Lincoln McCurdy: “Under no circumstances, should Azerbaijan be left out of the negotiation process”

Lincoln McCurdy: “Under no circumstances, should Azerbaijan be left out of the negotiation process”
# 24 April 2009 08:44 (UTC +04:00)
- On the eve of 24th April, the day which Armenians claim that the genocide started, do you expect that President Obama will use the “G” word?

- What I am hearing is that chances are the genocide resolution HR 252 will probably not be passed this year. The bill currently has less than 100 co-sponsors and 218 are needed for it to pass. Compared to two years ago, in the spring of 2007, they had approximately 190 co-sponsors. So you can see the difference. Reasons for this are that the President is hesitant and Turkish Americans have been more active and much more organized than two years ago. Also, when speaker Pelosi tried to introduce the previous “genocide” bill back in 2007, it had passed the committee on foreign relations and she intended to take it to the Congress floor. But the reaction from the general public was so severe that she backed down. Many Democrats received calls from constituents asking why we trying to interpret the history, when we have such serious problems in the Middle East right now. Those reactions are still in the minds of the Democratic leadership. Ms. Pelosi may not have the support of her own party on this issue. There is a strong opposition to the resolution today. If she tries to push it this year it may backfire, which is why many observers say that it may not pass.

- Is it true that the majority of the House members who signed up for the “genocide” resolution in 2007 had no clue what the issue was about, or even where Armenia is located on the world map?

- It is very much true. Turkish people and Azeri people have to understand how the U.S. Congress functions. At the same time, Americans should know how Turkish and Azeri parliaments are functioning. One of the problems in the past was the lack of understanding by the Turkish people on how Washington functions. A member’s top priority is to serve his/her constituents back in their respective district. The foreign policy is the domain of the President. Therefore, the member of Congress can say whenever he wants to say because he doesn’t take any responsibility. Therefore, for many years it was so easy when Armenian Americans reached the members of Congress and gave them their side of history and it was very easy for Congressmen to say we sympathize with you, and we’re ready to support you. Many of the Congressional members don’t meet many Turks. And the religious factor is also involved. Armenians are saying “the nasty Muslim Turks killed Christian Armenians.” So it is very easy for them to sympathize with Armenian Americans. But, Armenians didn’t say that their ancestors killed hundreds of thousands of Turks and Azeris. Now the Turkish Americans are beginning to speak up. They also are becoming more effective in following up. That was another problem in the past. The Armenian Americans and Greek Americans were very effective in staying in contact with their elected representatives throughout the year. This has not been the case with Turkish Americans. Many times when the representatives saw Turkish Americans it was only when the bill about “genocide” came out or when there was a discussion about Cyprus. But once the issues had settled down, the representatives didn’t see them again. Politics is like business. In business, if you don’t see your customer you are going to lose him. Politics is the same way. If you don’t monitor the situation, if you don’t have constant dialogue with the representatives, you allow the groups who oppose your position to dominant the discussion.

- Still, you have said that the situation is changing for the good.

- First, the Turkish Coalition of America has been very active in educating Turkish Americans on the importance of being politically involved. We have encouraged other groups like the Federation of Turkish American Associations to get involved too. For instance, the all time high in the Turkish Caucus of the Congress was 72 in December 2006. Last year, we got 80 members in our Caucus. But because of elections it dropped to 70. Six members were defeated, four retired. So starting in January of 2009, it was down to 70. But by the middle of May of this year, there will be over 81 members in the Turkish Caucus. That itself is a very significant indicator that Turkish Americans are getting involved and encouraging members of Congress to join their caucus.

Second, in the 2007-2008 election cycle, Turkish Americans raised over 1 million dollars for congressional candidates. That’s not including the Presidential campaigns. States whose congressional delegations are not supportive of U.S.-Turkish issues are California, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Of these Massachusetts is actually the worst as all ten of its congressional members are not supportive. But it is only one state among 50. New Jersey has the highest number of Turkish Americans, but the Turkish Americans there haven’t flexed their muscles yet. If Turkish Americans build political alliances with the Azeris, Bosnians, Albanians and Macedonians in New Jersey, its congressional delegation, I predict, would be more supportive.

California also has a significant Turkish American population with many successful entrepreneurs, but it is not concentrated in any particular neighborhood. The two states which are most pro-Turkish are Texas and North Carolina. Texas has 13 members of the Turkish Caucus out of 32 delegates all together in the Congress. I think we are going to get a couple more from Texas soon. Plus, the Turkish American community in Texas is very active. Much like California is for Armenian Americans, Texas is for Turkish Americans. After Texas North Carolina has the most active Turkish American community with regard to political activism.

- What are your thoughts about reopening the border between Turkey and Armenia?

- Obviously, when you have an open border you have prosperity. There are a few economic developments in Eastern Anatolia and Armenia as well. If the border was opened it could facilitate trade between Armenian and Turkey. But you have the political problem of Armenia claiming some part of Eastern Anatolia and occupying Azeri territory. Under no circumstances, should Azerbaijan be left out of the negotiation process. If you are going to have peace and stability in the Caucasus there should be an agreement which all three countries can live by. If Azerbaijan and Armenia make an agreement leaving out Turkey it will harm relations in the future. The same is true with Azerbaijan. The ultimate goal is to open the border and it is in the interest of Armenia first of all. They will never become a viable country if they remain isolated. It is to their advantage to seek the settlement of this conflict. Turkey is under severe pressure from groups here in the U.S. and in Europe. Pro-Armenian Congressmen see Turkey as a country which closed a border with Armenia and thus label Turkey as a bad guy. Sadly, no one talks about the occupation of Azerbaijani territory. Therefore, Azeris and Turks should do more to ensure their stories are told.