Ex-envoy warns Armenian issue could be "defining" in Turkey-US ties

Ex-envoy warns Armenian issue could be defining in Turkey-US ties

ISTANBUL - The Armenian lobby in Washington is fully mobilized and highly motivated to re-launch its attempts to have recognized the Armenian claims regarding the 1915 incidents, but that does not mean their allegations would be recognized by the White House, a former ambassador of the U.S. to Ankara said.

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"The bad news is that the Armenian lobby is fully mobilized, highly motivated and in possession of unprecedentedly clear and unqualified commitments from leading members of the new Administration that the events of 1915 will be termed 'genocide'," Mark Parris, retired U.S. Ambassador to Ankara said late on Wednesday at a dinner in Istanbul hosted by Turkey's International Investors Association.   


U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had pledged, once in office, to recognize the Armenian claims regarding the 1915 incidents during the election campaign.


The move helped them to garner the support of the Armenian lobby that is expected to push for another legislation in Congress to have their claims recognized.

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Parris, who is currently a consultant to the Washington-based Brookings Institute, said he does not think it necessarily means either a resolution or a statement by the White House will be realized.


"It is not a pretty picture from where we sit tonight... At the end of the day someone in Washington will calculate where the American interest lies and make the case. I think there are strong and potentially compelling arguments that can be made that this is not the time and there never be a proper time to approach this issue in this way," he added.


Armenia, with the backing of the diaspora, claims up to 1.5 million of their kin were slaughtered in orchestrated killings in 1915.Turkey rejects the claims saying that 300,000 Armenians, along with at least as many Turks, died in civil strife that emerged when Armenians took up arms, backed by Russia, for independence in eastern Anatolia.


The issue remains unsolved as Armenia drags its feet on accepting Turkey's proposal to form an independent commission to investigate the claims.

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Parris said for Washington the progress in normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenian is important.


"I understand from today's Hurriyet headlines there is something tangible and imminent if that promises are realized that could change the course of the discussions in Washington and we can talk about other issues I mentioned today," he added.


Hurriyet daily reported on Wednesday that Armenia and Azerbaijan reached a partial agreement towards the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey closed its borders with Armenia over its invasion 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territory.


Parris confirmed the recent concerns in Turkey that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's outburst in Davos in late January could negatively effect Turkish-Jewish lobby relations.

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"I think that there is some likelihood that there will be an impact on enthusiasm on which to address a potential action having to do with the genocide... If you had read their statements you will see that they had stressed the strategic importance of Turkey. But it would be inaccurate for me to suggest that there will not be effected by some of the things said and happened here. And there might be some consequences from that," he added.



Parris said Turkey's reaction against the Israeli operations in Gaza, which left more than 1,300 people dead, highlighted "the dilemma that some in the U.S. see in Turkey's more assertive regional diplomacy".

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On the one hand Turkey appears behind the scenes to have been an active, creative and constructive contributor to negotiations leading to a ceasefire, he added.


"One the other hand, some of the rhetoric here has, I fear, undermined Ankara's hard-earned reputation for even-handedness. That has to be considered a loss as the Obama administration considers how -and with whom- to begin the process of re-engagement in pursuit of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors," he said.


Parris said the issue that tops the agenda of the new Obama administration is the economy, but that he is confident it will meet the challenge to ensure that Turkey receives the timely, senior-level attention it merits as a country that “can help or the hurt the new administration’s efforts abroad”.

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The Obama administration comes into office with recent and clear reminders that Turkey is awfully useful if Washington wants to get help to Georgia or to support or withdraw forces from Iraq or to develop alternative supply routes for Afghanistan.



Among all the challenges awaiting Turkey-U.S. relations, partnership in energy is a more encouraging subject after “a tragic lost opportunity in the last eight years”, according to Parris.


“The hour is late. But Russia’s test of wills with Ukraine last winter could be impetus for a renewed commitment by the U.S., Turkey and Europe to overcome the petty and self-interested squabbling that has frustrated rapid movement on the Nabucco and other projects essential to the long-term energy security of the West. And that could return partnership on energy issues to a prominent place on the U.S.-Turkish bilateral agenda,” he added.


The new administration will find that Turkey-Russia relations are not the same as they were eight years ago and the countries’ positions on various issues such as Iran, Iraq, Palestine and the Black Sea security have converged, and bilateral trade relations have mushroomed.


“I’m not among those who believe Moscow will ever provide an alternative to strategic partnership with Washington or the West generally. But as the Obama administration re-engages on issues like energy security or the security and independence of former Soviet territories like Georgia or the Ukraine, it will find, I suspect, that it cannot count on Ankara’s simply following the U.S. lead, as might have been the case in the past,” he said.


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