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House of Representatives Urges Turkey to Safeguard Christian Heritage, Return Confiscated Church Properties

House of Representatives Urges Turkey to Safeguard Christian Heritage, Return Confiscated Church Properties

Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Gus Bilirakis Cosponsor H. Res. 306

Washington, DC – This week, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted by voice vote H. Res. 306, legislation calling on the Republic of Turkey to protect its Christian heritage and return confiscated church properties. Introduced by Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), H. Res. 306 was cosponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), both members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues.

“This bipartisan bill reflects America’s values and represents an important step towards preserving the heritage of the Armenian community and other minority communities within Turkey,” stated the Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian in Washington, DC.

As amended, H. Res. 306 calls on Turkey to “end all forms of religious discrimination” and return confiscated church properties and artifacts. The revised bill mirrors the Berman-Cicilline amendment that was adopted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee by a vote of 43-1 earlier this year.

“It has been my privilege to be a strong voice for oppressed religious minorities throughout the world,” Congressman Bilirakis said. “I am pleased that my colleagues once again sent a strong message in support of religious freedom in a manner that transcends party politics by unanimously condemning Turkey for failing to safeguard its Christian heritage or return confiscated church properties,” stated Bilirakis.

In addition to resolution sponsor Congressman Royce, who along with his colleagues invoked the memory of the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s continued genocide denial, the following Representatives spoke in favor of the legislation: Howard Berman (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).  Turkish Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-KY) claimed time in opposition to the bill.

You can watch the debate on the bill here.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Approves Amendment on Protection of Christian Heritage in Turkey

HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE APPROVES AMENDMENT ON PROTECTION OF CHRISTIAN HERITAGE IN TURKEY

Florida Representatives Unanimously Support Berman-Cicilline Amendment

Washington, DC – Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Berman-Cicilline Amendment, which expresses the sense of Congress that Turkey should end all forms of religious discrimination and return confiscated church properties, as part of H.R.2583, the State Department-Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.

The Berman-Cicilline Amendment was offered by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA) and David Cicilline (D-RI), both Members of the Armenian Caucus. The measure was adopted by a vote of 43-1.

Voting in favor of the amendment were all 6 Florida Representatives who serve on the Committee, namely, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Reps. Connie Mack (R-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), David Rivera (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).

The bipartisan amendment is modeled after H. Res. 306, introduced by Congressmen Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA). Earlier it was reported that Florida Reps. Bilirakis and Ros-Lehtinen were original cosponsors of H. Res. 306. However, in a stunning retreat, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen withdrew her cosponsorship on July 13, a week before the Committee vote. Sources close to the Committee indicated intensive lobbying efforts on the part of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C.

“The South Florida Armenian-American community thanks Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen for her vote in support of the Berman-Cicilline Amendment,” stated 18th Congressional district resident Raffy Yaghdjian. “At the same time, our community remains concerned when our elected officials flip-flop on human rights and freedom of religion issues,” Yaghdjian told FLArmenians.

Congressman Bilirakis is the only member of the Florida delegation that is currently a cosponsor to H. Res. 304 or H. Res. 306, the Armenian Genocide resolution and the Churches bill, respectively. Recently, Rep. Bilirakis delivered remarks on stopping religious persecution at a conference sponsored by the International Coalition for Religious Freedom titled “Stop Religious Persecution Now.”

Armenian-American and Greek-American organizations supported passage of the Berman-Cicilline Amendment. In a letter sent to all Committee Members prior to the vote, the Armenian Assembly of America, along with the Eastern and Western Diocese of the Armenian Church underscored the plight facing the Christian community in Turkey and the urgent need for Congress to act.

“Florida Armenians were pleased to see this issue raised and we thank Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Deutch, and all of our Florida Representatives for supporting this important measure,” stated Very Rev. Fr. Nareg Berberian, pastor of St. David Armenian Church (Eastern Diocese) in Boca Raton. “We live in an era where nations are in search of expressing their unique and distinctive social, cultural and spiritual freedom. In every nation, religious minorities, particularly Christians in Turkey who have shaped its history and culture, must be granted the right to worship and pray in their own churches,” concluded Very Rev. Fr. Berberian.

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NR#: 2011-002