By Taniel Shant
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Armenian American advocacy groups, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and the Armenian National Committee (ANC), are currently urging the Armenian American community to voice their concerns to the federal government.
Last month, both groups issued ‘Action Alerts’ on issues of concern to the over 1 million strong Armenian American community. Here in Florida, there are approximately 30,000 Armenian Americans.
With the inauguration of the President Donald J. Trump and the start of the 115th Congress, the groups called on their respective members to take action to boost the Armenian Caucus membership, express opinions regarding the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, as well as contacting the Trump Administration to advance Armenian American policy priorities for 2017.
The Assembly, an independent, non-partisan, Washington, D.C.-based organization, urged members to send messages to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding nominees Sessions and Tillerson. Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate last week and Sessions is expected to be approved this week.
The Assembly is currently seeking to boost the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, which currently stands at 87 Members of Congress, a historic low. “The 115th Congress is at work, and we are turning to you to urge your Representative to join the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues,” read the Assembly statement. “We need to expand the Armenian Caucus to counter growing opposition, and hostility in the region. Our goal is to increase the number of Members who will speak up for the rights of the people of Armenia and Artsakh. Please urge your Representative to join the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues,” read the Assembly alert.
The ANC, the U.S. arm of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a Yerevan-based Armenian political party, issued calls to its membership to outline key policy priorities to the Trump White House. “Ask President Trump to support Armenia,” reads the ANC alert. The ANC outlined three key policy areas: “Properly commemorating the Armenian Genocide as a clear case of genocide challenging Turkey’s obstruction of justice for this still unpunished crime and more broadly rejecting Turkey’s efforts to control U.S. policy on Armenian issues; Advancing a durable and democratic peace in the Caucasus by recognizing and supporting the independent Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and; Growing the U.S.-Armenia economic military and political partnership and supporting a secure prosperous and democratic Armenia.”
By Areg Galstyan
The American Thinker
Last month, a report on how Donald Trump’s administration should build a political dialogue with Turkey was published at the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The authors of this work are James F. Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey during the presidency of George W. Bush (2008-2010), and Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. Recommendations of the authors cover a wide range of geopolitical issues that the United States and Turkey should solve by joining their efforts.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Jeffrey and Mr. Cagaptay mark the necessity for Trump’s administration to guarantee non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide as an important condition for restoration of trust between the U.S. and Turkey. In particular, the authors write: “Separately, the United States can quietly guarantee Turkey that the Armenian Genocide resolution in Congress will not pass. This has always been critical in the relationship and most Turks care deeply about the issue.” There is no doubt that the authors aim not only to influence on the development of the foreign policy of the new administration for Turkey, but also to remind that the Armenian question can have a negative impact on bilateral relations.
Certainly, the representatives of the pro-Turkish lobby groups can develop their own recommendations for the foreign relations between Washington and Ankara. This is a normal practice of lobbying. However, the authors, speaking about the need to block the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, make a number of serious mistakes. First, this question is an internal affair of the United States. We must not forget that the requirement to recognize the historical events of 1915-1923 in the Ottoman Empire comes from the millions of citizens of America and is purely humanitarian. American Armenians do not require official Washington to take any steps against Turkey.
On the other hand, the representatives of U.S.-Armenian relations have always stressed that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States and Turkey will be a good signal and will allow the establishment of Armenian-Turkish dialogue in the future. Unfortunately, the Turkish authorities turned the Armenian issue into an instrument of political blackmail and intimidation.
Secondly, it is an incorrect recommendation to the U.S. president to influence Congress to prevent the passage of the resolution on the Genocide. This is not just interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, but also a call for the executive power to put pressure on the legislators, which cannot but arouse the indignation of American citizens.
Concerning the Armenian issue, I would like to give an alternative view to the next administration. During the Cold War, Turkey was considered one of the most important strategic allies in the bilateral format and in the framework of NATO. On the basis of pragmatic considerations, the White House and the leaders of both parties in Congress believed that an open discussion of the Armenian issue could cause a negative reaction from Turkey. The situation changed in 1974, when Turkey sent troops to the territory of Cyprus. In response to this act of aggression, Congress declared an arms embargo on Turkey. A series of further events led to a serious cooling of U.S.-Turkish relations. Then Washington did not prevent the adoption of Resolution No. 148 on the “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Inhuman Crimes.” According to the adopted resolution, the 24th of April was officially proclaimed the day of remembrance of victims of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, the United States at that time became the only country in the world whose president officially addressed to the Armenian people on every 24th of April.
In 1978, the U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, used the term “genocide” for the first time in his statement to describe the events of 1915-1923 in the Ottoman Empire. Carter noted that, while preparing for the meeting with the Armenian community, he spent a lot of time in Roosevelt’s room and carefully studied the documents related to the Armenians’ history. The president said he was impressed by the force of will and talent of Armenian people and that as the U.S. citizens, Armenians made an enormous contribution to the development of the country. Carter said that not many people knew that a few years prior to 1915, a deliberate effort was taken to destroy the Armenian people. At the end of his speech, he stated that the Armenian Genocide was one of the greatest tragedies that ever befell any group of people, and no trial similar to Nuremberg was conducted over the criminals.
In the very first year of his presidency, Ronald Reagan demonstrated support for the Armenian-American community in the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In his proclamation No. 4838 on April 22 in 1981, Reagan remarked that the United States was aware of the fact and understood that the criminal government that had committed inhuman acts of genocide had to acknowledge its past and repent for it. Reagan said there was an eternal debt of all mankind toward those who had experienced these horrors. He urged the international community to remember that the lessons of the Holocaust, as well as of the Armenian Genocide, the ensuing genocide of the Cambodians, and numerous persecutions against other nations, could never be forgotten.
On the 11th of April in 1985, the Republican majority leader – Senator Robert Dole – introduced Resolution No. 247 on the “Day of Memory of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire” to Congress. The hearing in the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives was successful, and Speaker Tip O’Neill put the resolution on a general vote. Turkey threatened that in case of adoption, it would refuse to buy eleven U.S. Boeing aircraft for the benefit of aircraft of the European consortium Airbus Industries. Moreover, Turkey claimed that it would cease to prolong the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement.
President Reagan assured Turkey’s Prime Minister Ozal that the administration was committed to maintaining a high level of appropriations for Turkey. The U.S. president was referring to the majority in Congress held by Democrats, whom he could not influence. Regardless of quite logical explanations given by the White House, the Turkish side did not conceal its irritation. Ankara stated again that it would prepare for the revision of the U.S.-Turkish agreement on military and economic cooperation. America, which at that time was going through a period of difficult relations with Greece, was close to losing access to its military bases in Turkey. It was for that reason that the U.S.’s Secretary of State Schulz arrived to the negotiations on the extension of the agreement in Ankara.
Trying to prevent the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the pro-Turkish lobbies were interfering in the electoral process. Thus, Ankara and its lobbyists campaigned against Mike Dukakis – an ethnic Greek who was the candidate of the Democratic Party in the presidential elections of 1988. They also opposed George Deukmejian, an ethnic Armenian and the governor of California, who was considered by George Bush, Sr. for the post of the U.S. vice president. During their election campaigns, presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama talked about the need to tell the truth about the Armenian Genocide at the highest level. However, being in the Oval Office, they broke their promises for fear of spoiling relations with Turkey. These examples from history show that the Turkish authorities and the pro-Turkish lobbyists have always used intimidation tactics when it comes to the Armenian issue. Donald Trump poses himself as a leader who will protect the interests of America and Americans. In this case, the new president and his administration should not allow Turkey to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States.
Moreover, Turkey’s statements that adoption of a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide may harm relations with the U.S. are greatly exaggerated. Nowadays, the laws on the Armenian Genocide have been adopted in more than twenty countries around the world, including Russia, France, and Germany. Did Russia’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide have an impact on its bilateral relations with Turkey? No. Official Ankara has traditionally protested and threatened with deterioration in relations. However, in reality, we are witnessing active development of Russian-Turkish ties in the political, economic, trade, tourism, and energy sectors. There was a similar scenario regarding Turkish-French relations after Paris officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. By the way, France and Germany, being Turkey’s NATO allies, take their own domestic political decisions without fear of Ankara’s threats.
In this regard, the new administration should clearly express its position on the Armenian issue and should not be afraid of threats from Turkey and its lobbyists. Anyway, President Trump has two ways to solve this issue. He can continue the policy of denying the Armenian Genocide (as Bush and Obama did), or he can choose a different path and become the president who had enough courage to restore historical justice. I hope Trump will choose the path of Ronald Reagan instead of the one of Barack Obama.
This article originally appeared in The American Thinker.
Areg Galstyan, Ph.D., is a regular contributor to The National Interest, Forbes, and The Hill and the head of the “American Studies” Research Centre. You can follow him on Twitter @Galstran_Areg.
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor
Yesterday, Representative Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) was elected the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and Florida Armenians congratulate Speaker Ryan on his new leadership role and look forward to working with him in the months and years to come.
“I am very pleased with what this means for Republican leadership in Washington,” stated Florida Armenians Miami Chair Harout Samra. “Paul Ryan’s elevation to Speaker of the House is a welcome event and turns the page on some of the key challenges the Republican caucus in the House has faced over the last several years. At least in the short term, we should expect a more unified and ideas-driven caucus. Florida Armenians congratulate Speaker Ryan and we look forward to working with him and his leadership team to address issues of mutual concern,” Samra said.
Ryan began his political career as a congressional intern after college, went on to work as an aide for then-U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and later as a speech writer for 1996 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp. In 1998, Ryan was elected to his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ryan, known as a policy and budget wonk, has ascended through the House Republican leadership, assuming the Chairmanship of the Budget Committee in 2011, and most recently as the Chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee. Ryan received national attention when he was tapped by Governor Mitt Romney to be the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2012.
Speaker Ryan has a strong record in support of Armenia, Armenian American issues including genocide affirmation, and the safety and security of the people of Nagorno Karabakh. Paul Ryan represents the 1st district of Wisconsin, which is home to St. Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church, in Racine.
During his first term in the House, Ryan was a cosponsor of H.Res.398, the Armenian Genocide resolution in the 106th Congress, and cosponsored subsequent Armenian Genocide reaffirmation resolutions, namely: H.Res.316 in the 109th Congress, H.Res.106 in the 110th Congress, H.Res.252 in the 111th Congress, and H.Res.304 in the 112th Congress. In addition to cosponsoring these resolutions, he signed five letters to President George W. Bush urging him to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006.
“By properly recognizing the atrocities committed against the Armenian people as ‘genocide’ in your statement, you will honor the many Americans who helped launch our first international human rights campaign to end the carnage and protect the survivors. The official U.S. response mirrored the overwhelming reaction by the American public to this crime against humanity, and as such, constitutes a proud, irrefutable and groundbreaking chapter in U.S. diplomatic history,” reads the 2004 letter to President Bush signed by Ryan.
Having joined the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues in 2003, Ryan’s support of human rights issues extended beyond Armenia. That same year, Ryan cosponsored H.Res.193 in the 108th Congress, which stated U.S. policy “Reaffirming support of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and anticipating the 15th anniversary of the enactment of the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987 (the Proxmire Act) on November 4, 2003.”
Speaker Ryan was also a proponent of a stronger U.S.-Armenia relationship and increased bilateral trade and investment. He cosponsored H.Res.528 in the 108th Congress, “To authorize the extension of nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of Armenia,” which extended U.S. Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Armenia.
Following the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Ryan cosponsored the Assembly-backed H.Res.102 in the 110th Congress, “Condemning the assassination of human rights advocate and outspoken defender of freedom of the press, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on January 19, 2007.”
Speaker Ryan also signed a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on February 15, 2008 urging the U.S. “to hold the government of Azerbaijan accountable for recent vitriolic comments made by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in regard to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh,” and to “condemn these comments that go directly against the United State stated policy in the South Caucus region.”
Given his years of work with the Armenian Assembly of America, and decade-long record in support of Armenian American issues, Ryan agreed to serve as the co-master of ceremonies of the Assembly’s 2009 National Advocacy Conference & Banquet in Washington, D.C.
“At a time when Azerbaijan continues to violate international law, and Turkey’s international campaign of genocide denial continues, we look forward to the opportunity to work with the incoming Speaker to address these and other critically important issues,” stated Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.