By Emil Danielyan
Armenia condemned on Friday eight former U.S. secretaries of state for jointly speaking out against the passage of a congressional resolution that refers to the 1915-1918 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as a genocide.
In a joint letter on Tuesday, the former officials urged the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to keep the resolution from reaching the House floor, saying its adoption would jeopardize America’s national security and further strain Turkish-Armenian relations. While recognizing the “horrible tragedy” suffered by Ottoman Armenians, the signatories -- among them Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger -- emphasized Turkey’s “geo-strategic importance” for the United States.
“Passage of the resolution would harm our foreign policy objectives to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia,” they said. “It would also strain our relations with Turkey, and would endanger our national security interests in the region, including the safety of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“It is quite unfortunate that eight experienced diplomats would buy into Turkish manipulation,” Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian responded in an extraordinary statement.
Oskanian specifically denied the former state secretaries’ claim that there are now “some hopeful signs” of a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “I regret to say that there is no process in place to promote normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. Expressing concern about damaging a process that doesn’t exist is disingenuous,” he said, adding that Ankara is sticking to its preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan.
One of those preconditions has been an end to the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. Ankara also makes the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would satisfy Azerbaijan. Successive Turkish governments have refused to drop these preconditions despite pressure from the current and previous U.S. administrations.
Oskanian said he has written to Pelosi to “express our deep concerns and to dismiss as unfounded any implication that a resolution that addresses matters of human rights and genocide could damage anyone’s bilateral relations.”
The ex-secretaries’ letter was also condemned by Armenian-American lobby groups that were behind the genocide resolution’s introduction in the U.S. Congress early this year. “We are, as Americans, especially troubled that, in warning Congress not to make a simple anti-genocide statement for fear of upsetting Turkey, these officials would outsource our nation’s moral conscience to a foreign government,” Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement.
The draft resolution calls on President George W. Bush to “ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding” of the Armenian genocide and to “accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.” It has already been co-sponsored by most members of the House of Representatives. Pelosi, who has backed similar bills in the past, is expected to put it to the vote this fall.
The Bush administration strongly opposes the bill’s passage with arguments similar to the ones made by the eight former secretaries of state.
In his annual messages to the Armenian-American community, Bush has described the 1915 slaughter of more than one million Armenians as one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century but stopped short of calling it a genocide. He has at the same time cited a 2002 international study which concluded that the massacres meet the internationally accepted definition of genocide.