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Campaign 2012: A Review of Armenian-American Advocacy Organizations in Presidential Elections

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

Armenian-Americans have what few ethnic groups enjoy: knowledgeable, skilled, and effective leadership in Washington, DC. The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) are organized, principled and steadfast in protecting the rights of Armenian-Americans, developing a strong US-Armenia relationship, helping the people in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh achieve freedom and democracy, and overall successfully representing the community in the nations capital for over 40 years. When it comes to ethnic political organizations, the Assembly and the ANCA are models for other minorities in America.

Looking at the relationship of Armenian-American advocacy organizations with US Presidential campaigns, one must rely on the record of the ANCA, as the Assembly is an independent, non-profit organization that is not involved in electioneering or endorsing of political candidates at any level. Full disclosure: the author is a former employee of the Assembly.

On Monday, October 15, 2012 the ANCA, the largest partisan Armenian-American advocacy organization, reported that they would not be endorsing either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for President of the United States. “While we remain open to constructive engagement with both campaigns, we have no plans at this time to issue an ANCA endorsement this Presidential election cycle,” stated Chairman Ken Hachikian. The statement goes on to read, “the ANCA holds that neither Presidential candidate has earned the formal support of the Armenian American community.”

Why would the ANCA announce withholding a US presidential endorsement 22 days away from such an important election? A review of the ANCA’s statements over the last four years and their track record in US presidential contests over the last 20 years sheds light.

As rightfully noted in their 2012 announcement, the ANCA whole-heartedly endorsed Senator Barack Obama in 2008. After President Obama failed to live up to his campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President, his nomination and subsequent recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to serve as US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and the fact that neither President Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have met with Armenian-American community leaders, the ANCA had very little political room to maneuver in this regard. Further boxing themselves into a corner, the ANCA publicly slammed President Obama for the aforementioned policies, publicly lambasted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010 for failing to bring the Armenian Genocide Resolution to the floor for a vote (to be fair, this response was more warranted in 2007), then privately blasted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in front of a crowd assembled to commemorate the Armenian Genocide on Capitol Hill. Out of natural self-interest and after having their endorsement of President Obama thrown by the wayside, it was politically impossible for the ANCA to endorse President Obama for re-election.

In addition, it was interesting to read in the same ANCA press release that they are withholding an endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. An historical review of ANCA presidential endorsements over the last 20 years reveal that, when it comes to the race for the White House, only Democrats are worthy. Further analysis of the success rate of the ANCA’s presidential endorsements over the last 20 years, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired for the Armenian-American community; specifically, the two-time endorsement of Bill Clinton, who single-handedly blocked passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in his final year in office; John Kerry, who lost his challenge to Republican President George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, who pandered to the Armenian-American community above and beyond any of his predecessors. The ANCA withheld an endorsement in the 2000 presidential election as well.

However, what is most interesting is an omission from this years ANCA press release regarding Mitt Romney’s statements as Governor of Massachusetts. According to a February 2008 ANCA press release, Mitt Romney shared with them copies of his four Armenian Genocide proclamations during his time as Governor of Massachusetts. “While the first three statements during his four years in office properly described the Armenian Genocide as genocide, his fourth and final statement refrained from using the accurate terminology,” read the 2008 ANCA press release. Yet the October 15, 2012 press release goes on to state, “Mitt Romney…has no evident public record on Armenian issues from his four-year tenure as Governor or his two campaigns for the White House.” While it is true that Governor Romney has not issued a statement on Armenian-American issues in either of his campaigns for President, the ANCA’s 2012 statement withholding endorsement appears to be at odds with their own record.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the ANCA could not endorse President Obama for re-election and that the ANCA would not endorse Governor Romney for President of the United States.

Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C. 

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Armenian-Americans at RNC 2012: Support Mitt Romney for President

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

The Tampa Bay Times Forum, Home of RNC 2012

Every four years, the campaign for the highest office of the land takes place. As candidates from the Republican Party navigated the choppy waters of the primary storm this election season, one man sailed to victory: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Winning the party’s nomination was no easy feat and on several occasions, the media and members of his own party, were quick to write him off. However, Mitt Romney and his campaign rose to the challenge, and secured the 1,190 Republican Party Delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. No doubt, the battles he faced in the primary contest will come in handy when he goes head-to-head with President Obama.

Among these Republican Party Delegates, who are elected within their respective state party systems, were six Armenian-Americans. The States of Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island were each represented by an official GOP Delegate of Armenian descent.

Harout Samra, an attorney in Miami said, “it was a privilege to attend the Republican National Convention as a delegate for Florida. Coming to the floor of the Convention hall for the first time was very exciting. Frankly, I did not expect to be as moved as I was. It was a great honor to have been selected to represent my fellow Floridians. That came home to me as I reached the floor. I genuinely enjoy interacting with people from different backgrounds. The United States is a remarkably diverse place, and I believe this diversity was represented not only in our delegation, but also in those of the other states. Florida’s delegation included first-generation Americans, such as myself, and longtime natives. It included Indian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and even one Armenian-American.

Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Harout Samra

“Governor Romney knows and understands the issues that are important to Armenian-Americans. Living in Belmont and serving as the Governor of Massachusetts, he’s had more important contacts and relationships with the Armenian-American community than any President since Ronald Reagan. He will not mislead us and pander to us to get Armenian-American votes like President Obama.

“Governor Romney is the right man for the moment. He understands how to turn around the economy at home and to ensure that America is respected abroad. Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney’s top priority will be to create an environment that leads to more jobs and spurs economic growth,” stated Samra.

Another Republican Party Delegate, Bob Semonian, State Chairman of Massachusetts Republican Party-Ethnic Outreach expressed that he was “thrilled to attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa this year. Americans want honesty in the White House and Mitt Romney is an honest man who will best represent all of America,” stated Semonian, who also serves as the Armenian-Americans for Mitt Romney Coalition Massachusetts State Chair.

Bob Semonian with Josh Romney

From the Great Lakes State was Krista Haroutunian, who serves as the Republican Party Chair for the 13th Congressional District. She stated, “My time at the 2012 RNC was extremely important and made me proud to be American, an Armenian, and from Detroit, Michigan.” Haroutunian continued, “The first concern of an American, of whatever cultural or ethnic background, is the independence, freedom, and well-being of Americans. This allows us to be able to express concerns for Armenian issues and to assist appropriately.

“Mr. Romney knows that the founding fathers of America had great concerns about dictatorial attitudes and insisted upon a separation of powers – something Mr. Obama has side-stepped for the better part of four years. Mr. Romney wants to return to a Constitutional government through our elected Representatives. Mr. Obama wants all-pervasive government with the decision makers being unelected bureaucrats.

“The choice is clear – constitutional guarantees and responsibilities to preserve the rule of law versus arbitrary actions from a few with no guarantees of the rule of law. For all Armenians and all Americans, Mitt Romney is the best choice.”

Over the course of this year, several Armenian-Americans across the country, including the author, have been challenged on our position of supporting Governor Romney over President Obama. “What do you expect from Romney that will be different from Obama,” is the common intrigue.  To put it plainly, like all Americans, we expect leadership, honesty and values from our elected officials. When it comes to Armenian issues, President Obama failed to fulfill his campaign pledge to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as President. That calls into question his honesty. President Obama’s nomination and subsequent recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to serve as Ambassador to Azerbaijan was opposed by Senators of his own party, not to mention many Armenian-Americans. That calls into question his ability to lead. And the silence of the Obama administration on the destruction, confiscation and profiteering of Christian Armenian religious properties by the Turkish Government, as well as Azerbaijan’s completed destruction of centuries-old Armenian Khachkars at Julfa, call into question his values.

From Fresno to Philadelphia, from Manchester to Miami, from Detroit to Denver, from Waukesha to Washington, DC, Armenian-Americans have expressed their frustration with President Obama, and many former Armenian supporters of his are now backing Mitt Romney for President. In fact, one prominent Armenian-American who supported President Obama in 2008, and is now backing Governor Romney, expressed as much to the author. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she shared her frustration: “Senator Obama chose to promise, in campaign speeches and written outreach, recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks. He fully understood the importance of that issue to the Armenian American community and indeed to all right thinking Americans.  Americans deserve a President who knows his principles and makes his decisions in accordance with those principles. Americans deserve a President who has integrity. So why come November would I vote for a President who over the course of four years has delivered precious little and lied to us and other communities?”

Indeed, why would we? She then confessed, “I’ll take a chance on Romney.”

This article originally appeared in the October 13, Volume 13 Print Edition of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.

Chef John Minas adds Armenian Flair to Florida Fare as New Executive Chef at the Governor’s Mansion

Chef John Minas adds Armenian Flair to Florida Fare as New Executive Chef at the Governor’s Mansion

By Doug Kalajian
FLArmenians Cuisine Contributor

Ask anyone with a glimmer of culinary consciousness about Florida cuisine and you’ll most likely hear a tale of Caribbean-Latin fusion that sizzles like the sands of South Beach.
Then ask Chef John Minas.

For one of his first dinners as Executive Chef at the Florida governor’s mansion, Minas served notice that there’s a new culinary accent in the Sunshine State: Armenian.

“I made grape leaves,” he said proudly.

Executive Chef John Minas

Minas, who grew up in the deep-rooted Armenian community of Watertown, Mass., inherited a love of food from his Armenian and Assyrian family. He credits his paternal grandfather, Bashir Minas, with inspiring him.

“Every Sunday, we’d go to my grandfather’s house,” he said. “He cooked the best Armenian and Middle Eastern food I ever tasted. Dolmas, sarmas. And his fasoulia — oh my gosh! He made it all and he made it amazing. He wasn’t a trained chef, but he was a great cook.”

On weekdays, young Minas rushed home from high school to watch the back-to-back shows of Food Network pioneers Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. “Those guys were all about the food and the technique,” he said.

The idea took hold that he could meld the elegance and discipline of Western fine dining with the flavors and ingredients he grew up with.

After training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Minas worked at several restaurants in the Northeast and was planning to open his own when he heard about the unique opportunity in far-off Tallahassee, Florida. He sent a resume and got a quick invitation for an interview on April 11, his 26th birthday.

The interview turned out to be an audition.

“All of a sudden I was cooking breakfast at the mansion,” he said. “That was followed by lunch and then dinner.” While he was at it, Minas volunteered an afternoon snack, “a real mezze platter” including feta cheese and pita bread.

Nearly every dish in his day-long cooking marathon reflected Minas’ cultural connection.

“My dinner entree was a watercress tabbouleh with Chilean sea bass and grilled asparagus,” he said. “It was a French take on Middle Eastern. I’m very big on that.”

The fourth of six candidates to try out, Minas was barely back in Boston when he received news that he’d been hired. He started his new job in May and launched straight into an exciting yet demanding routine. Minas supervises all planning and preparation for a whirlwind of state dinners and charity events as well as daily meals for Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott.

Minas said he’s excited about Florida’s rich variety of fresh seafood and produce, but the job has kept him so busy that he’s had limited opportunity to travel around the state. “I’m really looking forward not only to getting to know the state, but to meet the Armenians here,” he said. “I want to get to Boca Raton and all the other Armenian communities.”

So far, Minas has brought not only Armenian touches to the mansion menu but other Middle Eastern favorites.

“I take our cuisine and try to make it relevant for a new generation,” he said. “I make a very refined hummus, with several variations on a plate. For example, a kalamata hummus served with traditional pita chips and a basil-pesto hummus with tomato pita chips. It’s no better than my mother’s hummus, but it’s my version.”

Gov. Scott has become such a fan that he appointed Minas and his sous chef, Carin Butler, to represent the state in the 2011 Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. “John is a talented chef and cooks up some of the best food I’ve ever tasted,” the governor announced. “He’s going to give those other chefs a run for their money.”

Minas presented a Florida black grouper with avocado crème fraiche and spicy shrimp toast that he said “tastes like the state of Florida on a plate.” He didn’t win, but he wasn’t discouraged.

“I’m just getting started,” he said. “The job and the people here are wonderful. I plan to be in Tallahassee for a long time. Then, who knows?”

Doug Kalajian is a retired journalist in Palm Beach County and Sous Chef at http://www.TheArmenianKitchen.com.