Florida’s House Delegation Split on Supporting President Obama’s Call to Arm Syrian Rebels

U.S. President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to defeat ISIL. September 10, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to defeat ISIL. September 10, 2014

Senate Confirms Next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey; Vote on Nominees to Yerevan, Baku Expected in December

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor

This week, the House and Senate considered measures concerning the Armenian American community. Congress was expected to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown on September 30th, when current funding is set to expire. However, after President Obama’s primetime address on September 10th calling for the arming of Syrian rebels, the House voted on a measure to do just that and attached it as an amendment to the CR, setting up a complex and very interesting pattern of voting.

In what Roll Call described as a vote “fractured along untraditional [party] lines,” the House approved the CR 319-108, and 273-156 on the amendment to arm Syrian rebels. 143 Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the CR, while 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans opposed. On the Syria amendment, 159 Republicans were joined by 114 Democrats in support of the measure, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats opposed.

[Also on FLArmenians.com: From Crimea to Kessab: Did the West Approve the Attack on Kessab]

According to several interviews with Armenian American community leaders across the United States, an overwhelming majority support US airstrikes against ISIL. However, they do not support President Obama’s call to train and arm Syrian rebel factions, especially in the wake of the Turkish-backed rebel assault on the Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria earlier this year.

An analysis by FLArmenians.com reveals that House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Congressmen Alan Grayson (D-FL), and David Jolly (R-FL) voted against arming Syrian rebels, yet supported the CR.

Republican Congressmen Ted Yoho (R-FL), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Richard Nugent (R-FL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Curt Clawson (R-FL) voted against both the amendment arming Syrian rebels and the CR. Interestingly, Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), opposed President Obama on both the Syrian amendment and the CR.

Everyone else stood with President Obama in supporting the amendment to arm Syrian rebels and for the CR.

While it is clear that Armenian Americans support the President’s vow to “destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL,” they are wary of training and arming Islamic rebel factions with known ties to al-Qaeda and that have a record of attacking Christians just like ISIL.

[Also on FLArmenians.com: U.S. State Department "Deeply Troubled" by Attacks Against Armenians in Kessab, Syria]

Florida Armenians have an important role to play in this debate. Many Armenian American families in Florida emigrated from Syria, mostly descendants of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Some still have relatives there. They are uniquely familiar with the regional dynamics and can provide critical insight into what groups truly protect and respect religious minorities, be they Christian Armenian, Assyrian, or Yezidi.

Ambassador Nominees to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey

Mills, Cekuta, Bass

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 98-0 to confirm John R. Bass as the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-FL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) submitted to the nominee questions on the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s blockade of Armenia. “We commend Chairman Menendez, and Senators Barbara Boxer, Mark Kirk and Ed Markey for their stance on issues concerning Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia, and other critical issues affecting the region,” stated Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Following in the footsteps of Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who in 1915 alerted the world to the Armenian Genocide, it is important that our Foreign Service officers execute a foreign policy that appropriately reflects America’s values,” he said.

Both Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) supported Bass’ nomination without question.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from President Obama’s nominees to be the next U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively. Both are expected to be confirmed by the full Senate sometime during the lame-duck session, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, November 12th.

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St. Mary Armenian Church to Host Armenia’s Independence Day Picnic

Armenia's Independence Day Picnic - 2014

Emmy Winner Pays Tribute to Women During Genocide

Both Victims and Rescuers to Be Subject of Documentary

By Alin K. Gregorian
Armenian Mirror-Spectator Staff

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. — For many years now, writer, director and producer Bared Maronian has used his talents in a variety of outlets, especially in Florida public television. However, in the past few years, he has decided to bring his skills in putting together documentaries to a subject close to his heart, the Armenian Genocide.

Bared Maronian

Maronian emigrated from Lebanon during that country’s civil war. He was always interested in the arts — folk dance, music, and theater — and with film, he was able to unite all the subjects that interested him, especially as they concerned his heritage.

After graduating from Haigazian University in Beirut and working for a time as a photojournalist, he found his way to the US.

“When I came here, it was hard for me. Eventually I went to the Broadcast Career Institute in Florida,” he said. Not long after that, he landed a job at the local PBS station. He was with PBS for 21 years.

For his PBS work, he has won four regional Emmy awards. “I have been blessed or lucky to get these awards. It gives you confidence,” Maronian said. “That is why I thought with was time for me to do this.”

When he started, he recalled, he worked on local programs, working his way up to regional and national programs. He also worked on the Nightly Business Report and did post-production on various programs, including in the Spanish language. Slowly, he realized that what appealed to him most was making documentaries and telling a story from start to finish.

Maronian said that he worked on some short documentaries, anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, on Armenian subjects and showed them in local settings and some community gatherings. “People approached me and said I should expand them,” he recalled. “For the last five years, I’ve been doing that. The most serious one is ‘Orphans of the Genocide,’” which was released last year.

He works on the Armenian-themed productions such as “Orphans of the Genocide” with the independent Armenoid Team, a subsidiary of Armenoid Productions. Among the other shorts he has done on Armenian subjects are “Komitas Hayrig,” selected by ARP Film Festival in Hollywood and “Wall of the Genocide,” winner of a Telly Award in Historical Communicator category and screened in the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival and ARPA.

Maronian said that the starting point for “Orphans” was a particularly disturbing column by British journalist Robert Fisk on an Armenian orphanage in Antoura, Lebanon, which once housed 1,000 orphans who were forced by punishment to lose their heritage.

He worked on the film for more than three years and eventually it was broadcast on four PBS stations, invited by various communities, universities and clubs for viewing both in the US and around the world, and finally it was shown at various film festivals, including the Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan, Socially Rated Film Festival in New York, Toronto’s Pomegranate Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival’s documentary division. In addition, it will be shown at the 2015 Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights. “They are very interested in making ‘Orphans of the Genocide’ part of the 2015 festival. It is the most important step that the film could take,” Maronian said proudly.

Now, Maronian is focusing on the women who were either victimized during the Genocide but also many American and European women who came to the rescue of the Genocide victims.

Work on “Women of 1915” is “going very well,” Maronian said. Maronian is in the process of fundraising to complete it.

“I am very hopeful that we will realize our financial needs,” he said. “Our initial goal was to finish the film by April 2015, but I did not think that was a realistic deadline. I did not want to jeopardize the quality,” he said. The film will be finished in 1915, but possibly closer to the fall.

“We are filming and still doing some research. It is in the second phase, where we have lined up some interviews with people whose families have experienced the Genocide,” he added.

The film, he explained, would be about “the plight of the Armenian women and all the non-Armenian women who came to the rescue of their sisters. Girls who were 19, 20, 21 left their plush homes in Scandinavia, the US or Canada and volunteered to travel to Western Armenia and the killing fields of the Genocide and met their Armenian sisters,” he said.

He added, “Despite the cultural differences, a sisterhood was created between these two types of women. It was a phenomenal friendship that eventually saved thousands of lives.”

Among the women who will be featured will be writer and activist Zabel Yessayan, Danish humanitarian Karen Yeppe and American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.

As many know, he explained, the “men were taken care of” by the authorities and killing separately, leaving the women, children and elderly at the mercy of the killers.

“The women were tortured, used and abused and besides that, they had to take care of their kids and make a living,” he said. “That is why Armenian needle work and rug weaving are so cultivated.”

Another aspect of the film will be dedicated to Islamized or hidden Armenians. “Turkish women on their death beds would confess that they were Armenian,” Maronian said. Now he said, the topic is being more and more exposed.

The recent attacks in Iraq against the Christians but more so against the Yezidi minority, brought to mind the very same situation of the Armenians early this century. “As soon as I saw the images, on the same type of terrain, Mosul, it’s the stories that we hear, how they walked for miles and miles, the women were raped, the children killed, exactly what happened to the Armenians.” One difference, he stressed, was in the case of the Armenians, the mass murders were ordered by a government, “not a group of thugs.”

Sadly, the events of 2014 also confirm for those who may still not believe that such depravity and murder could take place openly that “what happened to the Armenians is real and not a myth; it really happened. It was the same mentality and the same MO.”

“The ultimate goal of what I am doing is that we need to produce film on the Armenian Genocide and spread awareness of the Genocide and ultimately, hopefully, by educational entertainment, to put an end to genocide,” Maronian said.

He and his wife and daughter live in Florida. “I call on people to check their drawers, shoe boxes from their grandfathers, grandmothers, to tell their stories,” he said. “We would love to hear their stories and in the process gather photos and film.”

This article originally appeared in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator. It is republished with the expressed written consent of the author. 

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