By Joshua Kucera

ISN, Switzerland
April 28 2008

Turkish-Americans are taking increased steps to build their influence
in Washington, Joshua Kucera writes for EurasiaNet.

Turkish-American groups are making a bid to expand their political
influence in the United States, expressly aiming to counter the
considerable sway of their Armenian-American rivals on Capitol Hill.

The coordinated effort includes strengthening Turkish-American
grassroots organizations, improving relations with elected officials
and the media and legal defense of those who advocate pro-Turkey
positions. Representatives of several Turkish groups described the
long-term strategy at the American Turkish Council's Conference on
US Turkish Relations, at a 14 April session called "Empowering the
Turkish-American Community."

The representatives repeatedly stressed their intention to put forth
a positive vision of Turkey, rather than in taking adversarial
positions. But the effort is geared toward advancing the Turkish
interpretation of the 1915 massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire,
which Armenians and most historians call genocide but which Turks
call regrettable deaths in a messy war.

"Our cause is not anti-Armenian, or anti-Greek, anti-Bulgarian or
anti-Arab. It's to try to create a balance on issues that impact
Turkey, Greece, Armenia and other countries in the Caucasus and
Middle East," said Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition
of America.

The goal, said Nurten Ural, president of the Assembly of Turkish
American Organizations, is to strengthen the Turkish position ahead
of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 events.

The issue of the Armenian genocide comes up every year before Congress,
as pro-Armenia members of Congress try to pass a resolution officially
recognizing the genocide. But while Armenians rely on their large and
well-organized diaspora in the US to advance their agenda, Turks have
relied on high-priced lobbyists hired by Ankara, and on the Pentagon,
which maintains a longtime military alliance with Turkey.

Turks in America are significantly outnumbered by Armenians:
according to Kaya Boztepe, president of the Federation of Turkish
American Associations, there are 1.5 million Armenian-Americans
and about 450,000 Turkish-Americans. But there are also 450,000
Azerbaijani-Americans and 935,000 Americans of Azeri Iranian descent,
along with smaller numbers of related groups like Uzbeks and Tatars,
he said.

"Sometimes people say 'there are so many people fighting against
us.' There are 1.5 million Armenians, mostly in California. But less
than half are really dedicated, less than half of that really follow
up and only 50,000 of them make donations," he said.

The presence of several veterans of pro-Turkey lobbying, however,
suggests that at least so far the effort is somewhat more top-down
than grassroots. McCurdy, a former US diplomat, is the former president
and CEO of the American-Turkish Council, a group of heavyweight US and
Turkish government and business leaders. Lydia Borland, who is helping
the Turkish-American groups improve their relations with members of
Congress, is currently on the council's executive committee, and was
until last year a registered lobbyist for the Turkish-US Business
Council, according to Senate records.

"The biggest bar for Turkish Americans is the belief that they can't
make a difference," Borland said at the conference.

The Assembly of Turkish American Associations is holding seminars
across the country for Turkish-Americans to learn about how to make
their case to politicians, the media and the public. So far, the
assembly has held 19 seminars and is planning 11 more.

The goal is to foster a "Turkish-American community who is confident in
themselves, assertive in public education and advocacy and comfortable
with confrontation," said Nurten Ural, the assembly's president.

The last 18 months have seen the formation of the first two
Turkish-American political action committees, which raise money for
pro-Turkey politicians. Since January of 2007 the two committees -
Turkish Coalition USA PAC and Turkish-American Heritage PAC - have
raised US$660,000 for congressional candidates, said McCurdy, who is
also the treasurer of Turkish Coalition USA PAC.

The groups are also trying to get a Turkish-American elected
to Congress. "We have to get a Turk in Congress - actually two,
a Democrat and a Republican," McCurdy said. "I'm confident we're
going to see that in two years."

In the meantime, Turkish groups have managed to increase the numbers
in the Congressional Turkish Caucus; the caucus now numbers 77 members,
having added 15 members just since the 2006 elections.

Turkish lobbying groups have specifically targeted black members of
Congress. Twelve members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also
in the Turkish Caucus, according to Lydia Borland.

Turkish groups are also looking to form alliances with other ethnic
groups in the United States, in particular Bosnian Muslims, Macedonians
and Albanians. "We believe there is a special bond to be created
with communities with which Turkey shares a historical relationship
and a cultural affinity," said Guler Koknar, vice president of the
Turkish Coalition of America, which provides scholarships targeted to
university students in each of those groups to study abroad in Turkey.

The TCA is also targeting scholarships to US minorities. It provides
a US$2,000 travel grant for any African-American college student
who wants to study in Turkey. "This is the most underprivileged,
underrepresented groups of study abroad students, and we think it's
a shame that it is so. As you know, the African-American community is
on the rise, its place in this society is growing by leaps and bounds
and its effectiveness, too," Koknar said. That program has been so
successful that it is being expanded to include Hispanic Americans
and Native Americans, Koknar said.

Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who
specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the
Middle East.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress