New Jersey Star Ledger
Posted by Guler Kokner/ NJ Voices Guest Blogger January 28, 2009 3:08PM
While America is currently engaged in two wars, faces the continued threat of international terrorism and the possible advent of nuclear-armed rogue nations, and struggles with an economic crisis of historical proportions, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) chose to use his valuable time at the confirmation hearing of newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to pander to the Armenian and Greek lobbies.
While the world was watching, Sen. Menendez asked Sen. Clinton to make it a priority to recognize as "genocide" nearly a century-old events that took place in a foreign state which no longer exists. He theorized that the United States must pay heed to "history that is universally recognized so that we can move forward in that respect."
A history lesson to address the deeds of a defunct empire, apparently in the Senator's eyes, should be a priority for the new U.S. Secretary of State to address in confirmation hearings. Never mind that what Senator Menendez calls "universally recognized" history, is still strongly debated among scores of scholars and that many historians of international renown contest the genocide label.
If this issue was indeed universally settled, Great Britain, a country which was a party to the conflict at hand, would not have repeatedly refused to use the term genocide to describe the tragic events. If defining whether a crime constituted genocide was to be entrusted to politicians, the international community would not have bestowed the authority to investigate, prosecute and punish such crimes to the International Court of Justice.
The senator also stated that the tiny island of Cyprus should be high on the priority list of the Secretary of State. Voicing support for the "bi-zonal, bi-communal federation" solution on the island, Sen. Menendez seemed to be ignorant of the fact that this was precisely what 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots supported in a referendum in 2004, and which 75 percent of Greek Cypriots rejected. Based on his obvious concern for the well being of ALL Cypriots, we hope that Sen. Menendez will now take the lead in a congressional effort to lift the inhumane international blockade on the Turkish Cypriots and provide an incentive for the solution he so desires.
The fact of the matter is that at the dawn of a new U.S. administration, awaited with great anticipation to be the government of change around the world and at home, it was politics as usual for Sen. Menendez. As the world was watching, he faithfully continued to cater to ethnic politics at home. Rather than questioning the Secretary of State on the countless foreign policy challenges America faces around the world, he sought her commitment to take sides in a historical dispute, while making a half-hearted attempt to appease the Greek American community.
The people of New Jersey, including over 30,000 Turkish Americans, deserve better leadership.
Guler Kokner is vice president of the Turkish Coalition of America in Washington, D.C.