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Friday, March 5, 2010

What's it to Ya?

**This message was just sent to the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs**

Chairman Berman & Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:

Like most people originally hailing from the land of my father, I was saddened and disappointed to see your committee approve, albeit narrowly, H. Res. 252 calling for events of nearly a century ago in what is today southeastern Turkey to be considered a genocide. I urge you and your colleagues to reconsider your position and, more importantly, not to bring the resolution to a vote on the House floor.

Having recalled its Ambassador to Ankara for consultations, Turkey has made clear its feelings on the matter. The coming days will no doubt see further denouncements and a steady decline in relations. Turkey and the US are thus at a crucial crossroads because of your vote and Turkey, a stalwart democratic ally in the Muslim world and longtime friend, is considering going down the road less traveled.

Yes, the stakes are that high.

Let us, for a moment, consider the fact that the events of 1915 happened during a time when the world was at war and that the purported perpetrator was an Ottoman Empire that is but a distant memory to most. Today more than ever the 'goods and bads' of the Ottoman years are discussed more openly in Turkey as matters of historical significance and it is my firm belief that Armenian and Turkish academics, politicians and historians will continue the ongoing dialogue and together eventually resolve this issue of history once and for all.

Let us, for another moment, consider the domestic political undertones of a resolution with potentially severe international repercussions. Many of you who voted for 252 in your committee face undeniably tough reelection races later this year and, at a time when 'doing things the Washington way' is more unpopular than ever, have seemingly put your reelection to the House of Representatives - for some an impossible feat without support from large Armenian diaspora communities in the US - ahead of the diplomatic, military, and economic relationships with a NATO ally.

In Turkey, anti-Americanism has decreased in the last few years after startling highs during the latest Iraq War. It was so bad at one point that I, after hearing a taxi cab tirade on the subject one balmy afternoon in Istanbul, painfully claimed to be Canadian for fear of my safety. Even so, most Turks idolize the US for its cultural influence on the worlds of music, fashion, sport, etc., not to mention its ability and propensity to resolve global conflicts. Like most in the non-Christian world, Turks sat glued to their televisions as President Obama reached out a hand to Muslims everywhere last year. Unfortunately, H. Res. 252 has taken us all a step in the wrong direction.

Since World War I modern Turkey, as fathered by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has stood by the US in most major challenges of the last century. If you have any doubts about this, please note the nearly 2,000 Turkish troops in Afghanistan and ask any Korean War veteran about what it really means to 'fight like a Turk.'

In one sense I should thank you. Nothing unites nationalist sentiments among Turks - secularists and Islamists, right and left - like an outside entity attempting to slap it on its proverbial wrists for something allegedly done by the contemporaries of my father's, father's, father's father. This at a time when Turks are grappling internally with issues of rising Islamic fundamentalism and corresponding anti-Islamic fundamentalism, the imprisonment of revered military officers on charges of attempted coup, and a financial and jobs crisis gradually exploding in the face of Turks regardless of political or religious affiliations.

If history means so much to our future as insinuated by Chairman Berman in his opening remarks at the markup yesterday, I ask each one of you to study the historical significance of our relationship with Turkey and decide if the political gains of passing such a resolution are worth losing such a friend.


Al Hillah, Iraq