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66 Members of Congress Push for Expanded US-Armenia Relations

Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) Cosign Letter

WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Armenian Caucus Founder and Co-Chair Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) led an appropriations letter for fiscal year 2022 (FY22) that requests funding for a robust humanitarian assistance package, including de-mining activities in Artsakh, and funding for economic development, governance, and resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also requests a suspension of U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until it ends its aggression toward Armenia and Artsakh. The letter was signed by 66 Members of Congress including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Co-Chair of the Armenian Caucus, and House Ethics Committee Chairman Ted Deutch (D-FL), an active member of the Armenian Caucus.

“The United States is uniquely positioned to help Armenia that has been shaken by last year’s war in Artsakh and the resulting uncertainty. Providing significant economic assistance to Armenia will help make its people more secure, bolster its democracy, help sustain economic development, stabilize its civil society, and aid its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, most urgently, alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Artsakh,” Pallone said. “This investment will strengthen the U.S.-Armenia relationship, help Armenia rebuild, and solidify democracy in the region.”

Specifically, the letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs calls for:

  • Robust funding to directly aid the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh to recover and rebuild. Such aid would be utilized for urgently needed housing, food security, water and sanitation projects, medical and refugee assistance, rehabilitation programs, and infrastructure needs.
  • $2 million for Conventional Weapons Destruction programs in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • $100 million for economic, governance, rule of law, and security assistance to Armenia through State Department and USAID accounts.
  • The suspension of all U.S. security assistance for Azerbaijan until it has been verified to have ceased all attacks against Armenia and Artsakh.

Artsakh is enduring an ongoing humanitarian crisis resulting from the unprovoked Azerbaijani and Turkish attack in Artsakh on September 27, 2020, which led to six weeks of devastating fighting that killed over 5,000 people and forced more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee their homes. During and after the Azerbaijan-Turkish attack on Nagorno Karabakh, several videos surfaced online of Azeri soldiers beheading elderly Armenian villagers, mutilating dead bodies, and torturing Armenian soldiers and prisoners of war – over 200 of which are still being held captive by Azerbaijan in violation of international law.

Joining the leadership of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues – Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Jackie Speier (D-CA), David Valadao (D-CA), and Adam Schiff (D-CA) – as cosigners of the letter were Reps. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Donald Beyer, Jr. (D-VA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Jim Costa (D-CA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), John Garamendi (D-CA), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Andy Levin (D-MI), Mike Levin (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), James McGovern (D-MA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Katie Porter (D-CA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Susan Wild (D-PA).

Florida Elected Officials Respond to White House Affirmation of the Armenian Genocide

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Earlier today, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. President to properly recognize the World War I era mass killings of Armenians and other Christians by the Ottoman Turkish Empire as genocide.

“Today is #ArmenianGenocide Remembrance Day, commemorating the 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred in 1915 by the Ottomans, & today @POTUS has made history by becoming the first President to recognize it. This is a major step toward Armenians getting the justice they deserve,” Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL) said on Twitter. Earlier this week, Frankel was one of three Florida Representatives to sign a letter to President Biden urging him to recognize the Armenian Genocide on April 24th.

“It has been more than 100 years since the atrocities committed against innocent Armenians and other ethnic and religious minorities at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire’s genocidal campaign from 1915-1923 killed 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children, as well as Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs, through a series of executions and death marches,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), who serves as Co-Chairman of the Congressional Armenian Caucus. “I whole-heartedly welcome today’s historic announcement from President Biden formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide. I have been a major supporter of recognizing the Ottoman Empire’s atrocious acts as genocide, co-authoring the Armenian Genocide recognition resolution passed by the House of Representatives two years ago. We must acknowledge the atrocities of the past so that we might hopefully prevent them in the future. Our darkest moments as a human race have come during times when those who knew better stood silently, making excuses for passivity and allowing injustice and persecution to reign. Today at 2:30 p.m. I spoke with Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia George Kent who confirmed the Administration’s announcement today acknowledging the pain of history to ensure future atrocities do not happen,” Bilirakis said on Saturday.

Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), an active member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, issued a statement on Twitter, saying “I commend @POTUS Biden for officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Yet over a century later some still minimize the Ottoman Empire’s systematic execution of Armenians. We must honor the victims & survivors, & we must keep its memory alive to prevent history from repeating.”

“President Joe Biden’s deceptively simple action goes beyond what any previous American president has ever been willing to do. The evidence, however, is clear the Turks engaged in a years-long ethnic cleansing campaign that included forced death marches and mass starvation. Recognizing this fact will, hopefully, bring an element of closure to this chapter of history for families impacted by these atrocities,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Robert Weinroth (D-FL) told FLArmenians.com.

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer told FLArmenians.com, “The White House’s recognition today of the Armenian Genocide is an important step to honor the memory of the many who were killed. To prevent future tragedies, we must never forget those that occurred,” Mayor Singer said. Boca Raton, FL is the second largest city in Palm Beach County and is home to St. David Armenian Church, the first Armenian Church built in Florida and consecrated in 1989.

Responding to the news, Mark Samuelian, Miami Beach City Commissioner told FLArmenians.com, “Having recently visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, President Biden’s historic announcement today delivers profound meaning.” Elected in 2017, Samuelian is the first Armenian American elected official in Miami-Dade County, FL.

*This post was updated on Thursday, April 29, 2021 to reflect the new statements. FLArmenians.com will continue to update this post with new statements from Florida elected officials.

Analysis: All Signs Point to President Biden Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians.com Editor

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Over the last few months, talk has been swirling around the capital that Joe Biden would unequivocally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the President’s annual April 24th remembrance day statement. While no U.S. President has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide since President Ronald Reagan in 1981, this time things were different. Any objective observer of Armenian American politics knows that Joe Biden has the longest pro-Armenia record (nearly 40 years) of any President in American history. 

While making his position ever more clear on the campaign trail in 2020, the Biden Administration has made a series of moves over the last few months all signaling that America would no longer just “not deny” the Armenian Genocide as some former officials have put it, but that our foreign service officers who represent America abroad would be allowed to speak truthfully about 1915. 

The following analysis of events early on in the Biden Administration and over the last few weeks all point to an official statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide coming from the White House on April 24, 2021.

To set the stage for President affirmation, Congress, led by the President’s Democratic party, had a role to play. After all, Congress had just recognized the Armenian Genocide for the first time in modern history with unanimous passage of an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution in the Senate in 2019 and House passage of a similar bill in 2020 by a vote of 405-11.

On March 19th, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) led a letter signed by 38 Senators to President Biden urging him to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.

Then, news of a Presidential acknowledgement first broke on March 20th, when Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer tweeted “White House: US will formally recognize Armenian genocide. #AboutTime.” From there momentum began to build and Turkey’s lobbyists and Armenian American advocacy groups began an intense lobbying offensive.

On March 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, the first time senior U.S. and Turkish officials have met since Biden was sworn in as President. The exchange between the two foreign ministers, by all accounts, was rather tense. “Secretary Blinken urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 air defense system, expressed concern over Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, and emphasized the importance of democratic institutions and respect for human rights,” according to a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.

By this point, President Biden had spoken directly to the head of state of nearly every major U.S. ally, except Turkey. “Erdogan is desperate to secure a phone call with Biden,” Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now Senior Director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador for USAID nominee Samantha Power tweeted about the Armenian Genocide in a tribute to the late Dr. Vartan Gregorian, an icon of the Armenian American community and a descendent of genocide survivors who passed away on April 16. 

On Tuesday, April 20, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu cast his government’s final threat in typical Turkish diplomatic fashion stating that America “needs to respect international law,” that such “statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” and that “if the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” Reuters reported.

The next day, over 100 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden keeping the pressure up on the White House. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times ran headlines reading “Biden Poised to Recognize Massacres of Armenians as Genocide, Officials Say” and “Biden Preparing to Declare That Atrocities Against Armenia Were Genocide,” respectively. 

Also on Wednesday, April 21, a less talked about announcement was made when the White House informed Turkey that it had signed a new deal with the eight F-35 producing nations, officially marking the removal of Turkey from the Department of Defense’s next generation stealth fighter jet program, the culmination of a years-long process begrudgingly started by the Trump Administration. Later the same day, Turkey announced it was already in talks to purchase a second regiment of S-400 air defense systems from Russia.

Then on Friday, April 23rd around noon, the White House reported that President Biden had spoken to Prime Minister Erdogan by phone and relayed his “interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.” In response to a question about the President’s call with Erdogan at the State Department Daily Press Briefing at 2:06pm, spokesperson Jalina Porter stated “So at this time, we don’t have anything to read out as far as the Secretary’s call with his Turkish counterpart. But when it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow, and we would have to refer you to the White House.” 

This is the first time that a State Department official has accurately referred to the events of 1915 since 2007, when former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John M. Evans publicly (although privately) acknowledged the fact of the genocide and was subsequently fired from his post. 

Moments later, at 2:31pm on April 23rd, Bloomberg News reported that Biden had also told Erdogan in the phone call that he will acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in a statement the next day.

It must be stated that these events have take place against the backdrop of an increasingly Islamist Turkey whose actions under the 20 year rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned the once pro-Western NATO ally into a belligerent, autocratic, ISIS-aligned, destabilizing force that now threatens U.S. interests beyond the Middle East. 

“Erdogan’s dictatorship renders ineffective Turkish diplomats—including current Ambassador Murat Mercan—who can only speak to the most ardent apologists for Erdogan’s behavior rather than those who stand in opposition. Erdogan has purged many Turkish-American lobby groups so that they reflect only his inner circle rather than Turkey’s (and America’s) broader political and intellectual spectrum. In short, Turkey can lobby but few will answer Mercan’s phone calls, let alone those of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu,” former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute Michael Rubin recently wrote in 19fortyfive.com. 

Despite the well known truth of the Armenian Genocide, not to mention the overwhelming body of evidence in the national archives of nearly a dozen countries across the world, and the incredible scholarly works that, in the face of state sponsored genocide denial, have judicially and meticulously made the case, the time has finally come for Armenian Americans to feel the sense of recognition, acceptance, and pride that Diaspora Armenians in other countries around the world have felt knowing that our government hears us, believes us, and is unafraid to stand on the right side of history with us.