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Turkey to U.S.: you wouldn’t like us when we’re angry

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will debate a resolution to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenian civilians by Turkish troops as a genocide. A similar resolution failed in 2007. The Obama administration has not taken a stand on the resolution, which is largely supported by the Armenian-American community, but it’s long been supported ...

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will debate a resolution to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenian civilians by Turkish troops as a genocide. A similar resolution failed in 2007. The Obama administration has not taken a stand on the resolution, which is largely supported by the Armenian-American community, but it’s long been supported by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

A Turkish parliamentary delegation, including members of both the ruling AKP party and opposition CHP party, is currently visiting Washington to lobby against the resolution. At a media briefing at the Turkish embassy this morning, they made very clear that the passage of the resolution would "seriously affect the relationship between the two countries."

Foreign relations committee chairman Murat Mercan discussed some specific U.S. projects that could be affected:

I envision for instance the withdrawal of American troops, which is a huge logistical operation involving thousands of soldiers moving away from Iraq [through Turkey.]  Thousands of tons of equipment. This type of thing might require parliamentary approval. It will come to our committee.

The Turkish military precence in Afghanistan is extended in the Turkish parliament. Every year year present of Turkish troops needs to be approved by the parliament This too will come through our committee.

Former U.S. ambassador Sukru Elekdag described Turkey’s importance to the United States as a back-channel to Iran, interlocutor with Pakistan, and ally in resolving the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus.

The new measure comes up at a time when Turkey and Armenia finally seem to be moving toward rapproachment, a process the MPs also said would be jeopardized by the House motion. 

It seems a bit contradictory to me that the Turkish government on the one hand says it sees the Armenian rapproachment as vital to its own national interest, but on the other hand says the U.S. resolution will imperil it. I asked Mercan why Turkish-Armenian relations should be affected by what the U.S. congress says:

The rapprocahment has three pillars: one is opening the borders, one is diplomatic relations, one is setting up a historical commission that would explore what happened in the past, in 1915. If other parliaments decide things like this without merit or investigaiton, then how would you convince your Armenian counterpart that this kind of committee is needed?

In realist terms, it’s certainly hard to justify jeopardizing U.S.-Turkish cooperation today over something that happened almost a century ago, and it seems unlikely to me that this one will ever reach President Obama’s desk. On the other hand, Turkey is not doing a great job making it seem like they care about the rapproachement for its own sake, rather than as a result of U.S. pressure.

In any event, it’s very interesting to see how a Turkish government that realizes its crucial role in U.S. policy is learning throw its weight around a bit.  

Update: Ben Katcher weighs in with a different take on the same event over at The Washington Note. 

On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will debate a resolution to recognize the 1915 killing of Armenian civilians by Turkish troops as a genocide. A similar resolution failed in 2007. The Obama administration has not taken a stand on the resolution, which is largely supported by the Armenian-American community, but it’s long been supported by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

A Turkish parliamentary delegation, including members of both the ruling AKP party and opposition CHP party, is currently visiting Washington to lobby against the resolution. At a media briefing at the Turkish embassy this morning, they made very clear that the passage of the resolution would "seriously affect the relationship between the two countries."

Foreign relations committee chairman Murat Mercan discussed some specific U.S. projects that could be affected:

I envision for instance the withdrawal of American troops, which is a huge logistical operation involving thousands of soldiers moving away from Iraq [through Turkey.]  Thousands of tons of equipment. This type of thing might require parliamentary approval. It will come to our committee.

The Turkish military precence in Afghanistan is extended in the Turkish parliament. Every year year present of Turkish troops needs to be approved by the parliament This too will come through our committee.

Former U.S. ambassador Sukru Elekdag described Turkey’s importance to the United States as a back-channel to Iran, interlocutor with Pakistan, and ally in resolving the frozen conflicts in the South Caucasus.

The new measure comes up at a time when Turkey and Armenia finally seem to be moving toward rapproachment, a process the MPs also said would be jeopardized by the House motion. 

It seems a bit contradictory to me that the Turkish government on the one hand says it sees the Armenian rapproachment as vital to its own national interest, but on the other hand says the U.S. resolution will imperil it. I asked Mercan why Turkish-Armenian relations should be affected by what the U.S. congress says:

The rapprocahment has three pillars: one is opening the borders, one is diplomatic relations, one is setting up a historical commission that would explore what happened in the past, in 1915. If other parliaments decide things like this without merit or investigaiton, then how would you convince your Armenian counterpart that this kind of committee is needed?

In realist terms, it’s certainly hard to justify jeopardizing U.S.-Turkish cooperation today over something that happened almost a century ago, and it seems unlikely to me that this one will ever reach President Obama’s desk. On the other hand, Turkey is not doing a great job making it seem like they care about the rapproachement for its own sake, rather than as a result of U.S. pressure.

In any event, it’s very interesting to see how a Turkish government that realizes its crucial role in U.S. policy is learning throw its weight around a bit.  

Update: Ben Katcher weighs in with a different take on the same event over at The Washington Note. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating