The Impact of the Armenian Diaspora on Turkish-American Relations

When we look at the diasporas in the world, we see that the most important diaspora after the Jewish diaspora is the Armenian diaspora. The Armenian diaspora, which is composed of the Armenians who have been dispersed in many countries around the world, is one that has more resources, one whose national identity is more clear, and one whose raison d’être is more effective compared to the diasporas of the other identity groups.

In the last century, the strongest proof that the diaspora put forward in creating their national identity is the claim of the so-called “genocide.” The Armenian diaspora and Armenia are gaining rent on the basis of the claim of the so-called ”genocide” and they are building the formation of their identity on the so-called “genocide.” The Armenian diaspora tries to base their raison d’être on the so-called genocide that they were subjected to, they aim at showing the sole reason for their leaving of their country to be the Turks, and they plan to benefit from that.

The Impact of the Diaspora on Turkish-American Relations

The Armenian diaspora has based its working principles upon hostility towards the Turks, and on the interests of Armenia. The objective of the Armenian diaspora is to declare April 24 as the day of genocide and to make the so-called “genocide” known to many countries; and the USA is the first among them. The Armenian diaspora has advanced quite a lot on this path to reach its goal (Kaymaz, 2010:1). The strongest and most effective associations of the Armenian diaspora in the USA are the “Armenian Assembly of America” and the “Armenian National Committee of America” (ANCA) (Karapetyan, 2014: 1). Both associations continue “their anti-Turkey activities” under the administration of the diaspora (Keskingören, 2007: 1).

In 1967, the Armenian diaspora demonstrated the first indication of the systematic spread of the Armenian diaspora by erecting the first monument of genocide in the city of Montebello in the state of California in the United States of America. The diaspora, which became stronger materially as well as growing in number over time, turned the revolts and gang activities, which they had engaged in during the Ottoman period, into developed political violence and carried out a series of actions which even went as far as killing Turkish diplomats and citizens (Şimşir, 2005: 374).

The Armenian diaspora used to affect both the domestic and foreign policy of the USA actively in the USA before the 1990s. It was the Armenian diaspora that caused the tension in the Turkish-American relations in the 1980s because it used the opportunity of the military interventions that took place in the domestic politics of Turkey (Yinanç, 2001: 12). The “Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide” that took place in the USA in September of 1984 led to intensive reactions on the part of the Turkish authorities and the public opinion. The commemorations that took place were condemned by the Prime Minister of the time period, Turgut Özal, and the speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), Necmettin Karaduman, on 14 September 1984 (Dışişleri Bakanlığı Belleteni, 1984).

The fact that the identity policies that the Armenian diaspora pursued led to tensions in the Turkish-American relations from time-to-time or that the Armenian diaspora, having tried to block the military and economic aid to be given to Turkey, are examples that can be given for the effects of cultural identities on foreign policy (Budak, 2007: 99). In fact, this state of affairs is closely related to the influence of non-state actors on foreign policy, which has started to grow. Organized diaspora seeds, which are composed of non-state and international actors, have now started to affect not only the countries where they live, but also the foreign policies of their homelands, where they continue to have cultural and emotional ties. Especially in the lobbying activities in the US, the diaspora receives a huge support from the American society. Religion, culture, and interest relations are very effective in this (Arı, 1997: 273).

The Armenian community, which is mostly settled in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Florida, and New York, is at the top level economically and culturally. They attract the attention of politicians thanks to their numbers, which is close to one million. In the USA, 21 daily and weekly newspapers, 17 Armenian acitvitiy reports, 188 bulletins, 25 radio-stations, and 10 continuous television programs create public opinion against Turkey. In any case, 41 states in the USA have accepted that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians (Kumkale, 2007: 40).

The so-called “Armenian Genocide” was discussed many times in the USA so far, but no binding decision has been taken. These draft laws came to the agenda for the first time in 1975 and then in 1984. In 1975, 24 April was declared to be “a day of commemoration of inhumane behaviors of human beings towards other human beings” in the USA. In the decision that was taken in 1984, it was claimed that the genocide in question was committed by Turkey. However, these decisions were not binding and they remained fruitless. In 1996, the American House of Representatives planned to send 22 million dollars of aid to Turkey and an article regarding the Armenian Genocide was added as a condition for Turkey to be able to receive this aid. In 2000, also the Armenian claims were brought to the agenda and a draft of a decision came before the House of Representatives. However, the USA did not want to lose Turkey and dropped this draft bill from the agenda. The problem of the Armenian claims, which were also efffective in 2006, intensified after Nancy Pelosi, who was supported by the Armenian lobby, became the Speaker of the House of Representatives, because Pelosi had promised to work to pass the Armenian draft bill (Bozkuş, 2007: 8).

In the US Congress, the Armenian Genocide is brought to the agenda every year periodically. There is no end to the darft bills. The US Government tries to block them each time thinking of its relations with Turkey. However, this periodic event causes pressures on Turkey every year. It is inevitable that the genocide will be recognized in the US Congress, unless Turkey displays a confident attitude (Kumkale, 2007: 41).

The Armenian Diaspora wants to get the claims of genocide accepted by the local and national parliaments of the USA and another phase of their strategy is to equate the claim of the Armenian Genocide with the Holocaust and to try to accuse those who reject this as “deniers.” The expression “denier” is especially used in the West for Holocaust deniers and is deemed to be a big shame. It is even considered to be a crime in front of the law in some countries (Laçiner, 2004: 78).

Many attempts like this are done. The draft bills for the so-called genocide passed in the House of Representatives, but failed to pass in the Senate. For example, the bill in 1975 was passed in the House of Representatives, but it was not passed in the Senate, so it did not become binding. However, keeping this subject on the agenda contantly benefits the Armenian diaspora (Bozkuş, 2007: 9).

The 4 March 2010 So-called “Armenian Genocide” Draft Bill and the Reaction of Turkey

Although there have been important activities regarding the so-called “genocide” draft bills in the Congress, the bills have always been stopped by the White House. This was the case during the term of Bill Clinton, as well as during the term of George W. Bush. The most important development that has turned the situation against Turkey is that Barack Obama seems likely not to behave like Clinton or Bush. The fact that Obama, at the White House, promised to recognize the genocide claims during the election campaign and that he perceives this as a moral value rather than a campaign promise, caused worries on the Turkish side. When looked at it from this angle, it is an important success for Turkey that Obama did not use the word “genocide” in 2009. However, Obama looked for a word that would correct the promise he made in order not to compromise his moral attitude and so he used the term MetzYegern, which could also partially satisfy the Armenians. The reason why Obama agreed to this intermediate formula was that Turkey gave a signal that it would take some steps in the area of relations with Armenia (Setav.org).

The Obama Administration is inclined to solve the problems with high level dialogue before they turn into crises, and this method was used successfully. The Obama Administration, which intervened directly in the protocols that were signed between Turkey and Armenia at the level of Clinton, who was the Secretary of State at that time, and Gordon, who was the Deputy Secretary who went to Zurich, palyed a role in the discussions not turning into a crisis (Star newspaper, 8 February 2010). However, the Obama Administration was unable to prevent the passing of the Armenian darft bill that was voted on in the House of Representatives on March 4 and the crisis resolving administration was unable to intervene in the crisis in its own country. Although the US Secretary of State of the time, Hillary Clinton, called the Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the House of Representatives of the US Congress before the voting and the Obama Administation recommended that the draft bill regarding claims of the Armenian Genocide not be passed, it was accepted by 23 votes in favor as opposed to 22 votes against in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives (Akşam Newspaper, 4 March 2010).

Turkey condemned this decision that was taken in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Turkish Ambassador in Washington D.C. was summoned for consultations. The Turkish government issued the following statement after the draft law was passed:

“We condemn this draft bill, which accuses the Turkish nation of a crime that it did not commit. Those who have supported this have adopted a wrong and unfair attitude by ignoring the historical facts and the differences of opinion among the expert historians regarding this subject. The draft bill has been prepared with a completely biased approach as well as containing concrete historical errors regarding the events of 1915. Turkey believes that the painful incidents that all of the people of Anatolia experienced during the First World War must be exmained by historians in an unprejudiced manner and using scientific methods, based on historical sources and archives. The interventions of politicians in the sphere of historians have always created negative effects. We had clearly indicated that the passing of the draft bill at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives would lead to undesirable consequences during our initiatives regarding this subject. We have serious concerns that this draft bill, which has been accepted by the Committee despite all of our warnings, will have an adverse impact on the Turkish-American relations and disrupt the efforts for the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. This decision, which can have a negative effect on the works we carry out within the framework of a comprehensive common agenda with the U.S.A., also indicates a lack of strategic vision unfortunately. Within the framework of this development, our ambassador in Washington D.C. Namık Tan was recalled to Ankara this evening for consultations” (bbm.gov.tr).

Turkey condemned the passing of the draft bill saying that the politicians who intervene in this event may not decide about history and that it would change the course of the Turkish-American relations. Turkey stated that the issue needs to be exmained by historians and it needs to be resolved in an unprejudiced, impartial manner. In addition, the Turkish ambassador in Washington D.C. was recalled to Ankara.

The Tuurkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement at a press conference on 5 March 2010 indicting that an unserious voting had taken place regarding the events that occurred a hundred years ago and that an intervention had been made with this decision. Davutoğlu stated that Turkey even embraced those people who came to the country to fight, that it has appeared once more that this ridiculous vote was a wrong path to resolve the claims of genocide and that Turkey views Armenians, with whom it has lived together for ten centuries, as its friends and neighbors and lives with tolerance, and that the passing of a law with a one-vote difference in the House of Representatives would not convict a nation (mfa.gov.tr).

Azerbaijan, with whom the relations had become tense after the signing of a protocol with Armenia, also reacted to the issue. The Azerbaijan National Assembly declared that the passing of the bill would harm the efforts to establish peace and stability in the region and to solve the Nagorno Karabakh issue. The Azerbaijan National Assembly discussed the passing of the draft bill containing the Armenian claims in the U.S. House of Representatives and declared that the passing of the bill was not just and adopted a declaration stating that the Armenian claims were “a result of a sick mentality.” The declaration also pointed out that the Armenians had invaded Azeri territories and emphasized that the acceptance of the bill in the U.S. would ahve a negative effect on the status quo in the region. In the declaration, it was stated that the claims should be researched by historians and that a democratic state like the U.S. should not take a decision that would harm the U.S.-Turkish relations and U.S.-Azeri relations (cnnturk.com).

Although the passing of the draft bill did not mean that the U.S.A. recognized the “genocide,” it was still seen as a significant step. The legislative in the U.S. has two assemblies. Together with the 435-member House of Representatives, the other assembly that comprises the legislature with the House is the 100-member U.S. Senate. A similar draft bill needs to be accepted in the Senate as well. Examples such as this happened before in the past, but the draft bill did not become law. Four such initiatives took place before. A similar draft bill was accepted in the General Assembly of the House of Representatives in 1975 and 1984. However, the draft bills could not become law because they did not pass in the Senate. In 2000 and 2007, such draft bills were removed before being included in the agenda of the General Assembly of the House of Representatives after the U.S. Presidents of those terms intervened (Hurriyet, 5 March 2010). Currently, 41 states in the U.S. recognize that the Armenian Genocide took place.

On 3 April 2014, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations brought a draft bill on the Armenian Genocide onto the agenda once again. The draft bill, which was supported by the Democrat heavyweights of the Senate, was accepted with 12 votes (Hurriyet, 11 April 2014). Ali Babacan, who was the deputy Prime Minister of the time and who was in Washington D.C. on the day in which the draft bill passed, criticized the darft bill, but especially refrained from mentioning the steps that the Turkish side would take as a reaction to this (Hurriyet, 12 April 2014).

Conclusion

Although the Armenian Question seems to be a subject that should be addressed by historians, it is also a current political issue. Turkey experiences an intense traffic of diplomacy on April 24th every year and its relations with most countries, especially with the U.S., which is defined as a superpower in the world, are undergoing tensions. As seen in what was experienced last April 24th, Turkey can be in a difficult spot in foreign politics as a result. If this issue cannot be resolved in the international arena, this will continue as before. Both Turkey and Armenia want the problem to be solved in their favor. The Armenian diaspora pursues an effecitve policy, even though they are fewer in number than the Turks in many places, and it leaves Turkey in a difficult situation in front of world public opinion. In the deadlock of this problem, the process of identity formation of the Armenian diaspora is having an adverse effect on the possibility of improving the relations between the two countries. The Armenian national identity is being shaped around “genocide” and the pains caused by the forced relocation in 1915.

Turkey’s erasing of the wrong judgments about the country with an active and effective policy in the world disrupt the propaganda of the Armenian diaspora regarding Turkey. Publicizing Turkey and the Turks with genocide, which is the greatest crime committed by humanity, leads to a misrepresentation of Turkey in the world and its image is thus stained. Turkey should be aware of this and should address the issue with an active interest. Turkey has to prove to the world that forced relocation is not the same thing as genocide by pursuing an active policy.

The Armenian diaspora and Armenia are pursuing a policy with a view to get recognition of the claims of genocide, to obtain a subtantial compensation and finally to establish a Greater Armenia by ensuring the return of the so-called Armenian territory “Western Armenia,” which they claim to be within the borders of Turkey. In order to change this idea, firstly, political and then social rapprochment should be ensured. As the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu indicated, it should be shown to the world that grudges cannot be placed between the two nations that have lived in these territories for 600 years through the use of various games, and one can live in peace once again as in those times.

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