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Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston Brings Armenian History and Culture to Life in South Florida

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By Mercedes Gechidjian
FLArmenians Miami Contributor

BOCA RATON, FL – What does it mean to be an Armenian? What have the Armenian people been through in 3,000 years? How have we flourished as a people and as a nation? These are some of the questions that Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston’s (SNDC) production A Journey Through Time answered during their powerful performance on Saturday, January 24 at Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton.

SNDC 1The event was held in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians were brutally tortured and killed by Turkish nationalists. The show took the audience on a magical and heartfelt journey through Armenian history, in which the adoption of Christianity, the genocide, and the creation of a free and independent Armenia were portrayed.

The program was organized into two parts. Part one, consisted of a travel through time, in which the audience met famed Armenian hero’s Saint Gregory the Illuminator in Khor Virab and Vartan Mamigonian in the Battle of Avarayr, among many others. Yet, the most agonizing encounter was with the twenty brides of Adana in 1909, where the audience saw the gruesome execution of twenty, innocent, young women. Part two, on the other hand, celebrated the many cultural and melodic dances of the Armenian culture, including crowd favorites, Kochari* and Nare Nare.* This part of the production showed that, even amid tragedy, Armenians have always managed to stay connected to their roots and the essence of being Armenian; in addition to finding both peace and courage through the art of music and dancing.

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According to the definition by SNDC: Kochari- “Is an ancient national, ritual dance symbolizing movements that express the sense of “fighting the battle of life.” Nare Nare- “[is a] festive dance celebrating the spirit, love, and allegiance of Armenians to their homeland.”

SNDC 2This wonderful event would not have been possible without the Armenian Genocide Commemoration, Inc. (AGC) and their efforts to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide in Florida. Their mission is to educate Armenian and non-Armenians in the local community on a very dark time in world history. “I felt proud, relieved, wired,” stated Arsine Kaloustian, the Public Affairs Director of Florida Armenians and Chairman of AGC. “A lot of people and a lot of work went into bringing Sayat Nova to Florida. There were a lot of moving parts to this and to watch it come together so seamlessly was energizing. To know that it was the first official event in the USA that was commemorating the centennial was very emotional for me,” Kaloustian said.

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With over 700 tickets sold, Sayat Nova’s A Journey Through Time was a great success for the Armenian community of Florida, and encouraged all of us to help raise awareness and seek justice towards the atrocities that occurred in 1915. As the Armenian proverb states, “If the village stands, it can break a trunk (strength increases unity).”

 

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.

Justice Department Files Reveal Activities of Firms Lobbying for Turkey

By Harout Sassounian
The California Courier

Sassounian headshotLast week, I described the terms of the $1.4 million contract signed by the Gephardt Group, the lobbying firm of former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, to promote Turkey’s interests in Washington.

Realizing that its relationship with the United States has seriously deteriorated, the Turkish government has been pouring millions of dollars into the coffers of several U.S. firms, hoping to improve its image by whitewashing the dark stains of its dictatorial regime. For that purpose, Ankara on May 12 signed a contract with former Turkish national swimming champion Huma Gruaz and her Chicago-based public relations firm Alpaytac, Inc., for $1,420,000 a year. Oddly enough, instead of making monthly payments, the Turkish government gave Alpaytac $1 million up front upon signing the agreement, and paid the balance of $420,000 in the first three months. Alpaytac thus replaced the public relations firm of Fleishman-Hillard, which had received $779,805 from the Turkish Embassy for the 6-month period from Nov. 1, 2013 to April 30, 2014, at which time its contract was terminated.

In addition, Ankara benefits from the activities of the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), which spent over $1 million to sponsor 170 congressional trips to Turkey since 2000. The TCA was founded in 2007 by Massachusetts microchip millionaire Yalcin Ayasli, who has donated close to $140,000 in the past 18 months to several pro-Turkish members of Congress, according to Al-Monitor.

Most people are unaware that pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, American firms representing foreign clients are required to report to the U.S. Justice Department their day-to-day activities every six months.

Alpaytac’s six-month report is not yet due. However, we would like to present excerpts from the detailed files the Gephardt Group and its subcontractors—Greenberg Traurig LLP, Lydia Borland, Brian Forni, and Dickstein Shapiro LLP—submitted to the Justice Department regarding their specific activities on behalf of Turkey from Aug. 1, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014:

– On Sept. 19, 2013, forwarded a letter from Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek to Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Patrick Leahy.

– Sent emails to Reps. Castro, Cohen, Connolly, Deutch, Esty, Foxx, Frankel, Gabbard, Kennedy, Schneider, Wagner, and Whitfield and Sen. Murphy regarding the upcoming visit of Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu; contacts were also established with several other members of Congress to discuss Syria, Iran sanctions, Hamas, and missile defense.

– Dick Gephardt reported making campaign contributions from Sept. 24 to Dec. 12, 2013 to: Reps. Alcee Hastings ($1,000), Barbara Lee ($1,000), Marjorie Margolies ($1,000), Richard Neal ($1,250), Brad Schneider ($500), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz ($1,500), Marc Veasey ($1,000), and Henry Waxman ($1,000); and Sens. Dick Durbin ($2,500), Mary Landrieu ($1,000), Claire McCaskill ($1,000), Mark Pryor ($1,500), and Ron Wyden ($2,500).

– Gephardt Group employees contributed to Sens. Dick Durbin ($500) and Jeanne Shaheen ($1,500); and Reps. Steve Cohen ($500), Colleen Hanabusa ($1,250), Jim Moran ($500), Brad Schneider ($500), and Henry Waxman ($500).

– Employees of Gephardt Group subcontractor Dickstein Shapiro LLC contacted Ben Branch, legislative director to Cong. Gregory Meeks, “regarding legislation focused on Turkish regional issues.” On behalf of Dickstein Shapiro, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert met with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan and Sen. Ron Johnson “regarding U.S.-Turkey relations.”

– Other Dickstein Shapiro employees contacted the offices of Reps. George Holding, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gregory Meeks, Chellie Pingree, Robert Pittenger, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, and Ed Whitfield; and Sens. John Boozman, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Roger Wicker to discuss Turkish regional issues, Cyprus, Travel to Turkey, and U.S.-Turkey relations.

– Dickstein Shapiro employees contributed over $60,000 to the political campaigns of congressional candidates from July 20 to Dec. 19, 2013, including Sens. Lamar Alexander ($2,500), Kay Hagan ($9,000), Amy Klobuchar ($2,000), Mitch McConnell ($2,500), Mark Pryor ($2,500), and Tim Scott ($1,000); and Reps. Sanford Bishop ($2,500), Emanuel Cleaver ($1,500), Rick Crawford ($2,500), Steve Daines ($2,500), John Dingell ($1,000), Bill Huizenga ($2,500), Eddie Bernice Johnson ($1,000), Adam Kinzinger ($2,500), Mike McIntyre ($5,000), Buck McKeon ($1,500), Dutch Ruppersberger ($2,500), and Ed Whitfield ($2,500).

Since the lobbying firms hired by Turkey are obligated by law to report their detailed activities, it is important to regularly check their Justice Department filings to find out who they are contacting in Congress, for what purpose, and how much are they contributing to their political campaigns.

Harout Sassounian is a syndicated columnist, author, political analyst, and human rights activist in Los Angeles, California. He is the editor of The California Courier, a leading Armenian American weekly newspaper. 

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