Once there was a Texas governor running for presidential election. He had many friends, two of whom were Armenians: Vasken Setrakian, who was one of his school fellows at Harvard Business School, and Edgar Hagopian. They proposed he launch an inquiry “regarding issues of concern to Armenian-Americans”. And the governor, who was battling to defeat Senator John McCain, his rival for the Republican nomination, addressed them in a caring letter: “Dear Edgar and Vasken…the Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension and commands all decent people to remember and acknowledge the facts and lessons of an awful crime in a century of bloody crimes against humanity.” He went so far as to say: “If elected President, I would ensure that our nation properly recognizes the tragic suffering of the Armenian people.” The governor’s name was George W. Bush; the letter was dated February 2000 and signed “Sincerely”. Seven years later, George W. Bush is a twice-elected U.S. president – in fact, he was nominated just a few months after that letter – but the United States of America still doesn’t label the annihilation of the Armenian people as a genocide.
The U.S. Congress is currently examining a bill introduced by Congressman Adam Schiff from California on January 30th. The bill is intended to commemorate the atrocities experienced by Armenians in the 1915-1924 genocide of 1.5 million people, and it found the support of over 160 Congress members. Voices from all over the US have been raised in support of the bill, including that of Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa: “These atrocities occurred a long time ago, and we’re still fighting for the first condition of justice, the recognition of the gravity of the evil done.” Of course, the Turkish government doesn’t appreciate these efforts. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, has stated openly that the bill, if approved, might injure the relationship between the US and Turkey. The resolution would prove to be “an irritant,” potentially detrimental to Turkish cooperation on crucial issues such as the political stability of Iraq and the prevention of nuclear proliferation. From his perspective, Gul considers it “as a real threat to our relationship.” The crisis that emerged between France and Turkey in October, when France passed a law that made it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide, shows just how serious a similar breach with the US could become.
The Bush administration knows it. It knew it from the beginning. Turkey, a secular country with an overwhelming Muslim population, is a strategic U.S. ally in the Muslim world. It was not long after he was elected for the first time, that President Bush Jr. issued an ambiguous statement on the day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide. He referred to “one of the great tragedies of history”, “forced exile and annihilation”, “infamous killings” and “terrible events” but he never used the word “genocide”. The Armenian National Committee of America, which had applauded George W. Bush’s caring campaign letter to his Armenian friends Hagopian and Setrakian, was seriously disappointed: “The president, in using terminology that does not accurately identify the genocidal nature of Turkey’s crime against the Armenian people, has made the grave error of subordinating fundamental American principles to the demands of the Turkish government.”
There is a widespread consensus that the Bush administration will strive to stop the bill passing. According to Abdullah Gul, despite his promises as a governor running for the White House, George W. Bush will write to the House of Representatives expressing his disapproval of the bill on the Armenian genocide. Another letter. Another agenda. Nonetheless, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fears that the Democratic majority in Congress will favour the passing of the resolution. Erdogan threatened that should the bill pass, it would: “shadow the strategic partnership of Turkey and the US government. For all of our history, we have never lived and shall not live with such stain."