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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), David Valadao (R-CA), and Jackie Speier (D-CA), along with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) returned from Armenia with a better understanding of the challenges facing the region. Reps. Valadao, Pallone, and Gabbard also visited Artsakh.
Reflecting on his past trips to Armenia and Artsakh, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pallone stated: “The progress of the country economically and politically is immediately evident. I visited Armenia several times in the 1990s and early 2000s. Great strides have been made in terms of economic development and improvements in the political system since then.” He continued: “Overall, this trip was a great opportunity for Armenia Caucus members to learn what we need to follow-up on when we’re back in Congress to improve U.S.-Armenian relations with regards to trade, military cooperation, and many other areas.”
The four-day trip, from September 18-21, allowed for several face-to-face meetings with high-level government officials. The delegation met with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who acknowledged the Congressional Delegation’s visit as a crucial step towards strengthening Armenia’s relations with the United States, and expressed his gratitude for their efforts towards deepening bilateral relations in all areas.
They also met Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, National Assembly Speaker Ara Babloyan, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Deputy Foreign Minister Ashot Hovakimian, and His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at Holy Etchmiadzin.
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Valadao said: “Living in the Central Valley, I have heard many stories and descriptions of Armenia from my neighbors and friends. Having the opportunity to experience the country they love firsthand was an unforgettable and enlightening experience. In addition to visiting historic landmarks and learning more about the Armenian culture, I met Armenian business leaders and government officials, examining the positive impact of the strong bond between our two nations.”
In addition to official meetings with the leadership of Armenia and Artsakh, the delegation met with Syrian refugees who found shelter in Armenia, the business community, and beneficiaries of U.S.-funded projects. They also went on special tours and visited American University of Armenia, Impact Hub Yerevan, Megerian Carpet Museum, and Armenia Fund’s rehabilitated music school.
“I saw first-hand the enormous contributions that the diaspora has made to build a bright future for Armenia. The hospitalities extended were second to none, whether it was a visit to the American University of Armenia, to winemakers or music students, Armenia is on the move with a deep determination to continue building a just and democratic society. I left the country with a great sense of gratitude and pride,” Rep. Eshoo stated. “My recent visit to Armenia as it celebrated its 25th year of independence, was an extraordinary experience for me personally and as a Member of Congress. I believe the trip strengthened the relationship between the United States and Armenia, and it also deepened my understanding of the challenges the country has and how the United States can be a helpful partner,” she continued.
Rep. Sensenbrenner previously visited Armenia in 1991 and had the opportunity to observe the Armenian referendum, during which 95% of the population voted for independence from the Soviet Union. He witnessed the country during a crucial transition period as it took its first steps towards democracy, and was able to return many years later to see how the nation developed. The Congressional Delegation’s visit coincided with Armenia’s Independence Day on September 21.
“The need for cooperation between our two countries is ongoing, and this diplomatic mission was important to strengthen relationships and continue to keep lines of communication open. U.S. support has helped bolster Armenian democratic institutions and civil society, and our two countries must continue to work together to advance these interests. The U.S. and Armenia share strong bonds, as America is one of the largest destinations for the Armenian diaspora,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said. “These Armenians have gone on to contribute greatly to their new homes, as well as being influential in the continued struggle for recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
At the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, the U.S. legislators laid flowers at the eternal fire of the Armenian Genocide Monument and observed a moment of silence in tribute to the victims.
Rep. Gabbard noted: “One major issue that continues to be unresolved, is global recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. It is unconscionable that the United States government still has not formally recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide. I stand with Armenians in America and around the world in condemning the Armenian Genocide, and I call on my colleagues to adopt House Resolution 220 so we never forget, or repeat, the suffering endured by the Armenian people.”
Armenian American Rep. Eshoo added: “Despite efforts beginning in 1975 to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, Congress has yet to acknowledge what took place 102 years ago. The deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities by the Ottoman Empire is a fact that must be acknowledged by the United States. Likewise, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh must be resolved and the Minsk Group is important to this effort.”
Members of the delegation met with Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan and National Assembly Speaker Ashot Ghoulyan. During these meetings, they discussed the latest developments in the Artsakh peace process, the role of international organizations in preventing border incidents, as well as the efforts of the Armenian Caucus in strengthening U.S. relations with Armenia and Artsakh. President Sahakyan honored Reps. Pallone, Speier, and Eshoo with Medals of Gratitude for their longtime and substantial contribution to the recognition of the Republic of Artsakh.
Speaker Ghoulyan emphasized the importance of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Artsakh, and acknowledged the latest amendment introduced by Rep. Valadao to ensure continued U.S. support to the de-mining process in Artsakh. Last month, Rep. Valadao spearheaded a bipartisan amendment along with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Armenian Caucus Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Pallone, and Rep. Speier to ensure continued funding for de-mining projects in Artsakh.
Reps. Pallone and Gabbard traveled to Artsakh by helicopter with Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian, Artsakh Foreign Minister Karen Mirzoyan, Artsakh Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, and Armenia Fund, Inc. President Maria Mehranian. The U.S. Representatives addressed the Artsakh Republic National Assembly during one of its sessions. Rep. Pallone described Artsakh as a state with a legitimate government, which declared independence consistent with international law, and has built an effective political structure. Rep. Gabbard emphasized the importance of the United States’ active involvement in the peace process and expressed support for the legitimate right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination.
“The resilience and courage I witnessed in the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh region who remain in an ongoing conflict over their independence, further demonstrates our shared values of freedom, democracy, and self-determination. We must support a diplomatic resolution to this ongoing conflict, such as what has been proposed by the Minsk Group (made up of the United States, France, and Russia), to allow for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to exercise their freedom and independence,” Rep. Gabbard said in a statement.
Rep. Valadao also traveled to Artsakh and met with The HALO Trust to learn more about mine clearance along the borders. Following his visit, he stated: “Families in Nagorno Karabakh live under the constant threat of landmine accidents and I am grateful for the efforts of The HALO Trust to make Nagorno Karabakh a more safe and secure region.” Rep. Valadao continued, “While their work is renown worldwide, I appreciated witnessing their work and learning more about their efforts and dedication firsthand.”
The six Members of Congress are part of an exchange with Armenian Members of Parliament who are expected in Washington, D.C. in the coming months.
Armenian Genocide Documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ to Premier at Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival
The Grigorian Family Trust and the Florida Armenian Genocide Commemoration, Inc. will host the Florida premier of the Armenian Genocide documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) on Wednesday, November 15, at 6:00pm at Savor Cinema.
According to Deadline, “Abramorama and Gathr Films have acquired North American theatrical rights to the Joe Berlinger documentary ‘Intent to Destroy,’ a film-within-a film that centers on the Armenian genocide of 1915 and was a critical favorite at this year’s Tribeca and Hot Docs film festivals. Abramorama will release the film theatrically on Nov. 10 in New York and Los Angeles followed by select cities nationwide. Gathr Films will then expand the release with one-night-only event screenings through its crowd-sourced theatrical distribution platform Theatrical On Demand.”
According to IndieWire, “The Armenian Genocide claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1917, but the truth about the horrors was suppressed because of America’s diplomatic relationship with Turkey. Even as recently as 2016, when filmmaker Terry George set out to make a narrative feature about the tragedy, the Oscar Isaac-starring ‘The Promise,’ he fielded threats from the Turkish government. Academy Award-nominated director Joe Berlinger was on set to capture the challenges — both artistic and political — in making a movie about the Genocide. In the first trailer for this unflinching documentary, ‘Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction,’ Berlinger weaves interviews with filmmakers and historians into his fascinating behind the scenes footage.”
The highly anticipated documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ includes behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film ‘The Promise,’ as well as exclusive interviews with filmmakers, historians, actors, and genocide survivors. The documentary also features new music written and produced by award-winning Armenian American musician Serj Tankian of the rock band ‘System of a Down.’
The Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival premier reception includes live Armenian music by Dick Barsamian on Oud, as well as food and refreshments.
Tickets to the FLIFF premier are $12 and can be purchased online by clicking below.
By Editorial Staff
It was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, a massive Category 5 hurricane with 180+mph sustained winds. Unlike most storms, Irma maintained it’s high intensity for over 70 hours before making landfall in the Caribbean. Days later it would touchdown in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm with 130mph winds.
Hurricane Irma was also the largest storm in size – approximately 350 miles wide – about double the size of Hurricane Andrew which rocked South Florida in 1992. Irma was so large that its effects could be felt in Havana and in Orlando–at the same time.
For me and Arsine, this was not our first major hurricane. We’ve been in South Florida (Palm Beach County) since the early 80’s, and have lived through Hurricanes Andrew (1992), Charley (2004), Ivan (2004), Jeanne (2004), Wilma (2005), and now Irma (2017). Speak to anyone who lived here at the time and they will tell you, “I will never forget Andrew,” which registered over 200mph gusts before knocking out the tower at Miami International Airport. I was ten years old at the time. Around 2:00am, my parents woke me up and we all went into our safe room (the inner most room of the house that doesn’t have windows), and at one point we thought our roof might blow right off. But we survived Andrew, and we rebuilt our home and our lives. Then came 2004, when 3 major hurricanes struck South Florida in 14 days time. The back to back to back storms left us paralyzed. Then came Wilma, the worse storm since Andrew. It was the first time I had ever been inside the eye of a hurricane, and what a feeling it was. The powerful force of Mother Nature is hard to describe when you are in the middle of a storm that uproots trees, tears off roofs, flattens buildings, and floods entire neighborhoods. With Wilma, Taniel’s family lost power for 12 days in Boca Raton. Arsine’s family lost power and running water for 14 days in Coconut Creek.
But this year, things would be different. Floridians have learned a lot in the last 25 years. We’ve learned how to build stronger homes, regularly updating our building code. Our utility companies have adopted new technologies, from stronger transmission lines to the use of drones to asses infrastructure damage and appropriating resources to specific areas in a timely fashion. Our government – city, county, state, and federal – has become highly coordinated in the preparation, monitoring, response, and recovery effort. Our national weather service has added new satellites to track and assess the intensity, direction, and timeline of impact of the tropical systems. Never before have I witnessed Floridians be as prepared as we were for Irma.
In the days leading up, I made about a dozen trips to Publix, Target, and hardware stores. We had supplies to last us a month – bottled water, batteries, flashlights, candles, lighters, gasoline, canned foods, cell phone battery chargers – knowing that if Irma hit South Florida as was originally projected, the effects would be worse than Wilma in 2005. But we got lucky here in South Florida. Our friends in the Keys, Naples, and Marco Island were not as fortunate.
Five days prior to Irma’s landfall in the U.S., Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, preparing federal personnel and resources to be in place and at the ready. Toll roads were opened. 1,000 national guard troops were activated. About 30,000 first responders, disaster clean up, and utility crews were called into the state in advance of the storm.
Arsine and I took the family to the Hyatt Place hotel in downtown West Palm Beach. At about 11:00pm on Saturday night, as tropical storm force winds began, a giant bus parked out front and out came 25 utility workers who had been bused in from Detroit, Michigan. Then about 30 minutes later, another bus pulled up and 25 more workers from Aspen, Colorado got out and checked into the hotel. The Detroit crew were utility and public works professionals ready to assist FPL and local officials in the recovery, repair, and clean up. The Aspen crew was with ASPLUNDH, a tree removal company that would remove the downed trees necessary for the utility workers to get in and repair the power lines. Arsine and I were able to meet and talk with the first responders. They were here, on the ground before the storm, and ready to get out there and help rebuild as soon as possible. Sure enough, they weren’t at breakfast on Monday morning. They had been sent to various parts of the state before the sun had even rose.
When the storm had passed, over half of the state’s population was without power – about 11 million people. As I write this, I still don’t have power in my home, and the road to the island of Palm Beach, where Arsine works, is closed to everyone except residents. Over 100,000 people were stuck in the 400 evacuation shelters scattered across the state. Schools have been closed all week. Curfews are still in effect in some counties, include Palm Beach County where I live. Road U.S. 1 in the Keys is shutdown and impassable, and the entire Monroe County is closed for re-entry. Entire communities have been cut off and thousands of people can’t even return to their homes. Nearly 30 people in Florida lost their lives due to Irma, including 8 seniors who died inside a nursing home in Hollywood, FL that had lost power. But we will remember them, we will learn how to protect life better next time, we will improve our technology, and we will rebuild, like we always do.
A Little Sunshine Among the Storm
Meet Harout Michael Sarkisian, the newest member of the Florida Armenian community. He was born on Thursday, September 7th, 2 days before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida. Together with mom Agunik and dad George, the Sarkisian family camped out at West Boca Medical Center in Boca Raton, FL during Hurricane Irma. Everything turned out OK, and on Monday, after the storm passed, they went home together as a family.
Updates on the Florida Armenian Community from Across the State
Fortunately, members of the Armenian community of Florida did not suffer any injuries or fatalities due to Hurricane Irma. However, after the storm, several Armenian families were stuck without power. Some had evacuated and returned to flood damage at home. Our Armenian Churches fared well overall, but there was some damage at St. Mary Armenian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, and Soorp Haroutiun Armenian Church in Orlando. Below is a detailed roundup from across the state.
St. Petersburg/Tampa, FL
Florida Armenians St. Petersburg Reporter Suren Oganessian Reports:
The hurricane began with a light breeze Saturday evening; during the days leading up to it I was under the impression it would come all at once, but the winds and rain just gradually became more powerful throughout the day. By nightfall on Sunday, the winds were howling. My power went off and on all evening, until around 10 o’clock when it went out for good, and as of now is still out. I was fortunate to be on high ground, away from the storm surge. It was my first hurricane since I moved to Florida from California in early 2015.
According to Oganessian, St. Hagop Armenian Church weathered the storm well with only some downed trees and branches.
Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Rev. Fr. Vartan Joulfayan, Pastor of St. Mary Armenian Church in Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale, FL reports:
Thank God my family is well. We lost power from Sunday morning and got it back on Monday late evening. Our church and hall buildings are standing. There are many trees down on the church property and the church street, NW 100 Ave., was flooded. Unfortunately, water from the altar area ceiling had dripped down on the altar floor causing the carpets to get soaked.
During the hurricane I contacted as many parishioners as possible to check on them. Many families in Miami, North Miami, Coral Gables, Ft. Lauderdale and other areas also lost power. Some parishioners houses were also flooded, and they were obligated to spend Monday night at a friends house.
Fr. Vartan also told FLArmenians.com that he is asking members of the Florida Armenian community to come to St. Mary Armenian Church on Saturday, September 16 from 10:00am to 2:00 pm to do post-hurricane clean up around the church. “There are many trees and branches down that need to be cut into smaller pieces and moved to the dumpster,” he said. “I know you have been busy cleaning and taking care of your own houses, but we also need to take care of our spiritual house.” If you are available, please contact Fr. Vartan at 954-296-1406 and bring your work gloves, chainsaw, machetes, and lawn rakes. Lunch will be provided.
Boca Raton & West Palm Beach, FL
Parishioners of St. David Armenian Church in Boca Raton are safe and our church did not suffer any major damage. Fr. Paren informed FLArmenians.com that the Church has regained power and the A/C is running. St. David is open for anyone who needs shelter, A/C, kitchen and gas grill/bbq to cook food, WiFi/Internet. For assistance please call Fr. Paren at 847-732-7183.
Rev. Fr. Armash Bagdasarian, Pastor of Soorp Haroutiun Armenian Church reports:
Thank God, everyone in our community is OK. We received news that many have lost power and have leaks; but other than that thank God everyone is OK and no serious damages to report. Yesterday, I was able to go check the Church after the 6 pm curfew was lifted. There is no damage thank God; just water leaking from the ceiling from various places.
FLArmenians.com reader Armen Meliksetyan told us that he and his family were safe, and sent us these photos from Largo, just north of St. Petersburg:
Florida Armenians Tallahassee Reporter Margaret Atayants reports:
Thank God the hurricane passed right by us. We were lucky. Tallahassee is doing well. Most of the city is back up on it’s feet and there is just some minor clean up that is being done right now. Our fence was broken when we came home from staying at my brothers house. All the other Armenians in our community here in Tallahassee did not report anything serious!
Florida Armenians Naples Reporter Frank and Susan Avakian reports:
The hurricane barreled through late Sunday afternoon. Our section of town was without electricity from Sunday to Tuesday afternoon. Frank and I came through the hurricane in one piece – fortunately, our house and neighborhood were spared downed power lines, uprooted trees, flooding, roof damage, etc., but other parts of town look like a bomb went off. (and try Florida in September with no air conditioning!)
There is still no phone service, landline or cell, and I just got the internet back! But we are so thankful that we, our children and grandchildren are well. This too shall pass!
Miami Beach, FL
Mark Samuelian, Candidate for Miami Beach City Commission visited the senior centers in Miami Beach on Thursday with sweet treats and asking the seniors their preparation plans for the storm. Later that afternoon, he volunteered with the city filling sandbags for residents and helping load the bags into their cars. Miami Beach had mandatory evacuations and many residents took shelter outside the city. Some areas of Miami Beach experienced flooding and many neighborhoods had downed trees, debris and downed power lines. Power is quickly being restored and residents were allowed back into the beach on Tuesday morning. Miami Beach still has a curfew in effect. The Samuelian team will be volunteering to help get the city back to normal.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is on the ground aiding in recovery efforts by supporting shelters, delivering food and water, and distributing federal disaster relief funds. To find out if you qualify for FEMA assistance you can visit www.disasterassistance.gov, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or download the free FEMA app here: https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app.
Take Action: Volunteer Florida
If you’ve regained power, cleaned up around your home, and are back up and running, you’re lucky. But not everyone is. Florida Armenians encourages those who are able to help contact their church, family, and friends and give them a hand in the recovery. We also encourage you to help your community by signing up at VolunteerFlorida.org/Irma.
Volunteer Florida is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during, and after disasters. Volunteer Florida mobilizes and deploys resources to assist those responding to and recovering from disasters. In response to Hurricane Irma, Volunteer Florida is mobilizing volunteers to staff our state’s shelters and other disaster relief organizations.
Updated on Wednesday, September 20 at 3:07pm.