AHI Conference on Capitol Hill on U.S. Relations with Turkey:
WASHINGTON, DC—More than 100 people attended the AHI Capitol Hill Conference on July 8, 2003 on “U.S. Relations with Turkey: The New Realities in the Post- Iraq War Era.” The conference, held at the Rayburn House Office Building, hosted members of the U.S. Congress and prominent members of the foreign policy and journalism fields. All speakers highlighted the critical point that U.S.—Turkey relations have reached after the Iraq War. They urged the United States to take into consideration Turkey’s refusal to help the U.S. in the Iraq War and to change its policy towards Turkey.
The keynote speaker of the conference was Christopher Hitchens, world renowned columnist, speaker and author of many best seller books. The other speakers at the morning session were: Dr. John Eibner, Director of Human Rights, Christian Solidarity International, Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America, and Kani Xulam, Director of the American Kurdish Information Network. The chairman and moderator was Gene Rossides, general counsel of the American Hellenic Institute.
The luncheon speaker was Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President, Defense and Foreign Policy Studies of the Cato Institute, and author of several books on foreign policy.
The afternoon session was highlighted by the presence of the following members of the US Congress: Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). The other afternoon speakers were: Nikolas Gvosdev, Editor of the on-line journal “In the National Interest”, Nicholas G. Karambelas, Esq., Partner of Sfikas & Karambelas, LLP and Gene Rossides, AHI general counsel. The afternoon session was chaired by Nicholas Chimicles, Esq., Chairman of the AHI Public Affairs Committee.
In his keynote address, Mr. Christopher Hitchens referred to the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus and stressed that the partition of the island violates a cornerstone of the European values, which is the freedom of movement. Mr. Hitchens made a clear distinction between the will of the Turkish Cypriot people and its leader, “Mr Denktash who has probably more blood of Turkish Cypriots in his hands than he has of Greeks.”
In referring to the recent civil unrest in the occupied part of the island, he stressed that the Turkish Cypriots demonstrated that “we want to be Europeans, we want to share our lives with our Greek Cypriot brothers and sisters.” Mr. Hitchens, referred to the historical background of the Turkey-orchestrated Cypriot, Kurdish and Armenian tragedies and stressed that the Turkish government always seeks a separate deal to exempt itself from its obligations. Along these lines he referred to the Turkish behavior during the Iraq War, its unilateral military action in Northern Iraq and the detention of Turkish soldiers by U.S. troops in the region. Based on all the above, Mr. Hitchens described U.S.-Turkish relations to be in a “quite critical turning point” after the Iraq War.
With regard to the Turkish accession to the European Union he named the resolution of the Cyprus issue and the recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people as necessary preconditions for any negotiations to take place.
Dr. John Eibner approached Turkey from a human rights perspective and highlighted the legacy of intolerance of the Turkish State. He referred to the failure of successive administrations to acknowledge and commemorate appropriately the first major genocide of the 20th century—the Armenian Genocide. He asked, “Can it be denied that Turkey is the leading ethnic cleanser of the 20th century?”
He clarified the historical misconceptions regarding the Ottoman Empire and its successor, the modern Turkish State, by stressing that secularism and democracy in Turkey are overstated. He particularly stressed that “the Ottoman Empire was no western style constitutional democracy, neither is its modern Turkish state.” He urged Turkey to support democracy not according to “sharia” (the Islamic Law) but to show true commitment to democracy. He also stated that the U.S. should end its campaign for Turkey’s accession to the European Union until there is a full and complete democracy in Turkey.
Aram Hamparian presented the new perspective in U.S.-Armenian relations under the light of the deterioration of U.S.-Turkish relations since the Iraq War. By quoting statements of members of the U.S. Congress, foreign policy makers, and Pentagon officials Mr Hamparian noted the significant downgrading of Turkey from “an indispensable ally” to simply “an important friend in the region”. Mr. Hamparian, expressed the view that the Turkish Government will come to understand this new reality and that “both sides in the U.S.—Turkish relationship will recognize that fifty years of essentially unconditional support for the Turkish government actually undermined reformers within Turkey and stunted real progress toward democracy and human rights.”
Kani Xulam vividly depicted the tragedy of the Kurdish people living in Turkey and called for the principles of self-dignity and respect of their freedom.
Luncheon speaker Ted Galen Carpenter stressed the broadening differences between the U.S. and Turkey and noted the estrangement of U.S.-Turkish relations. “What has happened in the past is that Turkey has simply pursued its own national interest and done so very vigorously. Sometimes these interests overlap with American interest and when they did there was a level of cooperation. But when Turkish national interest as perceived by the governing national elite differed from American interest, Turkey was never shy about pursuing an independent course and that’s very simply what we saw with regard to Iraq.”
Mr. Carpenter identified four areas where US-Turkish interests clash, namely the future of the Kurds in Iraq, their approach toward Iran, the growing anti-U.S. sentiment of Turkish public opinion and the inevitable U.S.-Turkish clash within the context of the growing gap of the transatlantic relations. He concluded that “for all of the reasons the estrangement that has developed between the U.S. and Turkey after the Iraq War is not likely to go away…. The reality is that U.S. and Turkish interests overlap only sometimes…the current estrangement has simply brought that reality forward.”
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) enumerated three major misconceptions about Turkey that haunt U.S. foreign policy. He first attacked the misconception that Turkey can always be counted on to be a strong military ally to the United States, by commenting on Turkey’s negative role to the Iraq War. He stressed: “I certainly understand the sentiment within Turkey against the war in Iraq but I also understand that if the argument is that Turkey is a solely dependable and exclusively dependable ally of the United States- that’s just not true.”
The second misconception that Rep. Andrews demystified was that Turkey is a stabilizing force in the region and that it should be a model for the reconstruction of Iraq. Rep. Andrews underscored the non-democratic nature of the Turkish regime and named Turkey “a human rights violator almost without parallel in that area of the world.”
With regard to the reconstruction of Iraq he stated that “if we were to hold up a model of a functioning Islamic democracy, Ankara is the wrong place to look.” With regard to the tragedies of the Cypriot, the Kurdish and the Armenian peoples caused by the Turkish Government, Mr. Andrews stated: “I do not believe that U.S. policy should overlook the intransigence and difficulties caused by that [Turkish] government.”
Finally, he urged the U.S. to support the Turkish accession to the EU only on the basis of certain conditions: “that Turkey becomes a positive factor in the resolution of the Cyprus dispute within the framework set forth by the United Nations; number two, that Turkey ceases any type of economic or military hostilities toward its neighbors in Armenia; number three; that Turkey recognizes its role in the war against terrorism, which means two things: cooperation with the U.S. and our allies in the extradition and pursuit of terrorists.” It also means the recognition of human rights within your own country, toward the Kurds, toward the other citizens of Turkey; and number four it means a continuing warming of relationship to Greece.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) highlighted the importance of U.S.—Greece relationship and the key role that the latter plays for the U.S. foreign policy and the stability in the Southeastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. With regard to Cyprus Rep Ros-Lehtinen stressed that “ it is in our interest to see the emergence of a new, vibrant, unified Cyprus” and directly accused Denktash who “continues his intransigent policies…all with Turkish support and with the presence of a Turkish occupation force of some 35,000 troops.” Mrs. Lehtinen put full responsibility on Turkey for the failure of the Cyprus talks and called on Turkey “to end its illegal occupation of the island for once and for all.” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen reaffirmed her determination to continue to work closely with the Greek American community and to work towards ending the occupation and for the reunification of Cyprus.
At the afternoon session, Nikolas Gvosdev depicted the changing environment in the geopolitical chessboard in Eurasia and highlighted the changing nature of Turkey’s geostrategic significance: “it is no longer a front-line state versus the Warsaw Pact and is no longer needed as a staging area for Iraqi containment. It is one option among several for the projection of U.S. power in the Near East, Southwest Asia and the Black Sea Basin.”
Mr Gvosdev also traced the limited utility of Turkey as a model for post-communist and Muslim states as well as its diminishing role as the “energy hub” for the resources of the Caspian and Central Asia.
He finally stressed that U.S. policy has been contradictory to Turkey but predicted that after Turkey’s refusal to allow U.S. troops to use its bases in the Iraq War, there will be a re-evaluation of U.S.-Turkish relations. “Turkey is running out of the credit it had from the Cold War, and cannot indefinitely use that to sustain its position with the United States.”
Nick Karambelas provided the legal perspective of the Annan plan, and clarified key issues of the Cyprus problem, such as property rights and decision-making on the federal level. Mr. Karambelas highlighted the potential dead-ends that the Annan plan might lead to if it does not take into consideration the historical particularities and the demography factor in the island.
Mr. Karambelas highlighted the outcomes of the European Union jurisdiction on the island. “The Turkish Cypriot rights are not going to be protected by being in a separate state that perpetuates the partition of the island; they are not going to be protected by being dependent on Turkey; they are going to be protected by being full EU citizens.”
Mr. Karambelas also highlighted the issue of the property rights of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots as a sinister point in the Annan formula that is in opposition to the European Community law.
Gene Rossides discussed “The Need to Change the Flawed U.S. Policy Towards Turkey” of double standards and appeasement on the rule of law and human rights. He enumerated three new realities that should define the U.S.- Turkey relations. Mr. Rossides highlighted the significant decrease of Turkish importance in the region, because of: (1) its unreliability as a strategic ally by refusing the use of its bases by U.S. troops to open a northern front against Iraq; (2) the fact that we were able to open the northern front and defeat Saddam Hussein without Turkey demonstrated the minimal strategic value of Turkey for U.S. interests in the region; and (3) its legacy as an “extortionist” state in which one senior administration official called Turkey’s efforts to get more aid as “extortion in the name of the alliance.”
Based on these arguments, Mr. Rossides stressed the harmful effects to U.S. interests of the “policy of double standards for Turkey on the rule of law and human rights.”
Mr. Rossides then addressed the question of what should U.S. relations with Turkey be in the post-Iraq era and set forth a number of points to be taken into account. He concluded with a list of specific actions the U.S. should take regarding Turkey including a halt in all military aid and putting conditions on any economic aid to Turkey.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), voiced out his strong opposition to giving aid to Turkey. He criticized Turkey for its non-democratic regime and addressed its military aggression to its neighbors. With regard to Cyprus he directly accused Turkey for the illegal occupation of the island and stressed: “All the people in Cyprus, including the Turkish Cypriots want to see a Cyprus that is part of the EU, that has a bi-zonal federation and has the sovereignty of Cyprus restored. Instead you have a Turkish general staff and a puppet named Denktash holding that up.” Rep. Sherman concluded his speech by reaffirming his strong commitment to continue working with the Greek American community in order “to have unity restored in Cyprus, to have a U.S. foreign policy that matches our values and to try to save the civilian dollars that do not need to be spent.”
AHI’s Executive Director Nick Larigakis stated: “We believe that the Conference provided a critical analysis regarding U.S.—Turkish relations and offered constructive policy recommendations for consideration.”
AHI Conference on Capitol Hill on U.S. Relations with Turkey: The New Realities in the Post-Iraq War Era