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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.


NR#: 2011-002


Florida Representatives Cosponsor Legislation Urging The Republic of Turkey to Safeguard its Christian Heritage

Florida Representatives Cosponsor Legislation Urging The Republic of Turkey to Safeguard its Christian Heritage

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

On Tuesday, June 15, H. Res. 306, legislation “urging the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties” was introduced by House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairman on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). Congressman Ed Royce is also the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues (Armenian Caucus). H. Res. 306 calls for the “return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts,” in Turkey.

Joining Congressmen Royce and Berman were 30 original cosponsors, including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Congressman Bilirakis represents Florida’s 9th Congressional district (Palm Harbor) and serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Homeland Security Committee and is Vice Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Rep. Bilirakis has a strong voting record in support of Armenian issues, including Armenian Genocide affirmation, and is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents Florida’s 25th Congressional district (Miami) and Chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)












Both Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Bilirakis are members of the Armenian Caucus. However, although voting in support of Armenian Genocide resolutions in 2000 and 2005, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against the same legislation in 2007 and 2010.

In addition to H. Res. 306, on June 15 Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) along with Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) introduced H. Res. 304, the Armenian Genocide resolution. Congressman Bilirakis joined his Armenian Caucus colleagues by cosponsoring H. Res. 304 on July 16. He is the only Member of the Florida delegation to consistently cosponsor Armenian Genocide resolutions. Both bills have been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee where they await committee action.

As the size of the Armenian community expands throughout the state, it is important for Florida Armenians to inform and educate their elected officials about important issues and concerns. From state and local governments, to our Representatives serving us in Congress, Florida Armenians are ready to play an active role in having our voice heard in Washington.

* This story was updated on July 18 at 8:47 p.m.