The Assembly Agenda: This Week in Washington DC: June 2-5, 2015

 

By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

June 2, 2015

Congress
returns this week with a full slate, US aid to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh is
under consideration, and Turkish parliamentary elections are slated for June 7.
Welcome to the Assembly Agenda, your
guide to Armenian American issues in Washington, DC.

A lot has
happened this year with the Armenian Genocide centennial commemorations taking
place around the world. With everything going on, it’s easy to forget about
important legislation and key events taking place in Washington that shape the
outcome of our advocacy. So, in the words of Eminem, it’s back to reality, and
on to the Agenda…

CONGRESS: The Senate returned for a rare Sunday session as the Patriot Act
was set to expire. At issue are the controversial NSA provisions on warrantless
wiretapping and bulk collection of American citizens’ phone records. Republican
Presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered the Act’s renewal
last week. He objected to the NSA provisions and continued to block advancement
on Sunday, causing the Act to expire while putting himself at loggerheads with
key members of his caucus. The Senate will be busy this week working on an
alternative homeland security measure, the USA Freedom Act, a watered down
version of the Patriot Act which has already passed the House.

The House
returned last night for votes and is set to tackle a number of bills, namely
twelve related to funding the government.

$$$ FOR ARMENIA, NAGORNO KARABAKH:

It’s summer
time in the nation’s capital and that means the appropriations process will
seriously begin with Congress in session 8 out of the 9 weeks ahead, and with a
budget in place, Republicans will try to complete as much of the process under
“regular order” as possible, read: 2016.

The Senate
has not yet scheduled a markup for the FY 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and
Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which covers US assistance to
Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (NK). However, the House has scheduled its SFOPS appropriations bill for markup on Wednesday,
June 3, 2015 at 10:30 AM
http://1.usa.gov/1FrUEjh.

Earlier this
year, Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny testified before
the House SFOPS Appropriations subcommittee, outlining nine key policy
priorities of the Armenian American community with an overall request of not less
than $40 million for Armenia and $5 million for NK http://bit.ly/1LZSsI9.  

President
Obama’s FY2016 budget request calls for $22.36 million for Armenia with no
allocation for NK, a reduction of $2.34 million from FY 2015. The House
Appropriations Committee is headed by Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), a
co-chair of the Congressional Turkish Caucus http://bit.ly/1Jnpkae, and Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY),
an active member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus http://bit.ly/armeniancaucus. The Assembly will continue to work with
House and Senate appropriators throughout the process to ensure the best
possible outcome for Armenia and NK.

ARMENIAN GENOCIDE TRUTH & JUSTICE
RESOLUTIONS:
The House
version of the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, H. Res. 154, now
has 62 cosponsors http://1.usa.gov/1FrXy7J, while the Senate version, S. Res. 140, boasts
20 cosponsors http://1.usa.gov/1BHOppY. These
bills are not to be confused with the traditional Armenian Genocide Resolution,
which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2000, 2005, 2007, 2010, and
which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014.

Efforts in
the House to advance the Armenian Truth and Justice Resolution have been
checked by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) http://bit.ly/1J8HNHt. However, the Senate version has the support
of over 1/5 of the chamber and unlike his House counterpart, Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not publicly opposed Armenian Genocide
recognition efforts. Notable cosponsors to the Senate Armenian Truth and Justice
Resolution include Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Both
Republicans have announced their candidacy for President of the United States.
While neither Rubio nor Cruz cosponsored the Armenian Genocide resolution in
the last Congress, Senator Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee (SFRC), did vote YES during the committee passage. Senator Cruz is
not a member of the SFRC so he didn’t have a chance to vote on it. However,
Senator Rand Paul does serve on the SFRC and was absent for the 2014 vote http://bit.ly/1gQP8cR.

ERDOGAN THE LIBERATOR?: Turks will head to the polls on June 7 in
parliamentary elections largely seen as a referendum on Turkish President Recep
Tayip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. Erdogan’s
goal is to gain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would enable him to
strengthen the role of the Presidency by weakening the role of the Prime
Minister, thus completing Turkey’s transformation into an authoritative
executive/presidential government. In typical fashion, Erdogan and Prime
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hit the campaign trail and made some pretty
astonishing statements. For instance, at a campaign rally over the weekend,
Erdogan called for Muslims to invade Israel and sack Jerusalem. “Conquest is
Mecca, conquest is Saladin, it’s to hoist the Islamic flag over Jerusalem again,”
Erdogan reportedly stated http://bit.ly/1eNzxBC. A few days earlier, at another campaign
stop to mark the opening of an airport in a Kurdish province, Davutoglu
reportedly stated “By Allah’s will, Jerusalem belongs to the Kurds, the Turks,
the Arabs, and to all Muslims. And as our forefathers fought side by side at
Gallipoli, and just as our forefathers went together to liberate Jerusalem with
Saladin, we will march together on the same path [to liberate Jerusalem]” http://bit.ly/1FrYKrI. Last year, Erdogan displayed his true anti-Armenian
colors when he addressed those who questioned his ethnicity: “I was called
a Georgian. I apologize for this, but they even said [something] worse: They
called me an Armenian” http://wapo.st/1tYU6jf.  

This
provocative and racist rhetoric is matched only by Erdogan’s crack down on
civil society and the press. Turkey ranks #1 in the world for the most
imprisoned journalists. Weeks before last year’s election, Erdogan’s judges
blocked the country’s internet access to Twitter and YouTube, as an audio
recording was released implicated Erdogan’s inner circle in plotting events
that would justify sending Turkish troops into Syria to attack Christians and
Kurds. See Kessab and Kobani. This year, Erdogan’s judges have again blocked
access to YouTube, this time after a video was posted showing trucks belong to
the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, delivering thousands of weapons and
munitions to ISIS in Syria http://nyti.ms/1dcy3j4.    

UPCOMING EVENTS IN DC:

–         
Coptic
Solidarity will hold its 6th annual conference, this year entitled
“100 Years Later: Middle East Christians Face Another Genocide” on June 11-13,
2015. Yours truly will be a panelist on Friday, June 12, at 4:30 PM http://bit.ly/1ESOiI8;

–         
The Knights
and Daughters of Vartan will hold their 2015 Grand Convocation, July 15-18,
2015 in Washington, DC http://bit.ly/1GW60R3.  

ARMENIAN AMERICAN POLTICAL TRIVIA: Name the highest ranking US government
official of Armenian ancestry. Bonus points if you can name the administration
in which this person served.

Spotlight Refocus: The Latest on Turkey

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By: Hamlet Tamazian & Bobby Avakian

The American spotlight on the unrest in Turkey has faded since the worst of the Taksim Square riots, Gezi Park protests, and anti-Erdogan rallies. However, there is still much turmoil in Turkey and the region, and new problems are developing – making old issues more complex. Still, the democratic and human rights progress made during the protests has registered a permanent cultural shift among the people of Turkey. The Turkish government is the one part of the equation that has been slow to change, and several situations developing outside of the American media spotlight further proves this resistance to progress.

(ALSO on AAANews: U.S. Slams Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan For Another Anti-Israel Remark)

First, the U.S. Department of State is warning Americans living in or traveling to Turkey that the U.S. Consulate General in Adana “has been authorized to draw down its non-emergency staff and family members because of potential threats against U.S. government facilities and personnel,” and “recommends that U.S. citizens defer non-essential travel to southeastern Turkey.”[1] Interestingly enough, this “warning” has been issued despite the absence of any emergency action (technically speaking) taken by the U.S.

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Second, and more alarming, is Turkey’s blatant disregard for the West, specifically NATO and U.S. allies, as concerns mount over Turkey’s announced decision to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC), a firm under U.S. sanctions for having violated the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. “‘We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government’s contract discussions with a U.S.-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities,’ a State Department spokeswoman said.”[2]  About half of Turkey’s air defense system has been paid for by NATO, and integration of third party equipment is impossible without the consent of NATO partners.[3] Absent NATO integration, Turkey’s defense system will lose half of its capabilities. Worse is the possibility that Turkey would allow the transfer of NATO technology to China. Why would Turkey make such a decision? What are they planning for the future? A European and NATO ambassador said that this move signals a clear nod to the Shanghai Security Cooperation (SCO) whose members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Simultaneously, the ambassador says that this act is a “powerful message to [Turkey’s] NATO allies… that Turkey may no longer be the staunch ally it used to be.”[4] Under the directive of Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, Turkey sought to upgrade its status with the SCO to “observer state” earlier this year, after they had elevated their standing with SCO to “dialogue partner” in 2012.[5] Erdogan also raised the question of SCO membership on January 25th with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying, “include us in the Shanghai Five and we will forget about the EU.”[6] Seeking this membership would appear to be a clear signal to NATO, as SCO is “often viewed as a rival to NATO.”[7] If membership status is granted to Turkey, NATO may have some immediate worries. Murat Bilhan, vice chairman of the Turkish-Asian Center for Strategic Studies, believes the reluctance on SCO’s part is that Turkey is viewed “as a Trojan horse of the West.”[8] If SCO membership is granted to Turkey, who will be housing this Trojan horse?

(ALSO on AAANews: Reflections on Recent House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearings)

Coupled with Turkey’s CPMIEC missile project is an attempt at becoming a major player in space and related programs by 2023. To meet this date Turkey is planning on synchronizing three ventures: “building a national long-range air defense and anti-missile architecture, developing long-range missiles and constructing the country’s first satellite launching pad.”[9] But are these space intentions pure? In 2001, “Turkey announced plans to develop a missile with a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers….” and the Turkish cabinet minister has confirmed that the country already has the capability to make a missile with a range of 800 kilometers.[10] In regards to Turkey’s planned satellite launching pad, the site will be operated by Turkey’s Air Force, which has led Western diplomats to express fear that the launching site might also be used in the future as a launching pad for 2,500-kilometer-range missiles.[11]

Drawing similar international attention and concern has been Turkey’s offshore energy activities. Continuing to grow progressively worse, Turkey’s oil and gas exploration efforts have been coming at the expense of Cyprus’s efforts in the Mediterranean. In the coming weeks a Turkish vessel may enter the exclusive economic zone of E.U. member Cyprus. So far the vessel “has been conducting offshore oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean….” but may soon aggravate already inflamed tensions with Cyprus. Turkey has been doing anything it can to hinder and impede Cyprus’ rightful exploration efforts. In a provocative move, “Turkey has strongly protested against Greek Cyprus’ energy exploration in the Mediterranean, branding the moves illegal and starting its own exploratory drilling off Turkish northern Cyprus.”[12] Additionally, Turkey has been discouraging companies from getting involved with Greek Cypriot energy exploration work by threatening to shut them out of future investments in Turkey’s energy infrastructure. It appears Turkey is not bluffing on this issue, as “Turkey decided in March to suspend energy projects with Italian giant Eni in retaliation for the company’s involvement in oil and gas drilling off the coast of Greek Cyprus.”[13] Conversely, Turkey is a willing partner in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which may one day connect Azerbaijani gas to European markets via Turkish, Greek, and Albanian territory to Italy.[14]

(ALSO on AAANews: Analysis: Protests in Turkey Continue to Rage)

While Erdogan makes decisive moves in the international sphere, he is also attempting to stabilize his interests at home. In response to the recent collaboration and dialogue developing between Turkey’s restive Kurdish population and Armenians, Erdogan has announced major political reforms in hopes that it will help him regain the status quo ante and bolster his popularity with the liberal left-wing and Kurdish voters ahead of next year’s first-ever direct Presidential election. One proposal has been lowering the 10% electoral threshold which would help Kurdish and other small parties enter parliament. Towns will be able to use their original Kurdish, rather than Turkish, names and “education will be broadened.”[15] Kurdish Members of Parliament have expressed their displeasure of Erdogan’s reform package, claiming that it does not meet their expectations, but they seem to find some benefit from the process since a “commitment to further reform in the future,  […] could set the wheels of the peace process back in motion.”[16] The problem is that the real issues, the actual political and humanitarian concerns that were raised, are not being addressed.  It seems that these other concessions are being made in order to distract the public from what is actually important. “The anti-terror courts are still working. Around 1,000 Kurds will not be released from prisons,” said a Kurdish politician critical of the reforms.[17]

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All of these issues, and a stagnant government that has for the most part gotten away with their actions after slipping away from the spotlight, is resulting in a more distinct divide between the Turkish government and its people. “After the summer of 2013, Turkey is more polarised than ever.” “Turkey’s people are changing faster than its politicians. And the gap is increasingly visible.”[18] Hopefully Erdogan and his government will listen to the grievances brought forth by the Taksim Square protesters and do what is necessary for the people of Turkey at home and on the international stage. “I am relieved that the student oath that we repeated every morning has been abolished… drumming into us that we were not individuals but part of an undifferentiated mass and had delegated our existence to the state and the nation. That mentality is changing. We are individuals. We owe this cultural shift to the young protesters of Taksim Square.”[19]

Hamlet Tamazian is an international business and conflict management student at Pepperdine University. Bobby Avakian is a business administration and management student at Boston University.  They recently completed the Assembly’s Terjenian-Thomas Summer Internship Program in Washington, D.C. You can follow Hamlet and Bobby on Twitter @htamaz and @avak_b.

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[1] Travel Warning: Turkey, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Sep. 6, 2013

[2] U.S. concerned about Turkey’s choice of Chinese missile system, Paul Simao, Reuters, Sep. 28, 2013

[3] Concerns Mount Over Turk-China Defense System, Burak Ege Bekdil, Defense News, Sep. 29, 2013

[4] Concerns Mount Over Turk-China Defense System, Burak Ege Bekdil, Defense News, Sep. 29, 2013

[5] Turkey seeks observer member status in SCO, Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 1, 2013

[6] Turkey seeks observer member status in SCO, Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 1, 2013

[7] Concerns Mount Over Turk-China Defense System, Burak Ege Bekdil, Defense News, Sep. 29, 2013

[8] Turkey gets cold shoulder from Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Aydin Albayrak, Today’s Zaman, Sep. 24, 2013

[9] Turkey striving to synchronize aerospace ambitions by 2023 , Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 24, 2013

[10] Turkey striving to synchronize aerospace ambitions by 2023 , Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 24, 2013

[11] Turkey striving to synchronize aerospace ambitions by 2023 , Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 24, 2013

[12] Turkey may drill for oil and gas in Cyprus: Minister, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 25, 2013

[13] Turkey may drill for oil and gas in Cyprus: Minister, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 25, 2013

[14] Trans Adriatic Pipeline Homepage, http://www.trans-adriatic-pipeline.com/

[15] Turkey’ Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms, BBC News Europe, Sep. 30, 2013

[16] Turkey’ Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms, BBC News Europe, Sep. 30, 2013

[17] Turkey’ Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms, BBC News Europe, Sep. 30, 2013

[18] Ankara fails to deliver on democracy, Elif Shafak, The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2013,

[19] Ankara fails to deliver on democracy, Elif Shafak, The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2013,