Florida Armenians Participate in International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration at Palm Beach Central High School
WELLINGTON, FL – On Friday, January 25, 2019 the Palm Beach County School District held an International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration at Palm Beach Central High School (PBCHS). The event featured a collaborative program of student speakers from the school’s Holocaust Studies Department that highlighted the mass genocides of the 20th century, and called attention to the increase of violent crimes due to bigotry and hatred.
Over 100 students, faculty, and administrators gathered in the auditorium to hear the presentations, including remarks from PBCHS Holocaust Studies Department Chair Ms. Maureen Holtzer, and Zelda Fuksman, a Holocaust survivor who speaks to students across Florida about the Holocaust as part of the state’s inSIGHT Through Education initiative.
Following the presentations, participants traveled outside to the unveiling of a Genocide Memorial Garden, which will be a permanent fixture for students, parents, and teachers to learn about all genocides, man’s inhumanity towards man, and the lessons of intolerance and prejudice.
Norman Frajman, a local Holocaust survivor spoke about his experience, the importance of remembrance, and how we can all learn from the past lest we be doomed to repeat it.
Florida Armenians Editor Taniel Koushakjian offered remarks about the local Armenian American community’s efforts to expand genocide education through the work of the Armenian Genocide Committee (AGC). The AGC has successfully led a unified Armenian American community effort since 2014, working hand-in-hand with government officials, school administrators, educators, and parents in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties.
Ms. Holtzer and her students spent weeks preparing the beautiful grounds of the garden. They also worked passionately to deliver a moving presentation and program. The Genocide Memorial Garden features hand-made butterflies that list the names of genocide victims for each instance of genocide, including the Armenian Genocide.
“The garden was created by students from my research class as their legacy to the school,” Ms. Holtzer said. “They felt it was of utmost importance to create something that would be a reminder of the devastating consequences of hatred. They selected the butterfly as their symbol as it represents both beauty and freedom,” said Ms. Holtzer.
To conclude the program participants were all given butterflies which were then set free together to mark the opening of the garden.
“I think it’s wonderful,” stated Richard Baronian of Boynton Beach, FL. The names of Baronian’s family members who perished in the genocide are displayed in the garden. “The genocide remembrance garden at Palm Beach Central High School will teach the students and parents of non-Armenians about our history. Hopefully they will want to find out more so the world never forgets,” Baronian said.
Community-Backed Bipartisan Resolution Affirms that the United States Rejects Efforts to Associate the U.S. Government with Armenian Genocide Denial
WASHINGTON, DC — Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) are calling on their House colleagues to join them in introducing an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution, bipartisan legislation aimed at establishing, as a matter of U.S. policy, 1) the rejection of Armenian Genocide denial, 2) ongoing official U.S. government recognition and remembrance of this crime, and 3) the importance of Armenian Genocide education in preventing modern-day atrocities.
The resolution’s authors are currently collecting original cosponsors for the legislation and are expected to introduce the bill in April.
“Genocide must not be denied. It must be acknowledged for what it is—a scourge on humanity,” Congressman Bilirakis told FLARMENIANS.com. “Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide would represent a courageous new chapter in American foreign policy. With the bold leadership of the current Administration, it is time for the United States to take a stand against Turkish genocide denial,” stated Bilirakis.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to U.S. Representatives by Congressmen Schiff and Bilirakis, they asked their House colleagues to “join us as a cosponsor of a resolution affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide, which recognizes and memorializes the historical fact of the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal campaign against the Armenian people, as well as the Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and other religious minorities, from 1915 to 1923.” The letter acknowledges the life-saving U.S. humanitarian efforts during the Armenian Genocide, reminding colleagues that “Congress passed first of its kind legislation to establish the Near East Relief effort which provided millions of dollars in food and aid to survivors, including tens of thousands of orphans.”
Congressmen Bilirakis and Schiff took on Ankara’s anticipated opposition to an honest U.S. remembrance of the Armenian Genocide head-on, writing: “Let us be direct. Genocide recognition is opposed by a single entity: The government of Turkey. For decades, Turkey has deployed threats and an intense campaign of lobbying to intimidate the Congress from recognizing the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire.” They went on to argue that: “Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also a source of continued regional tension, undermining the foundations of a durable peace that would be in the best interests of the United States and our national security. Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide can help open a new chapter in United States foreign policy. It is time for the United States to take a stand for the truth, and against genocide denial.”
As in year’s past, the resolution will be assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), now Chaired by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a member of the Armenian Caucus. It is not yet clear if Chairman Engel will bring up the measure for a vote this Congress. The last time an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution passed the HFAC committee was in 2010.
The new Armenian Genocide Resolution notes that the U.S. has, as early as 1951, officially recognized the Armenian Genocide through a filing with the International Court of Justice, followed by House legislation adopted in 1975, and 1984 and President Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation in 1984.
The resolution resolves that it is the policy of the United States to:
- Commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;
- Reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the U.S. Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and
- Encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the U.S. role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.
Text of the Schiff-Bilirakis “Dear Colleague” regarding the Armenian Genocide Resolution
We ask that you join us as a cosponsor of a resolution affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide, which recognizes and memorializes the historical fact of the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal campaign against the Armenian people, as well as the Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and other religious minorities, from 1915 to 1923. Millions of men, women, and children were killed, shot, beaten, starved, and raped as they were marched through deserts and over mountains. When the killing finally ended, 1.5 million Armenians had been killed and millions more had been displaced from the land of their birth.
There is no debate among historians that the Ottoman Empire committed atrocities against the Armenians, or that it meets the definition of a “genocide.” Indeed, the facts of the genocide were recorded contemporaneously by American diplomats, including the Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau, who transmitted a flood of cables and reports describing the wholesale slaughter of the Armenians. It was partially the study of the experience of the Armenians which inspired Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew whose family was killed in the Holocaust, to coin the word “genocide” to describe the crime of destroying an entire people and culture.
The campaign to destroy the Armenian people failed, in part thanks to the humanitarian assistance provided by the American people. Hearing reports of the wholesale killing and displacement of Armenians and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire, Americans responded with generosity and support. Congress passed first of its kind legislation to establish the Near East Relief effort which provided millions of dollars in food and aid to survivors, including tens of thousands of orphans.
For over 100 years, genocide survivors and their descendants have sought truth and justice. They have fought to have this horrific chapter in their history recognized by the international community and, for the sizeable Armenian-American diaspora, by their own government. Forty-eight U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide, as have 28 foreign nations including some of our closest allies. Although the United States has made direct reference to the genocide in the past, including by proclamation of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and through the passage of House Resolutions in 1975 and 1984, Congressional acceptance of the fact of the genocide is long overdue.
Let us be direct. Genocide recognition is opposed by a single entity: The government of Turkey. For decades, Turkey has deployed threats and an intense campaign of lobbying to intimidate the Congress from recognizing the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also a source of continued regional tension, undermining the foundations of a durable peace that would be in the best interests of the United States and our national security. Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide can help open a new chapter in United States foreign policy. It is time for the United States to take a stand for the truth, and against genocide denial.
The United States should never be complicit in genocide denial, what Elie Wiesel described as the final stage of genocide and a “double killing.” As we confront continuing mass atrocities around the world, including the genocide of religious minorities carried out by ISIS in Syria and Iraq or the extermination of the Rohingya in Burma, Congress’s silence about the Armenian Genocide of a century ago undermines our moral standing. It must end.
To join us as an original cosponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution, please contact Caroline Nicholas in Rep. Schiff’s office or Shayne Woods in Rep. Bilirakis’s office.
Adam B. Schiff
Member of Congress
Gus M. Bilirakis
Member of Congress
By Harut Sassounian
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) is the latest transmitter of Azeri propaganda. He issued a statement on February 25, 2019, which he entered in the Congressional Record, accusing Armenians of killing 613 Azeri men, women, and children on Feb. 26, 1992, in the Khojaly village of Azerbaijan during the height of the Artsakh (Karabagh) war. Human Rights Watch placed the number of Azeri dead at 161. Nevertheless, even the single loss of life is regrettable be it Azeri or Armenian. Rep. Hastings, a member of Azerbaijan Congressional Caucus, called the alleged killings “the Khojaly Massacre.”
These killings are controversial with Armenians and Azeris blaming each other for the deaths. In recent years, the government of Azerbaijan has made these killings a cause celebre, organizing observances in various countries and accusing Armenians not only of committing a massacre, but a genocide. These propaganda observances are funded by what is known as “caviar diplomacy,” meaning that Azerbaijan bribes government officials around the world to block decisions critical of Azerbaijan or adopt resolutions in its favor.
It is ironic that while Azerbaijan describes the alleged killing of 613 Azeris a genocide, it shamelessly denies the actual genocide of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923.
On March 3, 1997, the Armenian Foreign Ministry circulated a statement to members of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, rejecting the statement issued by Azerbaijan on February 22, 1997 on “the Khojalu event.” Armenia quoted the words of the then President of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mutalibov who had stated that the Azerbaijani National Front “actively obstructed and actually prevented the exodus of the local [Azeri] population through the mountain passages specifically left open by Karabakh Armenians to facilitate the flight of the civilian population.” Mutalibov had made that statement in the days following “the Khojalu event” in an interview with Czech journalist Dana Mazalova published in the April 2, 1992 issue of the Russian newspaper Nizavisimaya Gazeta.
By organizing such propaganda observances, Azerbaijan’s officials have found a convenient way of countering the mass murder of Armenians in the Azeri towns of Sumgait (Feb. 28, 1988), Gyanja (November 1988), and Baku (January 1990) as well as the Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turkey.
Azerbaijan could not have found a more infamous member of U.S. Congress to carry out its propaganda war against Armenia. Prior to becoming a member of Congress, Hastings served as a United States District or Federal Judge from 1979 to 1989, at which time he was impeached and removed from office!
According to Wikipedia, “In 1981, [Judge] Hastings was charged with accepting a $150,000 bribe in exchange for a lenient sentence and a return of seized assets for 21 counts of racketeering by Frank and Thomas Romano, and of perjury in his testimony about the case. In 1983, he was acquitted by a jury after his alleged co-conspirator, William Borders, refused to testify in court, resulting in a jail sentence for Borders.”
“In 1988, the Democratic-controlled United States House of Representatives took up the case, and Hastings was impeached for bribery and perjury by a vote of 413–3. He was then convicted on October 20, 1989, by the United States Senate, becoming the sixth federal judge in the history of the United States to be removed from office by the Senate. The Senate, in two hours of roll calls, voted on 11 of the 17 articles of impeachment. It convicted Hastings of eight of the 11 articles. The vote on the first article was 69 for and 26 opposed….”
Rep. Hastings was disgraced for the second time when a staff member of the Helsinki Commission for which he was the Chairman, accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. The Roll Call newspaper reported on December 8, 2017 that the U.S. Treasury Department secretly paid the staffer $220,000 to settle an alleged sexual harassment case against Rep. Hastings.
Winsome Packer, the staff member of the congressional commission, stated in a written document that Congressman Hastings touched her, made unwanted sexual advances, and threatened her job. In her lawsuit, Packer stated “that Hastings repeatedly asked to stay at her apartment or to visit her hotel room. Packer also said he frequently hugged her, and once asked her what kind of underwear she was wearing,” according to Roll Call. Congressman Hastings denied the accusation.
Finally, it appears that Rep. Hastings has maintained extensive contacts with the BGR Group, a major U.S. firm that is paid $50,000 a month to lobby for Azerbaijan in Washington.
Under the federal FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) laws, every lobbying firm has to register with the U.S. Department of Justice, disclosing the contract signed with the foreign entity. More importantly, the lobbying firm’s employees are required to report to the Justice Department every contact they make with outsiders on behalf of their clients, whether by email, phone call, or personal meeting.
For example, during the six-month period of December 1, 2017 to May 30, 2018, BGR reported contacting congressional offices hundreds of times. Each time the subject matter was listed as “U.S.-Azerbaijan Relations.” Cleverly, BGR had hidden the name of the Congressman or Senator, mentioning only his or her staff member’s name.
Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) conducted a lengthy investigation to identify the names of the Congress members for whom these staff members worked. The ANCA investigation disclosed that on Nov. 17, 2017, Feb. 27, March 5, March 12, April 30, May 22, May 23, and May 30, 2018 BGR lobbyists emailed Tom Carnes, a staff member of Rep. Hastings. BGR also had a meeting with Tom Carnes on May 30, 2018. In addition, on May 22, 2018, lobbyists from BGR e-mailed Susannah Jackson of Rep. Hastings office. In addition, on Nov. 2, 2017, Rob Mangas, Tim Hutchinson, K. Laurie McKay, Killoran Long, and Albert Wynn on behalf of a lobbying firm for Turkey, Greenberg Traurig, had discussions with Lale Morrison from the Office of Rep. Alcee Hastings regarding U.S.-Turkish relations. Finally, on Oct. 27, 2017, Lydia Borland on behalf of another lobbying firm for Turkey, LB International Solutions, LLC, met with Lale Morrison from the Office of Rep. Hastings regarding U.S.-Turkey relations.
Azerbaijan has tried to cover up its crimes against Armenians and human rights violations of its deprived citizens by bribing foreign officials around the world and blaming others for its own wrongdoing.
Harut Sassounian is the Publisher of the California Courier, one of the oldest English-language Armenian weekly newspapers in America.