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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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Boca Raton Walkathon to Raise Public Awareness of Armenian Genocide

Event to raise funds for genocide education in Florida

BOCA RATON, FL – An upcoming walkathon in Boca Raton will mark the 99th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, whereby 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated by the Ottoman Turkish Empire during World War I. Event proceeds will go towards genocide awareness, community outreach and advocacy for more comprehensive genocide education in Florida public schools.

The Walk Against Genocide, a two-mile walk which will take place Saturday, April 12 at Mizner Park, is organized by the Armenian Genocide Commemoration (AGC) Inc., a nonprofit organization comprised of representatives from various Armenian American organizations and churches in South Florida.  The mission of the AGC is to educate the public about the first genocide of the 20th century — and that genocide continues to occur in modern times, all over the world.  In the past few weeks, Armenians have watched history repeat itself as foreign Islamic extremists sacked the predominantly Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria, displacing thousands of peaceful Armenians.

Arsine Kaloustian-Rosenthal, AGC’s Public Relations Director, explained: “The Armenian American community usually finds itself commemorating the genocide within its own confines.  However, with the 100th anniversary one year away, there seems to be a stirring in Armenian communities all over the world.  By planning highly visible events such as this walkathon, we are throwing open the door to all who wish to learn more about us, our culture, and the genocide that took our ancestors from us.  As the saying goes, ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’  We must raise our voices together to condemn not only the Armenian Genocide but also the Holocaust, the Assyrian, Greek, Ukrainian, Cambodian, Rwandan and Darfur genocides, among others.”

Today, the Armenian Genocide remains the second-most studied genocide event, after the better-known Jewish Holocaust of World War II.  In fact, when Adolf Hitler was asked how the world would respond to his “Final Solution” plan — the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe — he replied, without compunction: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, has yet to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, despite repeated calls from historians and world leaders. Over 20 countries and 40 U.S. States officially recognize the Armenian Genocide committed by Turkey, including the State of Florida.

David Silvers, Candidate for Florida House District 89, will be speaking at the event and has stated “It is important to acknowledge both the suffering and the resilience of our fellow world citizens.  Recognition of Turkey’s atrocities toward the Armenian people in 1915 is a necessary step in that process.  An injury to one is an injury to us all.”

A traditional Armenian performance by renowned musicians Joe Zeytoonian and Myriam Eli will take place following the walk, and food and refreshments will be provided. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m., while the walk starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Mizner Park Amphitheater, located at 590 Plaza Real in Boca Raton.

Registration for the Walk Against Genocide is $19.15, including a T-shirt and a bottle of water. Children under eight years old may participate for free.  To learn more, sponsor a walker, make a donation or sign up for the event, please visit  http://www.walkagainstgenocide.com.

AGC Inc is non-profit organization whose purpose is to observe the Armenian Genocide, as well as bring awareness to the public on all genocides.  The committee was incorporated in February 2014 and is comprised of representatives from the following South Florida organizations:  St. David Armenian Church, St. Mary Armenian Church, Armenian Assembly of America, Armenian National Committee of America, Armenian Relief Society, Florida Armenians, Homenetmen, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and Knights of Vartan.

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Armenian Walk A Thon Flyer 2014

From Crimea To Kessab: Did the West Approve the Attack on Kessab?

April 3, 2014
By Hagop Koushakjian

The March 21 attack on the historic Armenian coastal town of Kessab was a shock to the Armenian nation worldwide.

Kessab seemed a peaceful, sleepy town far removed from the Syrian civil war that has been raging for the past three years. Then, early on Friday morning, the majority Christian Armenian populated town awoke to the sounds of rockets and gunfire, forcing 670 Armenian families to flee in haste to nearby Latakia, leaving behind the sick and the elderly. From what we know now, the town was attacked by Al-Qaeda related Al-Nusrah Front Islamist terrorists that crossed the Turkish border with the support and approval of the Turkish authorities. Turkey’s role was clearly evidenced by the fact that the Turkish military shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was providing air support to the regime’s forces. The downing emboldened the jihadists to carry out their raid on Kessab Armenians.

A rebel fighter checks a launcher near the village of Kessab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia, on March 23, 2014. Rebels seized Kessab a day later. Amr Radwan al-Homsi—AFP/Getty Images

So why was Kessab a target and why now?

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s decision on September 3, 2013 to join Russia’s Customs Union instead of the EU Eastern Partnership, after two years of negotiations, was not welcome news to the West. Then the referendum in Crimea to have that region join with Russia was assessed positively by Yerevan, hailing the self-determination right of the regions Russian majority. Then on March 27, the UN General Assembly voted 100 to 11 on a non-binding resolution declaring the Crimean referendum invalid. Armenia, considering the Karabakh factor, was among the 11 nations. In addition, the Republic of Armenia has developed close economic ties with Iran offsetting the 20-year blockades of Turkey and Azerbaijan.

All this was viewed negatively by the West, it appears, prompting US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern to call Armenia’s UN vote “regrettable.” James Warlick, the US representative at the OSCE Minsk Group, also voiced his displeasure for Armenia’s pro-Russian stand vis-à-vis Ukraine. Taken together, this latest move on Crimea seems to have irritated the US. It is as though Armenia has crossed a red line.

On March 29 the US State Department called last week’s unprovoked attack on innocent Armenian civilians “deeply troubling.” Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said, “we have seen some statements by groups fighting in Kessab saying they will not target civilians and will respect minorities and holy places. We expect those commitments to be upheld.” Interestingly, spokesperson Harf was careful not to use the word “terrorists” when referring to the foreign fighters that attacked Kessab. She referred to them as “groups,” downplaying the terrorist element of the attackers.

The Syrian civil war is ground zero for the latest East vs. West international proxy war and it is well known that NATO member Turkey is providing Al-Qaeda terrorists and other foreign fighters with arms, medical supplies and safe border access to Syria. Which begs the question, is the West calling the shots in Kessab while offering assurances that these jihadist butchers will respect minorities and their holy places of worship?

Kessab is located in the far northwestern part of Syria with no military strategic significance.

Which brings us back to the question, why Kessab, why now? It can easily be argued that Kessab was the price the Armenian nation had to pay for their close ties with Russia and Iran.