Turkey has threatened to downgrade its strategic relationship with the US amid nationalist anger over a vote in the US Congress that defined the mass killings of Armenians during the first world war as genocide.
Barack Obama’s administration, which regards Turkey as an important ally, was today desperately seeking to defuse the row. It expressed its frustration with the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, which voted 23-22 yesterday in favour of a resolution labelling the 1915 massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians a “genocide”.
A furious Turkey may now deny the US access to the Incirlik air base, a staging post for Iraq, as it did at the time of the 2003 invasion, or withdraw its sizeable troop contribution to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.
On the diplomatic front, the US needs the support of Turkey, which has a seat on the UN security council, in the push for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. Turkey is also helpful to the US on a host of other diplomatic issues in the Middle East and central Asia.
The White House and state department began work today to try to prevent the controversial issue making its way to the floor of the house for a full vote.
This is an example where of under the radar news crosses evergreen political dust up. In every other nation of the world the Armenian genocide during and after the Great War is a settled historical fact. In Turkey it is seen as slander. The reasons for this are far too complex to discuss in a short time. Let us just say the founding of the modern nation state of Turkey was not the most cleanly or organized of affairs and leave it at that. Turkey is very prickly about the subject to say the least. Of course, the Armenians are even pricklier about the last days of the Ottoman empire, and how its dissolution was not much fun for them.
The Armenians are one of those political groups that fly under the radar for most of the political year. They crop up just before the Congressional off year elections. That is the evergreen part of this equation. Every off-year election Congress, pushed by reelection year necessities, (got to get every motivated electorate out to the polls) revisits the Armenian Genocide to appeal to a very small but connected electoral cohort. And every Congressional electoral cycle the Executive branch is forced to beat down the legislative initiative.
Turkey always gets its way because without the U.S. bases in that nation, the occupation of Iraq would become a non-starter. Plus even without the Iraq occupation, Turkey is critical to U.S. forward deployment strategy in the Middle East, plus Central Asia. So pencil in yet another squeal of this in 2012, followed by another one in 2014; rinse,lather,repeat.