Yesterday the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Armenian genocide resolution. That is the bill, kicking around for years, that recognizes the Armenian genocide as precisely that – genocide. The Turkish government has always strongly opposed the resolution, arguing – unconvincingly, in my opinion – that the slaughter of the Armenians occurred in the context of war and was not an attempt at their intentional eradication.
I never understood why the Turks care so much. The current democratic Turkish Republic was not even in existence during the Armenian slaughter. It is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire under which the killing took place. The current Turkish government is no more responsible for the Armenian genocide than the current German government is responsible for the Holocaust.
Nonetheless, the Turks vehemently oppose using the term “genocide” to describe the events of 1915.
And successive American administrations have deferred to the Turks by opposing Congressional bills “commemorating” the “Armenian genocide.”
It is no different this year. The Obama administration lobbied against the resolution because it believed that enacting it would disrupt our relations with Turkey, a fellow NATO member and one that is especially critical as our troops remain engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It also argued that passing the bill now would disrupt negotiations now underway between Turkey and Armenia.
It passed anyway and the Turks immediately called its ambassador home.
But here is where it gets really interesting. The following comes from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Associated Press of the Jewish world. JTA writes:
In the past, the pro-Israel community [i.e. the Israel lobby] , has lobbied hard against previous attempts to pass similar resolutions, citing warnings from Turkish officials that it could harm the alliance not only with the United States but with Israel — although Israel has always tried to avoid mentioning the World War I-era genocide.
In the last year or so, however, officials of American pro-Israel groups have said that while they will not support new resolutions, they will no longer oppose them, citing Turkey’s heightened rhetorical attacks on Israel and a flourishing of outright anti-Semitism the government has done little to stem.
That has lifted the fetters for lawmakers like Berman (Chairman Howard Berman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) , who had been loath to abet in the denial of a genocide; Berman and a host of other members of the House’s unofficial Jewish caucus have signed on as co-sponsors.
Get that. The lobby has always opposed deeming the Armenian slaughter a genocide largely because Turkey has (or had) good relations with Israel. And the lobby, and its Congressional acolytes, did not want to harm those relations.
But, since the Gaza war, Turkish-Israeli relations have deteriorated. The Turks, like pretty much every other nation on the planet, were appalled by the Israeli onslaught against the Gazans. And said so.
Ever since, the Netanyahu government has made a point to stick it to the Turks. Most famously, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon seated the Turkish ambassador in a kindergarten chair during a meeting, and “forgot” to put a Turkish flag on the table alongside the Israeli flag. He then called the Israeli photographers in and said to them in Hebrew – so the Turkish ambassador wouldn’t understand, “The important thing is that they see he’s sitting lower and we’re up high and that there’s only one flag, and you see we’re not smiling.”
News of that episode so enraged the Turks and humiliated the Israelis that Ayalon had to apologize three times, in progressively more abject terms, or face a rupture in Israeli-Turkish relations.
That battle is now being carried to Washington. The Israelis are trying to teach the Turks a lesson. If the Armenian resolution passes both houses and goes into effect, it will not be out of some newfound compassion for the victims of the Armenian genocide and their descendants, but to send a message to Turkey: if you mess with Israel, its lobby will make Turkey pay a price in Washington.
And, just maybe, the United States will pay it too.