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US House Foreign Affairs Committee Passes Legislation Calling on Turkey to Re-open Halki Seminary, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen Calls on Turkey to End Occupation of Cyprus

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

Miami, FL – Last month, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H. Res. 506, legislation “calling on the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay.” A symbolic measure similar to the Armenian Genocide resolution, H. Res. 506 (the Halki bill) is a non-binding, sense of the House resolution and has no legal or statutory effect. Florida Congressman, and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), introduced the Halki bill. Bilirakis is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, and a member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus and International Religious Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)

Founded in 1844, the Theological School of Halki served as the principal seminary for the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate until Turkish authorities forcibly closed the institution in 1971. “It is time that the Theological School at Halki is immediately reopened with no preconditions,” Congressman Bilirakis said. “What the Orthodox Christian community and all religious freedom watchdogs throughout the world are asking for is simply that Turkey abides by its constitution, which secures religious rights for all of its citizens and institutions,” stated Bilirakis.

In addition to Congressman Bilirakis, 35 Members of Congress cosponsored the bill, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Florida Representatives Mario Diaz-Bolart (R-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), David Rivera (R-FL) and Allen West (R-FL). The next step in the legislative process is for H. Res. 506 to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. There is no indication that the Halki bill will receive a vote by the full House at this time. However, given the upcoming Presidential election, it would not be surprising to see H. Res. 506 pass the House of Representatives before November.

Two weeks following committee passage of H. Res. 506, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen wrote a punishing Op-Ed in the Washington Times explicitly calling on Turkey to leave Cyprus in peace. In her opinion column, Ros-Lehtinen strongly condemned the “illegal military occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops,” highlighting the “75 [United Nations Security Council] resolutions calling for Turkey to allow Greek Cypriots to return to their homes and to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)

Turkey invaded the Mediterranean island in 1974, dividing it between the north and south, causing massive destruction of life, land and religious artifacts. The decades long presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus, which today number 40,000, in addition to Ankara’s promotion of mainland-Turkish emigration to the occupied territory, amount to Turkey’s “creeping annexation” of the island, according to Ros-Lehtinen.

Cyprus is a member of the European Union (EU), which Turkey aspires to join, with US support. Yet Turkey does not recognize the existence of the Cypriot Republic, a major obstacle in Turkey’s EU bid. In recent months, pressure has been mounting heavily on Turkey to end its illegal occupation and help bring about a peaceful reunification of the island, since Cyprus assumed the rotating EU Presidency on July 5.

As Ros-Lehtinen points out in her column, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements unequivocally illustrate Ankara’s annexation policy. While in Cyprus last year Erdogan told Turkish-Cypriots, “If you don’t want us to send people, you need to have more babies.” Also last year, Erdogan visited Germany; home to approximately 3 million ethnic Turks. In his address to the Turkish-German community Erdogan told his ethnic kin to integrate into German society, but to resist “assimilation,” irking German officials. Statements such as these do little to quell Western fears of the Turkish Prime Minister and his ruling Justice & Development Party’s growing neo-Ottomanism, which many view as an extension of the Ottoman Empire’s pan-Turanism policy. That policy led to the 1915 Armenian Genocide, where 1.5 million Armenians perished in a systematic effort by Ottoman Turks to cleans Anatolia of its ethnic Christian (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian) origins.

Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen is a member of the Armenian Caucus, Hellenic Caucus & Turkish Caucus. As previously reported by FLArmenians, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen was instrumental in the successful passage of H. Res. 306, the Protection of Christian Heritage bill, by the full House of Representatives in December of last year. Ros-Lehtinen and Bilirakis are the only members on the Armenian Caucus from the Florida delegation, and the only members of the Florida delegation to cosponsor H. Res. 306.

In February, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) held a screening of the one-hour documentary “Cyprus Still Divided: A US Foreign Policy Failure,” at the Archimedean Academy Amphitheater in Miami, Florida. Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen offered the keynote address at this event and expressed strong support for Hellenic-American issues. Reflecting on her family’s experience fleeing the communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, “I know…what is at stake if we in this country fail to support the Greek-Cypriots in their struggle,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Whether Congressional leaders genuinely support efforts to protect international religious freedom in Turkey, especially in the face of growing persecution of Christian minorities and a culture of anti-Christian intimidation throughout the Middle East, remains to be seen in either US law or the execution of foreign policy. Although foreign relations is Constitutionally reserved to the Executive branch, Congress retains many tools at its disposal, such as the state department authorization act, national defense authorization act, foreign assistance appropriations measures, and the authorization of US military and defense company procurements, all of which have the ability to dramatically impact US policy in the region.

Genocide Under the Ottoman Empire Discussed in Tampa

In April, the University of South Florida (USF) Libraries Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center welcomed historian Ronald Grigor Suny for its second Armenian Studies event in six months. Turnout was exceptional, with a standing-room-only crowd in attendance.

Suny explored a variety of historic justifications for and ramifications of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923) as well as killing and deportations of Greeks, Arabs, Assyrians, and others, under the Ottoman Empire. He spoke of first-hand research conducted during numerous visits to Turkey over a 20-year period. During visits to Kurdistan, he spoke with Kurds regarding their historic memory of and, sometimes, participation in the Genocide, having been bribed and coerced by its orchestrators. Most importantly, Suny described a relationship between the marginalization of the Kurdish population in present-day Turkey and the denial of the Armenian Genocide, suggesting that if the Turkish government were to acknowledge the Genocide, removing the ‘national security’ implications it uses as justification now, it would remove a tenet of their justification for failing to grant Kurdistan autonomy.

The talk also related what Dr. Suny sees as hopeful steps, from large, unimpeded demonstrations taking place in Turkey, and his own Workshop for Armenian/Turkish Scholarship (WATS) collaborations, where Turkish and Armenian scholars come together to explore the essential truths of the Armenian Genocide.

“Dr. Suny explained in a highly convincing manner how the reluctance of the current Turkish government to admit to the Armenian genocide was linked to the current Turkish-Kurdish conflict in Eastern Anatolia,” said USF History Professor Kees Boterbloem. “He pointed out, encouragingly, that this denial, a standard adhered to by all of Turkey’s governments since the 1920s, may have had its day.”

The audience discussion that followed the talk raised interesting questions about France and Turkey and admission to the European Union, and an understanding of the difference between the official Turkish government line and the feelings of the Turkish populace.

The USF Libraries Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center wishes to express gratitude to the USF History Department and Golfo Alexopoulos for their sponsorship of this important event.

The Armenian Studies collection at the USF Tampa Library continues to grow, with the acquisition of materials in a wide range of languages. Please contact Merrell Dickey to learn how you can support this initiative: (813) 974-1654 or mdickey@usf.edu.

SOURCE: http://www.lib.usf.edu/donate-usf-library/uncategorized/genocide-under-the-ottoman-empire/?utm_campaign=suny&utm_medium=email&utm_source=&utm_content=finishreadingtextlink

Armenian Genocide featured in Miami Dade College’s First Annual Genocide Awareness Week

Armenian Genocide featured in Miami Dade College’s First Annual Genocide Awareness Week

By Tina Varjabedian
FLArmenians Miami Contributor

Miami, FL – On Wednesday, April 4, Miami Dade College’s Homestead campus launched their First Annual Genocide Awareness Week with an opening event presenting the Armenian Genocide. Over 200 students and faculty members of non-Armenian backgrounds were present to learn about the history and politics surrounding the events of the Armenian Genocide.

Dr. Jeffery Thomas, Dean of Miami Dade College’s Homestead Campus, enthusiastically gave a welcoming introduction where he emphasized the significance of recognizing what he pronounced as a “denied chapter in world history.” Professor Hannibal Travis, J.D. from Florida International University’s College of Law, presented a discussion about International Law and Middle Eastern Politics. Taniel Koushakjian, Director of Grassroots at the Armenian Assembly of America, concluded the discussion with a segment on Survivor Accounts and Current Political Aspects Surrounding Armenian Genocide Recognition.

The lectures were followed by a “March for Genocide Prevention” ceremony, where students and faculty marched from the auditorium to the campus’s courtyard while holding sunflowers symbolizing the martyrs of the genocide. The event was concluded with a casual Q & A between the event’s speakers and students, while they enjoyed samples of Armenian pastries and music in the courtyard displaying the students’ Genocide artwork.