The short answer is 'not likely,'" Taspinar writes. "As things stand right now, we may very well be heading towards disaster in Turkish-American relations even before April 24.

1 comment:

Richard said...

As a comment on the Toumani piece says: Why does the Republic of Turkey in 2009 care so much if the U.S. officially recognizes that the Ottoman Empire during WW1 committed genocide against its Armenian citizens?