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Armenian Assembly of America Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian Travels to Armenia, Meets with Government Leaders

Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian with Assembly Regional Director Arpi Vartanian during a meeting in Yerevan with Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

Washington, DC – Anthony Barsamian, Co-Chair of the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly), traveled to Armenia and met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and former President Robert Kocharyan this summer.

Joined by the Assembly’s Regional Office Director Arpi Vartanian, the meeting focused on relations between Armenia and the United States. Barsamian stated that the Assembly will continue its efforts to enhance Armenian American activism based on mutually shared values.

During the meeting, Barsamian also extended his condolences to the Armenian Republic and families of the soldiers killed in the Artsakh war last Fall.

While in Armenia, Barsamian was interviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, where he elaborated on U.S.-Armenia relations under the Biden Administration and its increased humanitarian assistance and involvement in the region. He commented on the importance of building infrastructure in Armenia, alongside U.S. partnership, to assist in strengthening Armenia’s security and prosperity.

Regarding the post-war situation, Barsamian urged for the immediate release of Armenian prisoners of war and intensified efforts from the OSCE Minsk Group to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement. Barsamian cited security as the primary issue for Armenia at the moment.

Despite the milestone of U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Barsamian noted the work of the Assembly carries on as the international trend of affirmation continues. Barsamian also noted the importance of Turkey coming to terms with its past.

Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian with former President of Armenia Robert Kocharyan

“This visit provided an important opportunity to strengthen relations and discuss current developments in Armenia and the United States as we all work toward a secure and peaceful Armenia and Artsakh,” said Assembly Regional Director Arpi Vartanian.

Petition Launched on White House Website Calling on Government of Turkey to Open Border with Armenia for Syrian Refugees

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

WH Petition_Syrian-Arm_01.11.13

Over the course of the last week, an Internet petition launched on the White House website has stirred emotions and reignited the debate surrounding Turkey’s nearly 20-year blockade of Armenia. In September 2011, the Obama administration launched “We the People” an online platform whereby American citizens can petition their government, a right enshrined in the First Amendment of US Constitution. According to the terms, a petition must reach 25,000 signatures within 30 days of its launch in order for it to receive a response from the administration. On January 15, the White House raised the signature threshold to 100,000 signatures. However, the new requirement applies only to new petitions and does not affect this petition.

[Click here to read the petition.]

The petition says that “There are 200,000 ethnic Armenians living in Syria and most of them want to escape to Armenia where they can feel safe, comfortable, find a job, a place to live and go to schools” and that the “road from Syria to Armenia goes through Turkey which closed its border with Armenia in 1993.” It concludes, “There shouldn’t be closed borders in the 21-st century.”

The petition was launched on January 5 and, as of this writing, has garnered over 500 signatures, five of which hail from Florida. The petition was initiated by Heritage Party activist Daniel Ioannisian in Armenia, ArmeniaNow first reported. There is no stipulation that the petition organizer be a US citizen, according to the Terms of Participation of the “We the People” platform.

Last year, Florida Armenians held events in Boca Raton and Hollywood, raising thousands of dollars to assist in the Syrian-Armenian relief effort.

According to the ArmeniaNow report, Petros Gasparian, who fled to Armenia amid intense fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, welcomes the initiative. He says that many want to drive to Armenia, but avoid the long travel through Georgia, which is also complicated by the need to get an extra visa and other difficulties.

“The road is very long and unfamiliar, while it’s only half a day’s drive from Aleppo to Yerevan [it takes about 35 hours to reach Armenia from Aleppo by way of Georgia]. That would be easy to all of us, but I’m not sure Turkey would display such an attitude,” Gasparian told ArmeniaNow.

Syria’s largest city, Aleppo is home to 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most descendants of survivors of the 1915 Turkish genocide of Christian Armenians. Today, thousands of Armenians have fled Syria, many seeking refuge in Armenia. According to immigration officials in Yerevan over 6,000 Syrian-Armenians have applied for citizenship in Armenia.

As Turkey’s failed policy to blockade Christian Armenia enters its second decade, the remnants of the Soviet Union continue to linger in the South Caucasus as the last iron curtain hangs over this remote but volatile region. Support for Armenian-Turkish rapprochement reached an all time high in 2009 when Armenia and Turkey signed Protocols to establish diplomatic relations. However, the accords stalled in the Turkish parliament and still await ratification.

Others hope, however, that modern-day Turkey can play a leadership role in the region and in the Syrian conflict in particular. Perhaps in all of the turmoil in the Middle East the Turkish government can display such leadership and open the border with Armenia, at least for refugees. Although a relatively small step in this context, it has the potential to move the ball forward in a larger one: Armenian-Turkish relations. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Armenia in July 2010, she was asked about the state of Armenian-Turkish relations and the next step in the process. She replied, “The ball is in the other [Turkey’s] court.”

Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @Taniel_Shant. 

*This story was updated on January 16, 2013.