Mark R. Parris: Now is not the time for an Armenian genocide resolution





[Mr. Parris, who was U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 1997 to 2000, is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.]

Once again, a resolution has been introduced in the House of Representatives asserting that the forcible deportation and massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was "genocide." But this time around the resolution, sponsored by Reps. Frank Pallone, Adam Schiff, George Radanovich and Joe Knollenberg (and over 170 co-sponsors), appears likely to pass. The result will be a train wreck with an important, longstanding American ally: Turkey.

It may never be the right time for one nation to pass legislation on another's history or morality, but there could be no worse time than now. It's a particularly sensitive moment in Turkish politics: A new president will be picked by parliament in late April (coinciding with Congress's likely decision on a resolution) and elections for a new parliament will follow by November. Based on current polling, Turkey by year's end could for the first time have a president, government, parliament and most municipalities under the control of a party -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party -- inclined to loosen the strict barriers set up by Ataturk between religion and state. One does not have to share secular fears of AKP's alleged "secret agenda" to Islamicize Turkish society to appreciate the strains this would generate in Turkish political life over the weeks and months ahead. Nor does it take much imagination to realize that, in such circumstances, Turkish politicians will compete with one another, should a resolution be passed, to show they cannot be pushed around by the U.S. Congress.

Turkish domestic politics isn't the only issue, however. This year will highlight the country's pivotal geography and relevance to U.S. strategic goals. As we struggle to find our footing in Iraq, for example, Turkey can either help or make our task much harder. Our forces in Iraq rely heavily on Turkey's Incirlik airbase for resupply. Turkish military intervention in the north, either to pre-empt cross-border terrorism by Turkish Kurdish PKK terrorists, or to stop Kirkuk from becoming part of the Kurdish federation, would complicate Gen. David Petraeus's already daunting assignment.

Then there is Iran. Will Turkey align itself with Washington and the West in efforts to ratchet up pressure against the Islamic Republic -- a major trading partner and ally against the PKK? Or will the Turks join Russia and others favoring a less-confrontational approach? And as the U.S. tries to forge a new alignment in the Middle East to roll back Iranian influence and restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, a Turkey that has both bulked up its influence in the Muslim world (particularly among Sunni Arabs) and kept its close relationship with Israel, will be an asset.

Turkey has quietly emerged as the prize in a new great game over who will develop and bring to world markets the vast oil and gas resources of former Soviet Central Asia. Experts know that Turkey will in the years ahead become one of the world's major energy hubs, supplied by new pipelines that will crisscross Anatolia. The question is whether this will happen according to Moscow's or Washington's vision of where those pipelines should run, and whose product should fill them. Ankara will likely make some of the key decisions this year....



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