By Taniel Koushakjian
As is routine in Armenian American politics, an Armenian Genocide resolution was introduced in the US House of Representatives at the beginning of the 114th Congress. Once again leading the charge are Reps. Robert Dold (R-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). Together, they introduced H. Res. 154, aka the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, on March 18, 2015. This bill differs significantly from the bipartisan Armenian Genocide recognition resolution which passed committee in 2000, 2005, 2007, and 2010. As of this writing, H. Res. 154 boasts 62 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Given the significance of 2015, the Turkish government ramped up its denial campaign in the United States and sought to introduce an opposing bill in Congress. In the weeks after the introduction of H. Res. 154, Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) circulated a letter to his House colleagues asking them to support a different resolution. Clawson’s bill, which planned to use language proposed by the newly-formed Turkish Institute for Progress (TIP), would use text from H. Res. 154, strike reference to the Armenian Genocide, and create a 100-year congressional task force aimed at bringing the Turkish and Armenian people together. “Unite us, not divide us,” a reference to the full-page advertisements that ran in The Washington Post and POLITICO, is political speak for Turkey’s latest genocide denial lobbying campaign.
Then, on April 28, 2015, H. Res. 226, a resolution calling on the President “to work toward equitable, constructive, stable, and durable Armenian-Turkish relations,” was introduced by Pete Sessions (R-TX). Sessions’ bill not only omitted reference to the Armenian Genocide, it also left out the Turkish proposal for a joint taskforce. Pete Sessions is the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, which is commonly referred to as the “Speaker’s Committee.” H. Res. 226 currently has 2 cosponsors.
Clawson has yet to introduce his Turkish denial resolution.
For House Republican leadership this scenario played right into their hands. John Boehner has voiced his objection to a congressional resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide on more than one occasion and Rep. Clawson was one of 25 congressmen to vote against Boehner for the Speakership. What Speaker John Boehner has effectively done is introduce a bill, stripping the specific language for which each opposing lobby group was advocating, rendering the issue legislatively moot, and check his Tea Party foes in the process.
Senate Confirms Next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey; Vote on Nominees to Yerevan, Baku Expected in December
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor
This week, the House and Senate considered measures concerning the Armenian American community. Congress was expected to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown on September 30th, when current funding is set to expire. However, after President Obama’s primetime address on September 10th calling for the arming of Syrian rebels, the House voted on a measure to do just that and attached it as an amendment to the CR, setting up a complex and very interesting pattern of voting.
In what Roll Call described as a vote “fractured along untraditional [party] lines,” the House approved the CR 319-108, and 273-156 on the amendment to arm Syrian rebels. 143 Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the CR, while 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans opposed. On the Syria amendment, 159 Republicans were joined by 114 Democrats in support of the measure, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats opposed.
According to several interviews with Armenian American community leaders across the United States, an overwhelming majority support US airstrikes against ISIL. However, they do not support President Obama’s call to train and arm Syrian rebel factions, especially in the wake of the Turkish-backed rebel assault on the Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria earlier this year.
An analysis by FLArmenians.com reveals that House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Congressmen Alan Grayson (D-FL), and David Jolly (R-FL) voted against arming Syrian rebels, yet supported the CR.
Republican Congressmen Ted Yoho (R-FL), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Richard Nugent (R-FL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Curt Clawson (R-FL) voted against both the amendment arming Syrian rebels and the CR. Interestingly, Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), opposed President Obama on both the Syrian amendment and the CR.
Everyone else stood with President Obama in supporting the amendment to arm Syrian rebels and for the CR.
While it is clear that Armenian Americans support the President’s vow to “destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL,” they are wary of training and arming Islamic rebel factions with known ties to al-Qaeda and that have a record of attacking Christians just like ISIL.
Florida Armenians have an important role to play in this debate. Many Armenian American families in Florida emigrated from Syria, mostly descendants of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Some still have relatives there. They are uniquely familiar with the regional dynamics and can provide critical insight into what groups truly protect and respect religious minorities, be they Christian Armenian, Assyrian, or Yezidi.
Ambassador Nominees to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 98-0 to confirm John R. Bass as the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-FL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) submitted to the nominee questions on the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s blockade of Armenia. “We commend Chairman Menendez, and Senators Barbara Boxer, Mark Kirk and Ed Markey for their stance on issues concerning Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia, and other critical issues affecting the region,” stated Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Following in the footsteps of Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who in 1915 alerted the world to the Armenian Genocide, it is important that our Foreign Service officers execute a foreign policy that appropriately reflects America’s values,” he said.
Both Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) supported Bass’ nomination without question.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from President Obama’s nominees to be the next U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively. Both are expected to be confirmed by the full Senate sometime during the lame-duck session, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, November 12th.