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Armenian Assembly Calls for Public Congressional Hearings on Turkish Interference in America’s Democratic Institutions

Reiterates Call for Members of Congress to Withdraw from the Turkish Caucus

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Amid reports that Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be filing new indictments after probing a potential quid pro quo scheme, whereby then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn would be paid $15 million to secretly carry out Turkey’s bidding, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) calls for thorough public Congressional hearings to fully expose these matters. Flynn was already paid $530,000 last year for work the Justice Department says benefited the government of Turkey, and did not register as a foreign agent at the time.

The Assembly has repeatedly highlighted Turkey’s attempts to gain surreptitious influence over U.S. officials and media to the detriment of U.S. national security, and has urged investigations therein. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Member, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), in a June 2017 op-ed in The Hill titled “Did Turkey’s payments to Michael Flynn delay our military operations against ISIS?” stated that “questions regarding Turkey, however, reveal most clearly how personal considerations may have overridden our national interests.” In addition, the Assembly has also highlighted Azerbaijan’s attempts to undermine western democratic values and institutions through the billions it has spent in the “Laundromat scheme” to buy silence. Investigations are now bearing fruit. The Assembly has also urged with some success those Representatives who joined the Turkish and Azeri Caucuses to withdraw.

In Florida, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) sit on the Armenian Caucus. Ros-Lehtinen, who will retire in 2018, is also on the Turkish Caucus, as are Reps. Dennis Ross (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Ted Yolo (R-FL). Hastings is the only Florida Representative on the Azerbaijan Caucus.

“The latest news regarding secret payments to Michael Flynn to carry out Turkey’s bidding are just the tip of the iceberg,” stated Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian. “Illegal Turkish and Azerbaijani money has been flowing into D.C. and we have an obligation to immediately stop these corrupting practices. Beyond thorough investigations and indictments, exposure through public hearings and legislative reform to increase reporting and penalties are necessary to stop officials who can be bought by the Erdogans and Aliyevs of the world from hijacking the American government,” they added. “Members ought not to associate themselves with such corrupt and authoritarian regimes. Given Turkey’s treatment of Christians, dangerously rogue behavior, denial of the Armenian Genocide and support for Azerbaijan’s ISIS-style beheadings and other attacks, it is well past time for Members of Congress to withdraw their membership from the Turkish and Azeri Congressional Caucuses.”

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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.

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.