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Florida’s House Delegation Split on Supporting President Obama’s Call to Arm Syrian Rebels

U.S. President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to defeat ISIL. September 10, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to defeat ISIL. September 10, 2014

Senate Confirms Next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey; Vote on Nominees to Yerevan, Baku Expected in December

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor

This week, the House and Senate considered measures concerning the Armenian American community. Congress was expected to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown on September 30th, when current funding is set to expire. However, after President Obama’s primetime address on September 10th calling for the arming of Syrian rebels, the House voted on a measure to do just that and attached it as an amendment to the CR, setting up a complex and very interesting pattern of voting.

In what Roll Call described as a vote “fractured along untraditional [party] lines,” the House approved the CR 319-108, and 273-156 on the amendment to arm Syrian rebels. 143 Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the CR, while 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans opposed. On the Syria amendment, 159 Republicans were joined by 114 Democrats in support of the measure, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats opposed.

[Also on FLArmenians.com: From Crimea to Kessab: Did the West Approve the Attack on Kessab]

According to several interviews with Armenian American community leaders across the United States, an overwhelming majority support US airstrikes against ISIL. However, they do not support President Obama’s call to train and arm Syrian rebel factions, especially in the wake of the Turkish-backed rebel assault on the Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria earlier this year.

An analysis by FLArmenians.com reveals that House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Congressmen Alan Grayson (D-FL), and David Jolly (R-FL) voted against arming Syrian rebels, yet supported the CR.

Republican Congressmen Ted Yoho (R-FL), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Richard Nugent (R-FL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Curt Clawson (R-FL) voted against both the amendment arming Syrian rebels and the CR. Interestingly, Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), opposed President Obama on both the Syrian amendment and the CR.

Everyone else stood with President Obama in supporting the amendment to arm Syrian rebels and for the CR.

While it is clear that Armenian Americans support the President’s vow to “destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL,” they are wary of training and arming Islamic rebel factions with known ties to al-Qaeda and that have a record of attacking Christians just like ISIL.

[Also on FLArmenians.com: U.S. State Department “Deeply Troubled” by Attacks Against Armenians in Kessab, Syria]

Florida Armenians have an important role to play in this debate. Many Armenian American families in Florida emigrated from Syria, mostly descendants of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Some still have relatives there. They are uniquely familiar with the regional dynamics and can provide critical insight into what groups truly protect and respect religious minorities, be they Christian Armenian, Assyrian, or Yezidi.

Ambassador Nominees to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey

Mills, Cekuta, Bass

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 98-0 to confirm John R. Bass as the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-FL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) submitted to the nominee questions on the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s blockade of Armenia. “We commend Chairman Menendez, and Senators Barbara Boxer, Mark Kirk and Ed Markey for their stance on issues concerning Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia, and other critical issues affecting the region,” stated Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Following in the footsteps of Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who in 1915 alerted the world to the Armenian Genocide, it is important that our Foreign Service officers execute a foreign policy that appropriately reflects America’s values,” he said.

Both Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) supported Bass’ nomination without question.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from President Obama’s nominees to be the next U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively. Both are expected to be confirmed by the full Senate sometime during the lame-duck session, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, November 12th.

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US House of Representatives Defeats Turkey Biased Legislation

Majority of Florida Delegation Opposed Turkey-Skewed Measure

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

Washington, DC – Yesterday, the US House of Representatives voted down legislation, on a bipartisan basis, that singled out Turkey for preferential treatment to engage in economic development projects on specific Indian tribal lands in the United States. H.R. 2362, the Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act, was brought to the floor for a vote under the suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage. The measure was defeated 222-160, falling short of the 255 votes needed.

Speaking in support of H. R. 2362 were Representatives Doc Hastings (R-WA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), James Moran (D-VA), Dan Boren (D-OK) along with Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), while Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Hellenic Caucus Co-Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) led the charge against the legislation. On the day of the vote, Congressman Bilirakis, joined by his fellow Hellenic and Armenian Caucus colleagues, issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to House members, urging their opposition to H.R. 2362.

In a statement released by the Armenian Assembly of America, bill sponsor Cole noted in his remarks that the Turkish Coalition of America approached him about the bill. “According to campaign contribution records, Representative Cole has received $6,000 in Turkish PAC money this cycle while Representative Foxx received $10,000,” read the Assembly’s statement.

A majority of Representatives from the Florida delegation opposed giving preferential treatment to the Republic of Turkey.  Florida representatives voting in opposition to H.R. 2362 include Reps. Sandy Adams (R-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Mario Diaz-Bolart (R-FL), Jeff Miller (R-FL), Rich Nugent (R-FL), David Rivera (R-FL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Dennis Ross (R-FL), Steve Southerland (R-FL), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), and Allen West (R-FL). Voting in favor of the legislation were Florida Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), John Mica (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL). Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL), who is anticipated to win the Republican nomination in the Florida Senate race, was not present at yesterday’s vote.

According to the Armenian National Committee, “the measure was opposed by a broad spectrum of Hellenic and Armenian American organizations, including the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA), American Hellenic Institute (AHI), American Hellenic Council (AHC), the ANCA and the Armenian Assembly of America, all of which alerted House members about the negative repercussions of passing the controversial pro-Turkey measure.”

You can watch the debate on H.R. 2362 here.

*Updated July 26, 2012 at 11:55 AM