WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey-designate, Ross Wilson, has responded in writing to a series of questions, including several dealing with Armenian issues, submitted by Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), following his November 9th confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We commend Senator Sarbanes for continuing to press the State Department to confront Turkey’s aggressive policies against Armenia, especially its campaign to cover-up the Armenian Genocide,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA.
In his written responses, Wilson, who served previously as Ambassador to Azerbaijan, expanded on the answers he gave during his Senate hearing. The highlights of his responses are provided below:
* Responding to a question from Senator Sarbanes about steps – including those related to its blockade of Armenia – that Turkey should take to keep its European Union candidacy on track, Amb. Wilson noted that: “neither the EU’s Progress Report nor the Accession Partnership Agreement requires Turkey to open its border with Armenia.” He added, however, that: “the opening of the Turkey-Armenia border… would benefit both countries and constitute an important step toward reconciliation and mutual understanding, which the United States strongly supports.”
* In answer to an inquiry from Senator Sarbanes about the U.S. response to the prosecutions of renowned writer Orhan Pamuk and journalist Hrant Dink over their statements on the Armenian Genocide, Amb. Wilson reported that the “Charge d’Affaires in Ankara has repeatedly raised these specific cases with senior Turkish officials and pushed further for progress to protect freedom of expression.” He went on to divert blame from the Turkish government for these actions, although Turkey’s recently revised penal code continues to criminalize speech concerning the Armenian Genocide, assigning responsibility instead to “parts of the government, particularly some members of the police and the judiciary, [who] are resistant to the reforms and remain eager to punish individuals responsible for controversial statements or publications.”
* In response to a request from Senator Sarbanes for clarification of U.S. policy toward a proposed new rail line linking Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan while bypassing Armenia, Amb. Wilson explained that: “The U.S. Government has not taken a position on routes for a regional South Caucasus railway, has not provided any financial backing for such a railway, and believes that decisions about such a railway should be based on economic factors.”
* Answering a question from Senator Sarbanes regarding the U.S. response to Turkey’s neglect and willful destruction of Armenian churches and cross stones with major archaeological, religious and cultural significance, Amb. Wilson acknowledged “some destruction of ethnic Armenian monuments in Turkey in the past,” but stressed that he understands that “the Turkish Government is taking some steps now to preserve such monuments.”
* Amb. Wilson, in responding to a question from Senator Sarbanes about conditions on U.S. military transfers to Turkey, spelled out legal restrictions on such transactions, outlining the letter but not the spirit of the law behind Congressional efforts to keep U.S. arms out of the hands of those who use them for aggressive or abusive purposes.
The full text of the Senator Sarbanes’ questions and Amb. Wilson’s responses are provided below.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
November 14, 2005
Question #1: What steps do you think Turkey needs to take, in terms of recognizing Cyprus, in terms of human rights and religious freedom, in terms of civilian control over the military, in terms of its blockade of Armenia, in order to keep the EU accession process on track?
Answer: I think that steady and speedy progress on all the issues you cite and the implementation of reforms already made and to be adopted will be essential in order to keep the EU accession program on track. Turkey’s EU accession process, of course, is a matter for the EU and Turkey to work out and keep on track.
The EU’s Framework Agreement on accession links advancement of the negotiations to Turkish support for an overall Cyprus settlement. Turkey has repeatedly stated it will recognize the Cypriot government that emerges from such a settlement, and progress in the Cyprus negotiations will, of course, facilitate advancement of the accession talks. Turkey must also continue with the reforms necessary to meet EU standards on freedom of religion, association, and expression, as well as establishing civilian control over the military.
Neither the EU’s Progress Report nor the Accession Partnership Agreement requires Turkey to open its border with Armenia. The opening of the Turkey-Armenia border, however, would benefit both countries and constitute an important step toward reconciliation and mutual understanding, which the United States strongly supports.
Question #2: What specific steps would you take to address the human rights concerns outlined in the State Department’s annual report, including torture and killings by security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; limitations on freedom of speech and press; restrictions on religious minorities and on some forms of religious expression; harassment, indictment, and imprisonment of human rights monitors, journalists, and lawyers; violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in persons; and child labor?
Answer: If confirmed as Ambassador, I would use the State Department’s annual human rights and religious freedom reports to focus the Turkish government on problem issues and push for progress. I strongly believe in the importance of these reports. They represent powerful assessments of the human rights situation around the world and are useful tools for U.S. diplomacy, especially in countries where problems exist, such as Turkey.
I would also ensure, if confirmed, that human rights and religious freedom remain central issues in our bilateral relations with Turkey. This would include action by the embassy and consulates to closely monitor developments, report regularly on them, represent U.S. government views to the Turkish authorities and advocate on specific issues, and carry out vigorous public diplomacy to advance American values and ideals.
I would also continue working with non-governmental organizations to promote further improvements in all the areas cited in your question. In September 2004, a U.S. grant helped the Minnesota-based Center for Victims of Torture, along with its Turkish NGO partners, hold a “New Tactics in Human Rights International Symposium” in Ankara. In March and July 2005, U.S. funding supported visits to the United States by two Turkish delegations – including Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior officials – to examine alternatives to criminal trials. If confirmed, I will seek out more opportunities such as these to promote in concrete ways the protection of human rights in Turkey.
As noted in my prepared remarks, I would, if confirmed, also work closely with European Union representatives in Turkey to ensure that our respective efforts on human rights and religious freedom complement and reinforce one another.
Question #3: What representations has the U.S. government made to the Turkish government regarding the prosecutions of renowned writer Orhan Pamuk, journalist Hrant Dink, and publisher Fatih Tas, whose company published the Turkish translation of John Tirman’s Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America’s Arms Trade?
Answer: I understand that our Chargé d’Affaires in Ankara has repeatedly raised these specific cases with senior Turkish officials and pushed further for progress to protect freedom of expression. Although the Turkish constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, parts of the government, particularly some members of the police and the judiciary, are resistant to the reforms and remain eager to punish individuals responsible for controversial statements or publications. If confirmed, I will take up these cases with Turkish authorities and encourage the government to provide adequate legal protections for the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Turkish constitution.
Question #4: Despite the United States policy goal of fostering regional cooperation and economic integration in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has initiated a project to construct a new rail line linking Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan while bypassing Armenia. The proposal is estimated to cost up to $800 million and would take three years to complete. The aim of this costly approach is to isolate Armenia by enhancing the ongoing Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and to keep the existing Turkey-Armenia-Georgia rail link shut down. Do you support the construction of a rail line that would bypass Armenia? Has the U.S. government provided financial support for the project?
Answer: The U.S. Government has not taken a position on routes for a regional South Caucasus railway, has not provided any financial backing for such a railway, and believes that decisions about such a railway should be based on economic factors. As I indicated in my testimony, I believe that Turkey should open its border with Armenia. I also believe the United States should continue encouraging regional integration that includes all countries of the Caucasus. Removing trade barriers would improve regional integration and enhance economic cooperation and development.
If confirmed, I will continue longstanding U.S. efforts to encourage Turkish-Armenian dialogue and reconciliation.
Question #5: Over the course of many centuries, Armenians living on lands that are now within the borders of modern Turkey have built churches and cross stones with major archaeological, religious and cultural significance. Turkey has prevented renovation efforts of ancient and medieval Armenian monuments and, in some cases, has willfully destroyed them. What steps will you take to encourage the Turkish Government to protect and allow the renovation of such cultural and religious monuments?
Answer: While there has been some destruction of ethnic Armenian monuments in Turkey in the past, information available to me suggests the Turkish Government is taking some steps now to preserve such monuments. The Turkish Government has appropriated funds for renovation of a major Armenian monastery located on Akdamar Island on Lake Van. Work there is ongoing, and the restoration team includes an ethnic Armenian architect hired following consultation with the Armenian Patriarch in Istanbul.
If I am confirmed, I will encourage the Turkish Government to do more to protect and preserve cultural and religious monuments sites of all faiths. I will encourage the Turkish Government to continue supporting restoration work on Akdamar Island and to expand this to other major ethnic Armenian monuments. One particularly significant location is Ani, the former capital of the Armenian kingdom in present-day eastern Turkey. While Turkey has undertaken some structural stabilization work in the ruins of Ani, further work there is complicated by border security issues and the threat of earthquakes.”
Question #6: This Committee is asked with some frequency to review proposed sales of military equipment to Turkey. But before it reaches this stage, the State Department and Embassy are asked to weigh in on whether such sales make sense from a policy perspective. What factors do you think ought to be taken into account when considering transfers of military equipment to Turkey?
Answer: Consistent with existing U.S. law and policy on military equipment transfers to any country, I think there are a number of factors that should be taken into account when considering such transfers to Turkey. These include: consistency with international agreements and arms control initiatives; appropriateness in responding to legitimate U.S. and Turkish needs; consistency with U.S. regional stability interests; the degree to which the transfer supports U.S. strategic and foreign policy interests through increased access and influence, allied burdensharing and interoperability; the impact of the proposed transfer on U.S. capabilities and technological advantage; the impact on U.S. industry and the defense industrial base; the degree of protection afforded sensitive technology in Turkey; the risk of revealing system vulnerabilities and adversely impacting U.S. operational capabilities; the risk (if any) of adverse economic, political or social impact in Turkey and the degree to which security needs can be addressed by other means; Turkey’s human rights, terrorism and proliferation record, and the potential for misuse of the export in question; the availability of comparable systems from foreign suppliers; and the ability of Turkey to effectively field, support and employ the system.
Question #7: A planned visit to Turkey by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, the first such visit in nearly half a century, was just postponed following several counterproductive statements by Turkish officials, including threats to consider any attempt by Greece to extend its territorial waters as a cause of war. At the same time, Turkish planes continue to violate Greek airspace in the Aegean. Why does Turkey continue to undertake provocative and hostile actions toward Greece?
Answer: Turkish-Greek relations, which experienced both highs and lows throughout the 20th Century, have been marked by rapprochement and reconciliation in recent years. Local problems arise from time to time, including overflights of airspace, unhelpful statements by officials not authorized to speak for the government, and leaks to the press. It is a sign of the maturity of their relationship that Greece and Turkey have been able to address their problems directly, and none of these problems has risen to the level of disrupting Turkish-Greek amity. Clearly this situation is worth watching.
I understand that our Embassy in Ankara constantly urges Turkish officials to avoid provocative words and acts and has strongly supported closer bilateral communication and cooperation. If confirmed, I will continue that effort, ensure that Turkish authorities are fully informed on the importance the United States attaches to cooperative Turkish-Greek relations, and closely monitor their development in tandem with my counterpart in Athens.