Turkish Jews Decry Armenian Genocide Bill

By Marc Perelman

Published October 17, 2007, issue of October 19, 2007.

In its bare-knuckled lobbying to defeat a congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, Turkey has gained a valuable ally: its own Jews.

Last week an advertisement from the “Jewish community of Turkey” was published in the conservative Washington Times and was quickly passed around the capital by Turkey’s lobbyists. The ad warned that the overwhelming majority of Turks view Congress’s intervention as “inappropriate, unjust, and gratuitously anti-Turkish.”

The Turkish Jewish community’s ad appeared just before an October 10 vote in which the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted Resolution 106, which characterizes the Ottoman massacre of Armenians during World War I as “genocide.” The Democratic leadership is planning to submit the bill to a full House vote by mid-November, and a similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate with 32 co-sponsors.

“We cannot help but note that the world recognizes the Holocaust because of the overwhelming evidence, not because of the declarations of parliaments,” read the ad. “However, we have a more immediate concern, which is the viability of U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations.”

The ad, as well as previous statements from the Turkish Jewish community and a trip by its leaders to Washington this past spring, is part of a strategy by Ankara to stress that the Armenian issue is one that galvanizes Turkish society as a whole, and not just the government. The patriarch of the Armenian Church of Turkey recently came to the United States to convey a similar message, and several civil society organizations have supported the government’s view.

Turkish Jewish officials, however, have insisted that the initiative to weigh in on the issue has been theirs. Their leaders could not be reached for further comment.

During the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in March, a delegation led by community leader Silvyo Ovadya came to Washington to warn American Jewish groups that passage of a congressional resolution would alter Turkey’s pro-Western stance. The organized community also issued several statements in recent months as the Armenian issue gained traction on Capitol Hill.

Last week’s ad took a direct stab at the Anti-Defamation League, whose national director Abraham Foxman said in August that the massacre of Armenians was “tantamount to genocide” and then subsequently stated that a congressional resolution would be a “counterproductive diversion” that may “put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.” In the ad, the Jewish community stressed that it is “deeply perturbed” by the claim that their safety and well-being in Turkey could be put at risk by the resolution.

The ad was not the community’s first pointed criticism of an American Jewish group on the Armenian issue. In a private letter this summer, reported here for the first time, to American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris, Turkish Jewish leaders criticized him for writing in a blog posting that not recognizing the Armenian genocide could open the door to more Holocaust denial.

Earlier this year, Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and the resolution’s main sponsor, criticized the AJCommittee, B’nai B’rith International, the ADL and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs for transmitting to House leaders another letter from the Turkish Jewish community expressing concern over his congressional bill. In a written complaint to Jewish groups, Schiff described the action of the American Jewish organizations as “tantamount to an implicit and inappropriate endorsement of the position of the letter’s authors.”

Schiff could not be reached for further comment.

The Bush administration has expressed its firm opposition to the non-binding resolution. Turkey’s lobbyists were also able to get all living former secretaries of state, as well as a number of defense secretaries, to send out letters stressing the need to preserve diplomatic and military ties with Turkey. And critics have denounced Schiff and fellow California Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, for what they describe as catering to parochial Armenian-American voters at the expense of a crucial ally.

In the wake of last week’s foreign affairs committee vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the United States to Ankara for consultations.

Turkey contends, not for the first time, that foreign parliaments have no business weighing in on such an issue. When France criminalized the denial of the Armenian genocide last year, Ankara retaliated by cutting back military contracts with Paris. While no clear threat has been issued to Washington, Turkey hosts a key American military air base that is a major conduit for supplying American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ankara could also make good on its recent vows to enter northern Iraq in order to stop Kurdish rebel attacks against its troops. On Wednesday, the Turkish parliament gave the government a one-year authorization to conduct military operations inside Iraq against the guerillas, who have killed some 30 soldiers in recent weeks.



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