July 1, 2014

Turkey’s Declining Support in Congress After Blunders at Home and Abroad

Turkey’s Declining Support in Congress After Blunders at Home and Abroad -

By Harut Sassounian

Due to Prime Minister Erdogan’s widespread human rights abuses of his own citizens and foreign policy blunders vis-a-vis Armenia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Syria, Turkey has lost much of the support it once enjoyed in the United States, and indeed, around the world.

The most recent evidence of this downturn is the adoption of House Resolution 4347 (Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act) on June 26 by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Because of souring relations between Ankara and Washington, the U.S. Government refrained from spending its political capital on the Hill to prevent the bill's passage.

In addition, inter-Turkish feuds such as the one between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric with extensive influence in Turkey and abroad, have deprived Ankara of important grassroots support in the United States. Gulen-affiliated groups did not lift a finger to bail out Erdogan’s government from a humiliating defeat in the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Due to another internal political dispute, the Turkish Coalition of America refused to sign the joint letter sent by three other Turkish-American groups to House Committee members opposing the Churches bill. In a desperate search for supporters, the Turkish groups recruited to their lobbying efforts the Azerbaijan American Council, which has no business sticking its nose in a matter involving the status of Christian churches in Turkey. By signing such a hostile joint letter, the Azeri group further antagonized Armenians worldwide, making it more difficult to reach a fair settlement in the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict.

Finally, the Turkish government’s clash with Israel after the Mavi Marmara attack and Turkey’s new Ambassador Serdar Kilic’s recent angry letter to the American Jewish Committee for recognizing the Armenian Genocide deprived Ankara of any lobbying support it used to receive in Congress from the Israeli government and some Jewish-American organizations.

In the absence of all support from its traditional allies, the Turkish government could only rely on its hired guns -- highly-paid US lobbying firms -- implement the standard Turkish tactics used in opposing any initiative that Ankara deems to be against its interests:

1) Object firmly to any anti-Turkish initiative to prevent its consideration;
2) If step 1 does not work, propose amendments to dilute the initiative;
3) Even after diluting the initiative, pressure the committee members to vote against it.

In the case of the churches bill, the Turkish government failed to block its consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was unable to collect enough votes to defeat the measure. The only thing left for Ankara to do was having some members of the Congressional Turkish Caucus to propose amendments to dilute the bill. This tactic had a modest success because Cong. Ed Royce (Rep.-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tried to reach a consensus on the bill and went out of his way to accommodate the handful of dissenting members of Congress. After all, who in their right mind would oppose a bill that called for the return of religious properties to their proper owners which happen to be the Christian churches!

This is the second major defeat that Turkey suffered in Congress in the last three months. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had adopted an Armenian Genocide resolution with a vote of 12-5 on April 10 -- a further indication of the declining Turkish political clout in Washington. One simply needs to read two recent articles in the New York Times (“After Opening Way to Rebels, Turkey is Paying Heavy Price”) and the Wall Street Journal (“An Unhelpful Ally”) to see the degree of damage Erdogan has caused to his country’s reputation.

In addition to the loss of clout, the Turkish government is wasting the millions of dollars it pays each year to high-powered, but apparently useless American lobbying firms that make big promises, pocket large amounts of money, and deliver practically nothing. When will the people of Turkey demand an account from their corrupt and irresponsible leaders who are throwing away Turkish citizens' hard earned tax dollars in a vain attempt to whitewash their genocidal history?

Pundits are predicting that despite Prime Minister Erdogan’s dismal record both at home and abroad, he is expected to be elected president next August. Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and other oppressed ethnic and religious minorities are only too happy to see Turkey ruled by an incompetent leader who will bring the country to its knees!

         
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