Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Congress should do its job, not write history

The Star Press
March 2, 2010
by: G. Lincoln McCurdy

The United States is currently confronted with a daunting number of challenges in our nation's foreign relations. America is managing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to find ways to bring our troops back safely and without compromising our national security. We are working to maintain a nuclear-free Iran, secure our energy sources and prevent the growth and spread of international terrorist networks.

In all these and many other areas affecting Americans and millions of others around the world, we have an ally in Turkey. Our trade with Turkey topped $10 billion in 2009, leaving the United States with a $3.5 billion trade surplus, supporting thousands of valuable jobs in critical industries.

In a bizarre move during such turbulent times, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Rep. Mike Pence, are preparing to vote on March 4 on House Resolution 252, which will recognize as "genocide" tragic events that took place nearly 100 years ago in the now defunct Ottoman Empire, despite many holes in the historical argument.

This begs the question: why is the committee, at a time when we are dealing with pressing international and domestic issues, all of which require Turkey's support and active participation, squandering its time on an issue that has no relevance to America's foreign relations and interests?

The answer is simple: Lobbying.

Despite much bravado about limiting the influence of special interests, money and manpower still control Washington's agenda. In the United States there are nearly one million Armenian Americans, concentrated in a number of congressional districts, who support a lobby that spends an estimated $40 million annually on furthering its agenda, which revolves around recognition of an "Armenian Genocide." Their efforts have also made Armenia, a small landlocked region, the second largest per-capita recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

Proponents of the Resolution frequently admonish its opponents by pointing to a moral obligation of Congress to pronounce that the now-defunct Ottoman Empire, committed "genocide" against Armenians. In doing so, they choose to ignore the many well-regarded historians who dispute this claim. Still, Armenian resolutions persist due to the efforts of a well organized Armenian lobby that has turned hating Turkey into an existential cause.

To roaring cheers at a 2005 Armenian rally in New York, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Co-Chairman of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, proclaimed, "The Turkish envoy said that not only did the genocide never occur, but he suggested that the reason why Armenians want to recognize the Armenian Genocide today -- want the Congress and the other countries to be on record -- is because they wanted restitution and they wanted reparations. And I say to that 'Yes, we do!' It is important not only to recognize the genocide but we have to make it clear that those who committed it pay restitution ... There must be recognition, there must be restitution, there must be reparations for the Armenian Genocide."

The resolution comes up for a vote at a particularly strange time. Armenia and Turkey are trying to work through a diplomatic process, with the support of the United States, which lays out a roadmap to normalizing relations. This effort includes the establishment of a joint historical commission of scholars and experts. Turkey's leadership time and again has stated that it will accept the findings of such a commission. It is telling that the Armenian lobby and its supporters in Congress not only oppose the normalization process, but, with even greater zeal, the establishment of this commission.

This issue, ultimately, should not be on the docket of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congress is neither the "conscience" of the world, nor its revisionist historian. It's time to put an end to a dangerous game, but it will only end when Americans pay attention and raise their voice and tell Rep. Pence to oppose this resolution on March 4, and every time it comes up in the future.

Lincoln McCurdy is president of the Turkish Coalition of America and a former U.S. diplomat. Learn more about TCA at

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