Friday, July 03, 2009

Arms profiteers versus Armenian people

WHY, in these recession-hit times, when companies are backing off so many projects, have six big corporations - one of them BAE Systems(formerly known as British Aerospace) found money to lobby the US Congress, not over trade restrictions, taxes or legislation that might obviously effect business, but on an issue concerning something that happened almost a century ago?

A recent report by Associated Press writer Stephen Singer,featured in the Boston Globe, "Companies lobby (quietly) on Armenia genocide bill, June 13, said:"Five military contractors and an energy company have stepped into a fight over whether the U.S. should label Turkey's slaughter of a million Armenians nearly a century ago as genocide".

The companies concerned are BAE, Goodrich, Northrop Grunman, Raytheon, United Technologies,all in the weapons business, and Chevron, an oil company. Not suprisingly they all have ties with Turkey, "a key strategic ally of the US", as Singer notes.

What is perhaps surprising is that almost a century after the 1915 massacres, when the Turkish government could apologise and say it has nothing to do with what was done so long ago, during the First World War, the Turkish state is apparently still in denial, so much that companies with business in Turkey find it worthwhile to lobby for silence.
Not that the companies have made any public statement.

"They don't want to be seen opposing a resolution that has a very evident human rights element," said Rouben Adalian, director of the Armenian National Institute, a Washington research organization. "It would put them on the side of denying history and denying genocide."

According to the Associated Press report the six companies spent $14 million to lobby Congress in the first quarter of this year. Besides the genocide resolution, the companies lobbied on Pentagon spending, climate change, taxes and more.

"United Technologies, which sells Sikorsky helicopters to Turkey, says it provided information to lawmakers 'that helped round out their understanding of the international trade and national security interests involved.'

"Lobbying on human rights issues comes with risks, said Gerry Keim, associate dean at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. Several companies halted their efforts opposing restrictions on white minority-ruled South Africa in the 1980s when anti-apartheid activists applied pressure.

"Originally, they were concerned about markets in South Africa. Then they were concerned about markets here," Keim said. Other analysts say any public backlash against companies lobbying on the Armenia genocide resolution would be minimal because the firms serve governments, not individual consumers who could boycott their products.

"Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million mostly Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey denies that the deaths were genocide, saying the number of casualties is inflated and was the consequence of civil war and unrest."

Among the current U.S.-Turkish business links are a $3 billion contract from Northrop to a Turkish company to be a supplier for fighter jets. Goodrich Corp. and a Turkish firm agreed to a joint venture for maintenance and repair work on engine components. BAE Systems and a Turkish company jointly market and supply armored vehicles to the Turkish armed forces.

Chevron holds a stakes in a pipeline that crosses the country. Raytheon has agreed to sell to Turkey Stinger missile launcher systems valued at $34 million and is working to sell its missile defense systems.

Representatives of the U.S. subsidiary of London-based BAE Systems PLC and Northrop referred questions to the Aerospace Industries Association. The trade group defended Turkey as a key U.S. ally and cited "large and growing commercial ties" between the two nations.

The Centre for Armenian Remembrance has expressed concern that the big corporations are spending as much as a million dollars a week. "The world-wide Armenian community cannot match this level of expenditure" It is appealing for people to sign a petition that will go to the company heads and key stockholders.

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