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Congressman Deutch Cosponsors Genocide Prevention Resolution

Last week, South Florida Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) became the latest cosponsor of H. Res. 220, a resolution expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding past genocides.

The resolution states that “the lessons of past genocides should be applied to help prevent future war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” It reaffirms the 2016 resolutions passed in the House and Senate that recognized the ISIS killings of “Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria” as genocide, as well as the decades-long U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide.

In a series of tweets announcing his support for the legislation, Congressman Deutch stated that “Over 100 years after Armenian Genocide, it is our responsibility to continue to learn from this dark moment in history.”

“Over 100 years after the Armenian Genocide, it is our responsibility to continue to learn from this dark moment in history which caused unimaginable devastation and irreparable pain to the Armenian people,” Rep. Deutch told FLArmenians.com. “As we’ve learned from survivors of the Holocaust, keeping alive the memory of those lost and retelling the story of this genocide is essential in working to prevent history from repeating itself. Unfortunately, the recent genocide against the Yazidis by ISIS reminds us that we still have far to go,” he said.

Deutch, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is only the second Florida lawmaker to cosponsor H. Res. 220. Armenian Caucus Vice-Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) led the effort in the introduction of H. Res. 220 back in March. It currently has 52 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A date has not yet been set for a committee vote on the bill.

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Armenian Church Diocesan Banquet Honors Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Sandra Shahinian Leitner

PALM HARBOR, FL – Two distinguished individuals were honored for their support of the Armenian Church and the larger Armenian community at the annual Awards Banquet held as part of the 115th Diocesan Assembly in Palm Harbor, FL, on Friday evening, May 5.

Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian presided over the banquet, which was hosted by St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park, FL.

The award for the “Friend of the Armenians” was bestowed on U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis. A longtime supporter of Armenia and an advocate for Armenian Genocide recognition, Congressman Bilirakis has also been an outspoken proponent of preserving the Christian heritage in Turkey and the Middle East.

As the vice chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, he has worked to strengthen relations and economic cooperation between the U.S., Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabagh.

“This award means very much to me. I feel like I’m more than a friend—I’m a cousin,” Congressman Bilirakis said, referring to his Greek-American heritage.

He recalled hearing stories about the burning of Smyrna as a child, and being raised in a hardworking, pious Christian community. “We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors,” he said, “As long as they’re not forgotten, their sacrifice will continue to have meaning now and into the future.”

He went on to speak about his commitment to protecting Christians in the Middle East, creating opportunities for Orthodox church leaders to be heard by government officials, and pursuing efforts for Genocide recognition.

“Congressman Bilirakis, I want you to know that the entire Armenian Church community is grateful to you,” Archbishop Barsamian said. “We are proud to have such an honorable friend as you, lending your voice and strength to our own. I know you are a man of faith, and I want you to know that our prayers are always with you.”

Receiving this year’s “Armenian Church Member of the Year” award was Sandra Shahinian Leitner.

Ms. Shahinian Leitner has served the Armenian Church in a variety of capacities in her home parish of St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, NJ, and on the Diocesan level. She is currently a Diocesan Trustee and board member of the Fund for Armenian Relief.

Ms. Shahinian Leitner recalled how she became involved in church leadership in her local parish and learned valuable lessons there that she took with her to other roles both on a Diocesan and global levels. She also noted the example of other women who have served the Armenian Church and laid the groundwork for women’s involvement in church leadership.

“My legacy is fleeting,” she had said in an interview prior to the awards banquet. “If anything, I hope that I have both touched individuals and influenced ways of thinking that will benefit us as a community of people who want to do good in the world.”

Both awards were presented by Archbishop Barsamian and Diocesan Council chair James Kalustian.

“Sandra puts all her energy, attention, and creativity into everything she is involved with—and it always leads to success,” Archbishop Barsamian said.

“On a personal level, Sandra is an individual of very fine character; honest, hard-working, and positive in outlook; a woman of grace, fine taste, and discernment,” he added. “She is friendly and generous with people from all walks of life.”

The Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian, pastor of St. Hagop Church, spoke about the importance of keeping Christ at the center of our daily lives. He said it is up to the new generation to carry forward the legacy of the visionary founders of the Eastern Diocese.

“Our diocese is like Noah’s Ark—it delivered our people to safety after the Genocide,” he said. “Our ancestors built Armenian churches in America and said thanks to God, like Noah did.”

Stepan Serpekian, St. Hagop Church Assembly committee chair, welcomed the clergy, delegates, and parishioners to the celebratory evening. He expressed gratitude to the St. Hagop Church Assembly committee for their hard work in organizing the weekend’s meetings.

As St. Hagop Church is marking its 10th anniversary of consecration this year, parish council chair Dr. Michael Shahnasarian noted all the people who have contributed to building the community over the last decade. “We have great fellowship and a great community,” he said.

Aram Megerian served as the master of ceremonies. Susanna Hovhannisyan sang the national anthems of the U.S. and Armenia. Tatev Baroyan performed arias from Puccini and Babajanian.

President Trump Statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Editor

Today, President Donald J. Trump released his administration’s first statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which is commemorated every April 24th by Armenians around the world. Using language invoked by presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush before him, President Trump did not use the term genocide to refer to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government during World War I.

“Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.  Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire,” the White House statement reads.

[Click here for a complete list of U.S. Presidential Statements on the Armenian Genocide]

“At a time when Christians and minority communities continue to be in imminent danger and under constant attack, the President’s statement fails to stand up for human rights and is inconsistent with American values, and represents the same kind of capitulation to Turkish authoritarianism which will cost more lives,” stated Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, co-chairs of the Armenian Assembly of America.

Earlier this month, 84 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump urging him to reaffirm the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide. “By commemorating the Armenian Genocide, we renew our commitment to prevent future atrocities,” the letter reads. Florida Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) were among the signatories.

“Asked why Trump decided not to use the term, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the statement is “consistent with statements that have been put out for at least several of the last administrations,”” The Hill reported.

Trumped employed the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” to describe the genocide, essentially using the Armenian equivalent of the English phrase. However, unlike, Presidents Obama and George W., Trump did not make a campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President.

Ronald Reagan was the last U.S. President to recognize the Armenian Genocide back in 1981.

Below is the full statement released by the White House:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Armenian Remembrance Day 2017

Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.  Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.  I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many.

As we reflect on this dark chapter of human history, we also recognize the resilience of the Armenian people.  Many built new lives in the United States and made indelible contributions to our country, while cherishing memories of the historic homeland in which their ancestors established one of the great civilizations of antiquity.

We must remember atrocities to prevent them from occurring again.  We welcome the efforts of Turks and Armenians to acknowledge and reckon with painful history, which is a critical step toward building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future.