Turkey-US relations approaching new bottleneck

Turkey-US relations approaching new bottleneck

US President Donald Trump (L) speaks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of the opening ceremony of the NATO summit in Brussels. (File/AFP)

Two votes in the US House of Representatives late last month may make Turkish-American relations difficult to mend. One was on a resolution to “recognize the Armenian genocide” and the other was on sanctions following Turkey’s military operation in Syria. 
The first, a resolution, was more like a political statement, meaning it has no direct area of application. However, it is a strong message to Turkey — a message that may pave the way for further demands by the Armenian diaspora and the strong Armenian lobby in the US. The resolution stated that the US recognizes as genocide the events that took place in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. It provides that the following three positions should be accepted as US policy: To commemorate the date of April 24 — the day the Ottoman leaders decided to relocate the Armenians in 1915 — through official recognition and remembrance; to reject efforts to enlist, engage or otherwise associate the US government with the denial of the Armenian genocide or any other genocide; and to encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian genocide.
The Armenian genocide issue was an exercise repeated every year for decades, but aborted each time thanks to the efforts of the US president, the Pentagon, the State Department and the Jewish lobby in the US. This year, none of them moved to stop the initiative. As a result, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the resolution by 405 votes to 11, which means that Republican members also voted in favor. Not only that, but none of the members of the Turkish caucus in the House voted against the resolution.

Following these moves, Turkish leaders made dismissive statements, saying that they consider them null and void.

Yasar Yakis

Ankara admits that very unfortunate events took place in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, but disputes that it was genocide. It argues that the UN Genocide Convention of 1948 says that, for an act to be recognized as genocide, it has to be committed “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” and Turkey insists the Ottoman authorities did not move with any such motives.
Turkey acknowledges that the Ottoman authorities decided to relocate Armenians during the First World War and that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died during this relocation. Ankara regrets this loss of life, but categorically refuses to admit this was genocide. 
The second piece of legislation was a draft bill aimed at imposing a series of sanctions on Turkey because of its recent military operation in northern Syria. Like the Armenian genocide resolution, this was also overwhelmingly approved, with 403 votes in favor and 16 against.
However, as this is a bill, it now has to be voted on in the Senate. It is not clear whether Republican senators, who constitute a majority in the upper chamber, will oppose the bill. If they don’t, it will be submitted to President Donald Trump. Whether he will veto it is another question because he is also fighting against his own impeachment. However, if the bill receives the backing of more than two-thirds of senators, Trump will not be able to veto it.
The bill provides for sanctions against Turkish Cabinet members, including Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Following these moves in the US Congress, Turkish leaders made dismissive statements, saying that they consider them null and void. This may be a sign that the real consequences of these moves are not properly grasped by Ankara. These initiatives in the US Congress are pushing Turkey toward a new bottleneck in its relations with Washington.

  • Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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