WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this year, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) held its annual members meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. Organized by the Assembly’s South Florida Regional Council (SFRC) Chair Arsine Kaloustian and Assembly Board of Trustees Member and Life Trustee Lu Ann Ohanian, the annual members weekend in March included a three-day program of meetings, receptions, and events.
The success of the Assembly’s annual members weekend was ensured thanks to the generosity of Gold Sponsors Carolyn Mugar, Joyce Stein, Lu Ann & Bruce Ohanian, and Peter Vosbikian; Silver Sponsors Michael Haratunian and Annie Totah; Bronze Sponsors Marta Batmasian, James Kalustian, and Harry & Edna Keleshian; and Donors Ara Jabrayan, Ed Shooshanian, Hagop & Arlys Koushakjian, and Nevart Talanian.
The weekend kicked off with a “Pints and Professionals” reception at Tap 42 restaurant, organized by Florida Chair Arsine Kaloustian. Over 100 guests from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties gathered in downtown Boca Raton to enjoy complimentary cocktails and appetizers in a business casual atmosphere throughout the evening.
“The Assembly is looking towards the future with fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking to build up new membership as well as engage the active member base we already have. The three events we hosted in Florida reflected that aim. Our networking event, ‘Pints and Professionals,’ was particularly successful. Over 100 young Armenian professionals in attendance were anxious to learn more about the Assembly and excited for other upcoming events,” Kaloustian said. “The South Florida Regional Council plans to continue this renewed energy and encouraging momentum for the duration of 2016,” she added.
On Saturday morning, Assembly members and friends gathered at the Boca Raton Marriott for the Members and Board of Trustees meeting. The meeting featured reports from Board of Trustees Co-Chairmen Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, Board President Carolyn Mugar, and other board members and staff. Members also approved the Assembly’s annual budget and amended by-laws. The Board of Trustees meeting will hereafter convene every two years, rather than annually, to review the organization’s budget, endowment fund, and audit reports.
The Assembly’s current Board of Trustees include Anthony Barsamian, Co-Chairman; Van Krikorian, Co-Chairman; Hirair Hovnanian, Chairman Emeritus; Carolyn Mugar, President; Robert A. Kaloosdian, Vice Chairman and Counselor; Edele Hovnanian, Vice President; Bianka Kadian-Dodov, Treasurer; Oscar Tatosian, Secretary; Lisa Kalustian, Assistant Secretary; Aram Gavoor; Alex Karapetian; Raffi Kassarjian; Lu Ann Ohanian; Toros Sahakian; Joyce Stein; Annie Totah; and Talin Yacoubian. Mark Momjian will continue to serve as Solicitor.
During the meeting, the Assembly thanked Michael and Marie Haratunian, who became life trustees after years of dedication with the Assembly. Former Chairman of the Board Michael Haratunian participated in the Airlie House conferences that established the Armenian Assembly of America in 1972 and served as a member of the Board of Directors for many years. He also participated in the Assembly’s Mission Trips to Armenia in 1993, 1994, and 1997.
“The Armenian Assembly, the Armenian American community, and Armenians around the world are grateful to Michael and Marie Haratunian for their hard work over the years, preparing a new generation of leaders,” Assembly Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said. “The value they place on the Assembly’s core philosophy to approach important issues in Washington in a professional and on a non-partisan basis yielded a remarkable record of success, promoted four decades of interns, and helped Armenians everywhere.”
Krikorian and Barsamian also recognized several Assembly members and other prominent Armenian American leaders who passed away over the last year, honoring them with a moment of silence. Assembly members spoke in memory of the departed: Harry Keleshian; Gregory Adamian; George Kay; Hirant Candan; George Yacoubian, Sr.; former Washington Post Editor Ben Bagdikian; and former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore. While speaking about Ambassador Gilmore, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) shared about the tree planting on October 14 at the Memorial Park in Parakar Village, west of Yerevan, which was done in his honor.
During the meeting, the Board of Trustees reviewed the Armenian Genocide centennial anniversary year and presented updates on Assembly activities from around the world, including Vatican City, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Yerevan, and more. The Assembly members reviewed the events in 2015 and additions to the Assembly’s staff, with new positions filled in California, Washington, D.C., and Armenia.
Krikorian spoke about the new, young leadership and the updated by-laws, aimed at charting the Assembly’s path toward a successful future. The board announced the now-mobile friendly Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) website as an example, and showcased the virtual museum. AGMA is now easily accessible on mobile and tablet devices.
Reflecting on the situation on the front line of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, prior to the four-day war, Krikorian displayed the Assembly-created Artsakh Cease-Fire Map, depicting violations by Azerbaijan on the Line of Contact. As feared, Azerbaijani aggression reached new heights in the weeks following the Assembly’s Annual Trustees Meeting, further endangering the region for Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, as well as refugees being forced to escape persecution in Syria and Iraq.
Barsamian discussed recent meetings he had with various officials, including President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia as well as OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Ambassador James Warlick in Washington, D.C. He mentioned exciting new projects in store for Armenia, including the Smithsonian Armenia spotlight on the National Mall Discovery Center to be opened in 2018, where the Armenia Tree Project plans to play a significant role.
Assembly President Carolyn Mugar presented on the Assembly and ATP’s tree planting projects. She focused on last April’s commemoration dedicated to the memory of U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau in Armenia, where ten members of the extended Morgenthau family, including eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren of Ambassador Morgenthau, participated in several ATP events.
On Saturday evening, Assembly members and friends gathered for a reception where guests discussed the new energy and planned initiatives of the Assembly. Attendees enjoyed the rest of the night dancing with live music provided by Dick Barsamian (Oud), John Arzigian (Accordion), and Mike Gregian (Dumbeg).
The Assembly’s Annual Members Meeting weekend concluded on Sunday with a book presentation at St. David’s Church where renowned Armenian American photojournalist Scout Tufankjian presented her book There is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenian Diaspora Project. Released in April 2015, the publication culminates six years dedicated to documenting Armenian communities in over 20 countries. Tufankjian is best known for her photography during the Barack Obama campaigns and her work in the Middle East reporting on the Egyptian Revolution.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
As the race for the White House heats up, Armenian Americans across the country are beginning to look more closely at who will best represent their interests as President of the United States. For many Armenian Americans, the 2016 election cycle concludes a chapter in the worst administration on Armenian American issues in modern presidential history. With the broken promises of Barack Obama, whether to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as President or to increase U.S. assistance to Armenia, the Armenian American community has learned that campaign promises are no true indicator of support after the election. However, one can and should look to a candidates record, votes, statements, and over-all positions in order to arrive at an informed decision as to whether or not that candidate deserves your support.
When looking through the Armenian American lens, the Republican Party has the stronger track record and Marco Rubio is the top choice of all the candidates running for President of the United States of America.
The Race as it Stands
As of this writing, Donald Trump currently leads the Republican Party’s nomination contest with 82 pledged delegates, followed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who are tied with 17, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) with 6, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 4. There are a total 2,340 delegates available and 1,237 are needed to secure the Republican nomination.
The race for the Republican Party’s nomination could very well be determined in less than 30 days. Super Tuesday, March 1, will see 11 states hold primary votes. For Republicans, 595 delegates are up for grabs, including Cruz’s home state of Texas, about 48% of the total delegates required to win the nomination.
Florida and Ohio will hold their “winner-take-all” primaries on March 15, along with Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. In the month of March, 1,398 delegates will be awarded, enough to secure the nomination.
Heading into Super Tuesday, emphasis will be on the ability of each candidate to sweep a large number of delegates and if Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich win their home states. If it doesn’t become a two-man race by the end of March simple arithmetic suggests that Trump will likely be the Republican nominee.
During his tenure in the United States Senate, Marco Rubio (R-FL) has established the strongest record in support of Christian and Armenian American issues of all the candidates in the field, including but not limited to genocide recognition, and not just in Armenia.
On Armenian American legislation, Rubio voted YES on the Armenian Genocide recognition resolution, S.Res. 410, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) in 2014. The bill passed 12-5; the first time an Armenian Genocide resolution has ever passed this committee.
In 2015, Rubio cosponsored S.Res. 140, the Armenian Genocide resolution, which is currently pending in the Senate with 21 signatories. “As your United States Senator, and as a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, I was proud to co-sponsor S.Res. 140 in support of an Armenian-Turkish relationship following the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We must continue to fight as an international community with passion and dignity in defense of human rights,” Rubio said in a letter to the Armenian American community to mark the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “Please know that you have my full support for your cause,” Rubio said.
Senator Marco Rubio reinforced his position in support of U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide when he joined Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and 13 other Senators in a letter urging President Obama to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide on the centennial anniversary and to attend the commemorative events in Yerevan, Armenia. Obama did not attend the ceremonies in Yerevan, and sent Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew in his place.
Also in 2015, Senator Rubio signed a letter to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev regarding the regime’s violent crackdown on political and human rights activists, imprisonment of journalists, and general turn toward authoritarian rule. Rubio’s position on the side of individual liberties, freedom of the press, and democracy is an important element to consider.
Those watching the Republican presidential debates have noticed that, unlike other candidates on either stage, Rubio has repeatedly and unequivocally called out the Islamic State’s barbaric violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities in the Middle East as genocide. He also does not hesitate to discuss his Christian heritage and faith, whether it’s his views on life or where his children go to school. As such, he joined Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), a champion of Armenian American issues, as an original cosponsor of S.Res. 340, a bill that would label as genocide ISIS attacks on Armenians, Assyrians, Yezidis, and other ethnicities of religious antiquity in the Middle East.
In addition to his unparalleled record, Marco Rubio has the backing of key political figures. Former Republican Presidential nominee Senator Robert Dole (R-KS), who led the charge on the Senate floor for Armenian Genocide recognition in 1991, endorsed Rubio. “I’m supporting Rubio,” Dole told ABC News last week, “he wants to grow the party.”
Vice Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) also endorsed Rubio last week. “Having served with Marco in the Florida Legislature and in Congress, I know him to be a leader that inspires hope and instills in all of us a love of country that we felt under another inspirational leader – Ronald Reagan. Marco Rubio’s life story is proof positive that American exceptionalism is real, but we need to fight to preserve it and expand it to more people. His story teaches us that the son of immigrant parents, who came to this country for freedom and opportunity, can achieve anything, including holding the highest office in the land, where I know Marco will work every day to give back to the country that changed his family’s history.”
In 2015, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also cosponsored S.Res. 140, the Armenian Genocide resolution. Although Cruz is currently a member of the SFRC, he was not on the committee in 2014, and therefore has never had an opportunity to vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution.
Senator Cruz also issued a powerful statement to the Armenian American community to commemorate the centennial anniversary. “100 years ago, the world was too silent as the Armenian people suffered a horrific genocide,” Cruz said in his letter. “Today, we commemorate more than a million souls who were extinguished by the Ottoman Government. Let the terrors of those events awaken in us the courage to always stand for freedom against evil forces. As Pope Francis rightly said, ‘Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.’ The massacre of the Armenian, Assyrian and other Christian people should be called what it is: genocide.”
Governor John Kasich (R-OH) has a mixed record on Armenian American issues over his career in Congress (1983-2000). Like Cruz, he has never faced a vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution. However, Kasich’s most recent record shows him as an original cosponsor of H.Res. 155, the genocide recognition bill of 1999. As governor, Kasich issued a proclamation in 2012 congratulating Armenia on its 21st anniversary of independence.
Carson and Trump
As a retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson has no record in support or opposition to Armenian American issues.
Although Donald Trump has never held elective office, he has a record of questionable business practices, one of which should seriously concern Armenian Americans. According to a Eurasia.net report last year:
“Trump lent his name and management know-how to an upcoming, sail-shaped skyscraper in Baku that is owned by billionaire Anar Mammadov, Mother Jones magazine reported on July 29. Mammadov is a son of the country’s powerful transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov, a man whose family has been long accused of battening on privileged access to government contracts for infrastructure development.
“The deal and Mammadov’s role as a champion of Azerbaijani interests in the US — he heads the Azerbaijan America Alliance — exemplify the two parallel worlds of US-Azerbaijani relations. Baku now bitterly rebukes Washington’s criticism of its dismal human rights records, even as its insiders actively lobby and sweet-talk US politicians.
“And, apparently, investors like Trump.”
Trump’s pro-Azerbaijan leaning is reinforced by the support of Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ). In 2012, Governor Christie issued a proclamation on the so-called “Khojaly massacre” which ridiculously accuses Armenians of committing ethnic cleaning against Azerbaijanis during the 1991-94 Nagorno Karabakh War. The growing Muslim Azerbaijan lobby in Washington, led by the Azerbaijan American Alliance, with who’s founder Trump has a business relationship, has shopped around such anti-Armenian proclamations and resolutions in order to cover up and divert attention from Azerbaijan’s Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku pogroms against Christian Armenians in 1988-90.
Christie came to Trump’s rescue in an endorsement on Friday after Rubio used the same attack wielded by the New Jersey Governor against Rubio on Trump. “I watched you repeat yourself five times four weeks ago,” Trump exclaimed at the Republican Presidential debate on Thursday night in Houston, TX. “I watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago,” Rubio rebuffed after Trump failed to articulate a healthcare plan.
The Right Choice
Armenian Americans focusing on November must remain mindful of the historical record of the individual, statements made, and tough votes cast in order to make an informed decision about the person and the party accordingly. While there are and have always been genuine, ardent, and steadfast Democratic supporters of Armenian American interests, the historical record reveals that Republican leadership has been more successful. When viewed through the Armenian American lens, it would be foolish for Armenian Americans to continue to reward a party and a President that has been unable to deliver when it mattered most.
There are plenty of issues on the Armenian American agenda. U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide, defending the rights of Nagorno Karabakh citizens to live freely, and Christian persecution in the Middle East are the most compelling for Armenian Americans in 2016. How legislators act when in power and vote when it counts is what reveals true leadership.
Like other minority groups in America, Armenians are not a monolithic voting block, nor should we be. But we must wake up the political consciousness of our constituency and make the right choice in this election-and that choice is Marco Rubio.
*Updated at 11:15 pm with the addition of Senator Rubio’s signature on the Senate letter to President Obama on the Armenian Genocide centennial anniversary.
In South Florida U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial Presents Findings on Genocide and Mass Atrocities in Iraq
By Mercedes Gechidjian
FLArmenians Miami Contributor
On Tuesday, February 9th and on Wednesday, February 10th, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton and the University of Miami (UM), respectively, had the honor of hosting a presentation by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) entitled “Exposing the Darkness: Perspectives on Mass Atrocities.” The panel discussion featured human rights experts Naomi Kikoler, Deputy Director at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the USHMM, and photographer Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin. This brilliant, powerful discussion was co-hosted by FAU’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education and by the University of Miami Hillel.
In 2015, Kikoler and Knowles-Cousin travelled to northern Iraq to document evidence of mass atrocities carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). The USHMM report found that IS has committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing against various minority groups and perpetrated genocide against the Yezidi people.
“The event discussed previous atrocities, such as the Holocaust and crimes in Iraq, and brought forth ideas on how these atrocities could be prevented,” stated Michael Bezjian, a University of Miami Armenian Student Association (UM-ASA) member who was present at the Miami panel.
Knowles-Coursin’s work focuses on identity within the context of migration and statelessness, so his photographs documenting the Islamic State’s brutality brought to life the plight of the displaced and persecuted.
According to USHMM’s mission statement, the “Museum strives to broaden public understanding of the history of the Holocaust through multifaceted programs: exhibitions; research and publication; collecting and preserving material evidence, art and artifacts related to the Holocaust; annual Holocaust commemorations known as Days of Remembrance; distribution of education materials and teacher resources; and a variety of public programming designed to enhance understanding of the Holocaust and related issues, including those of contemporary significance.”
Florida Armenians were encouraged to attend the USHMM discussion in the hopes of raising awareness and broadening perspectives on genocide and man’s inhumanity to man.
“Growing up as an Armenian American, I’m no stranger to the stories of genocide, as they were told to me by my grandparents, who learned from their parents. Attending high school in South Florida, we learned about Nazi Germany and the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps during WWII,” stated Florida Armenians Boca Raton Chair George Sarkisian who was present at the FAU presentation.
“’Exposing the Darkness: Perspectives on Mass Atrocities’ was truly eye-opening, and really put in context the level of violence currently taking place in Iraq and Syria. The pictures and stories shared by the panelists provided a small but powerful glimpse into the lives of the people suffering at the hands of ISIS. I was especially touched by the pictures and stories of the displaced people living in camps located in northern Iraq and it feels like the history of the Armenian people a century ago may well be repeating itself today,” Sarkisian said.