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03 02 2009- Turkey not fretting over possible ‘genocide’ blow after Davos storm
todayszaman ZAMAN
"The Armenian question is a derivative of overall Turkey-US relations. It pops up every time there is a problem in the course of their ties. It was on the agenda heavily in the past years because of the Iraq crisis in Turkey-US relations and it was shelved eventually because the crisis was overcome and cooperation took root."

Turkey not fretting over possible ‘genocide’ blow after Davos storm

Jewish-American groups may reconsider their support for Turkey against Armenian efforts to pass a resolution in the US Congress recognizing claims that Anatolian Armenians were subjected to genocide in the World War I era in the wake of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan's walkout at the Davos summit last week, but Turkish officials and analysts expect little fallout from decreased Jewish lobby support.

"The Jewish lobby's influence should not be overestimated," said Sedat Laçiner, head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO/USAK). "Many Jewish-American groups already decided to cut support for Turkey in the face of Armenian efforts in 2007," he told Today's Zaman. A major Jewish-American organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), reversed its long-held stance in 2007 and said it recognized Armenian genocide claims, although it stood against congressional resolutions to the same effect.

Last week Erdoðan stormed off the stage at Davos after an angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel's deadly operation in Gaza last month, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, almost half of whom were civilians. The incident sparked comments in the Israeli and Armenian media that a genocide resolution, shelved twice in the past in the US House of Representatives at the initiative of the administration, will this time be inevitable because Jewish groups will no longer be lobbying against it.

Although risks run higher this year for US recognition of the alleged genocide due to the campaign promises made by President Barack Obama to Armenian-American voters, few in Ankara believe that the decrease in support by the Jewish lobby in the aftermath of the Davos incident will have a major impact on whether or not Obama will uphold his pre-election promises.

One reason for this, says former Foreign Minister Ýlter Türkmen, is that Obama has also committed himself to fewer contacts with the lobbying groups in his decision-making processes.

Secondly, says Laçiner, what matters is the position of the administration, not the Jewish-American groups. Obama will issue a traditional message on April 24, the day that Armenians commemorate as the beginning of the alleged genocide. He is more likely than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, to use the word "genocide" in his message, given his earlier public pledges, but when it comes to a congressional resolution, the US will follow its national interests, according to Laçiner. "When a similar resolution was shelved last year at the House of Representatives, it was the administration, not Jewish lobbying, that made it possible," he said. "The Armenian question is a derivative of overall Turkey-US relations. It pops up every time there is a problem in the course of their ties. It was on the agenda heavily in the past years because of the Iraq crisis in Turkey-US relations and it was shelved eventually because the crisis was overcome and cooperation took root."

"The Armenian genocide is an international lie," reads a poster held by participants of a demonstration protesting against claims of genocide by Armenians.

The Obama administration is expected to work with Turkey as it readies for a withdrawal from Iraq in the next couple of years. Obama is also expected to watch closely a process of rapprochement under way between Turkey and Armenia, which arose when President Abdullah Gül visited Yerevan to watch a football game between national teams of the two countries last September. Observers say the Obama administration will not want to harm this process by antagonizing Turkey.

But even in the event of an April 24 message by Obama mentioning "genocide," this may not be devastating for Turks. "The public is accustomed to the idea that Obama might do something that the previous administrations did not do on the Armenian issue. It's been out there since the election campaign," said Laçiner.

Bring it on!

Separately, sources from the Israeli parliament say a bill previously submitted there for acknowledging the incidents as genocide that was not adopted last year is more than likely to make its way into the Israeli parliament once again this year. Zeev Elkin, a member of Israel's Likud party, said recently, "Ankara's stance has proven the absolute inevitability of the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Israeli parliament."

But the mood in the government is tranquil and sources close to the government say Turkey will not be lobbying as actively as before to stop the US and Israeli legislatures from accepting the Armenian allegations. Currently 24 countries have accepted the Armenian claims by passing bills recognizing the 1915 events as genocide.

The government's relaxed stance could also be observed in remarks Foreign Minister Ali Babacan offered to journalists ahead of last week's Davos summit. Babacan stated that Turkey's harsh stance on Gaza did indeed irritate certain Jewish agencies, but added that the strategic relationship between Turkey and Israel would not be damaged. Acknowledging that the Jewish lobby's influence in the US Congress and administration was indisputable, Babacan also recalled that there existed differences in opinion between various Jewish groups. "Turkey has nothing to fear in history. We offered to set up a commission of historians, but Armenia did not accept this. We still insist on this proposal," Babacan said.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, government spokesperson and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek said he believed the tension between Turkey and Israel would not affect relations between the two countries. He said the Jewish lobby giving up its support for Turkey on the Armenian question would not change historical facts.

Noting that Turkey has developed good relationships with its neighbors, Çiçek stressed that Armenia is the only exception to this. He said the reason for Turkey's failure to establish a better relationship with this neighbor was the Armenian diaspora and the Armenian government. Arguing that Armenia suffers the most because of its hostility, Çiçek continued: "The Armenian diaspora makes a living on enmity toward Turkey and Turks. They say the Jewish lobby will now support the Armenian claims, because this is what they want to happen.

Turkey-US relations have been mutually beneficial since 1950. They are good for both sides. They don't make decisions on genocide based on a statement or a stance, but looking back at long-term historical decisions. These decisions are made looking from various angles and after calculating the pros and cons fully. But, of course, there are those who hope that it will work the other way, and make propaganda in that direction."

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Bekir Bozdað told Today's Zaman that after Erdoðan's reaction in Davos last week, neither the Armenian diaspora nor the Jewish lobby would act as daringly as they have before.

Bozdað said Erdoðan's harsh reaction showed the world Turkey's strength. He also recalled that Turkey had offered to set up an independent commission of historians to study the events of 1915. "Those who accuse Turkey of having committed genocide should think carefully about their future decisions. Our prime minister's words have shown Turkey's place and strength in the world. This is why the support behind genocide bills will be less. Those working against Turkey will not be as free as before. I don't think genocide bills will be brought on the agenda as daringly as before. Turkey, with its stance, has confirmed its role as a bridge between the EU and the Islamic world. Those who have calculations in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Asia will have to consider Turkey's presence."

He added that Erdoðan's move had earned him great respect among the peoples of Muslim countries and the third world. "The Armenian lobby and other lobbies supporting it are now faced with a tougher task. From now on, they won't be able to make any country they want do whatever they want. Our prime minister's reaction is an opportunity for Turkey. Those who are against Turkey will have to think twice after this point," he said.
03 February 2009, Tuesday


Annette Melikian

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