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House Committee Approves Assistance for Nations Hosting Syrian Refugees

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) reported. In total, the bill provides $47.4 billion in funding for SFOPS, which is $10 billion less than FY17. The bill maintains Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act and includes language for aid to nations hosting Syrian refugees.

The SFOPS Report highlighted the need for additional assistance to “vulnerable populations in Syria and in neighboring countries,” comprised of Syrian refugees, Christians, and other minorities affected by the Syrian civil war and persecuted by the Islamic State (ISIS). The Committee raised concerns regarding “the lengthy displacement of Syrians and the ongoing burden they face, as well as the continued strain Syrian refugees are placing on host communities.”

“We commend the House Appropriations Committee for emphasizing the importance of humanitarian aid for both refugees and the nations hosting them,” Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said. “To date, Armenia has welcomed over 22,000 refugees from Syria who have escaped with their families. As conditions worsen in Syria, Armenia continues to serve as a sanctuary for persecuted Christians and other at-risk groups escaping genocide and violence in the Middle East. As the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues, we must ensure that relief aid reaches those in need, which includes Armenia as a host nation for refugee resettlement,” he added.

Referencing the designation of genocide committed against religious minorities in Syria and Iraq by Islamist extremists made by Secretary of State John Kerry on March 18, 2016, the bill allocates funds to “be made available for programs to protect vulnerable and persecuted religious minorities.” This includes programs authorized by H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, which the Armenian Assembly strongly supported, and was unanimously adopted by the House of Representatives on June 6, 2017. The Committee recommends not less than $10 million to be made available for programs to protect vulnerable and persecuted religious minorities. In addition, the bill states that $10 million should also be made available for international religious freedom programs.

The House Report also incorporated a section on Genocide Victim Memorial Sites and Tribunals, where funds are appropriated “to establish and maintain memorial sites of genocide” in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia.

“The Armenian Assembly will continue to push for additional assistance. Despite reductions across the board, it is imperative that Armenia and Artsakh have the resources necessary to address the compelling humanitarian needs as a result of the current refugee crisis as well as Azerbaijan’s ongoing and deadly ceasefire violations,” Ardouny stated.

Although the President’s budget cut aid to Azerbaijan, it also sharply reduced proposed aid to Armenia. The President’s budget request for Armenia included $4 million in Economic Support and Development Fund, $1.5 million for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and $700,000 for Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs. The House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats will hold a hearing tomorrow entitled “Examining the President’s FY 2018 Budget Proposal for Europe and Eurasia” for further discussion.

With action in the House Appropriations Committee completed, attention turns to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where a mark-up of its version of the bill is pending.

The Assembly submitted testimony earlier this year to the House Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee highlighting key areas of concern, including the ongoing Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades, the need for continued and robust funding as well as safeguarding of Christian minorities at risk in the Middle East, and support for a second U.S.-Armenia Millennium Challenge compact.

On March 17, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member and Armenian Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) provided testimony in support of aid to Armenia and Artsakh as the Administration first released the budget blueprint for FY18. They also signed a bipartisan letter, initiated by Rep. Pallone, on March 30 advocating “to advance U.S. interests by strengthening Armenia’s independence, promoting peace in Nagorno-Karabagh, and supporting Armenia as a regional safe haven for at-risk Middle East refugees” with Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA) and 22 other Representatives.

Spearheaded by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), 27 Members of Congress sent a letter last month to House Appropriations SFOPS Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) expressing concern about the 67 percent reduction in foreign aid to Armenia.

“At a time of tremendous global uncertainty, the U.S. should continue to foster the progress of its allies, not retreat from its responsibilities as the world’s leading democracy. As the U.S. and Armenia commemorate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations, we urge the committee to reject the harmful cuts to U.S. aid to Armenia proposed by the President’s FY18 budget,” the Representatives stated in the letter.

The FY 2018 State and Foreign Operations Bill – Full Committee Draft is available here.

The FY 2018 State and Foreign Operations Bill – Full Committee Report is available here.

The Armenian Assembly of America’s FY 2017 Testimony is available here.

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Armenian Assembly of America Holds Annual Members Meeting in South Florida

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this year, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) held its annual members meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. Organized by the Assembly’s South Florida Regional Council (SFRC) Chair Arsine Kaloustian and Assembly Board of Trustees Member and Life Trustee Lu Ann Ohanian, the annual members weekend in March included a three-day program of meetings, receptions, and events.

The success of the Assembly’s annual members weekend was ensured thanks to the generosity of Gold Sponsors Carolyn Mugar, Joyce Stein, Lu Ann & Bruce Ohanian, and Peter Vosbikian; Silver Sponsors Michael Haratunian and Annie Totah; Bronze Sponsors Marta Batmasian, James Kalustian, and Harry & Edna Keleshian; and Donors Ara Jabrayan, Ed Shooshanian, Hagop & Arlys Koushakjian, and Nevart Talanian.

The weekend kicked off with a “Pints and Professionals” reception at Tap 42 restaurant, organized by Florida Chair Arsine Kaloustian. Over 100 guests from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties gathered in downtown Boca Raton to enjoy complimentary cocktails and appetizers in a business casual atmosphere throughout the evening.

Guests at the Armenian Assembly of America "Pints and Professionals" Reception.

Guests at the Armenian Assembly of America “Pints and Professionals” Reception.

“The Assembly is looking towards the future with fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking to build up new membership as well as engage the active member base we already have. The three events we hosted in Florida reflected that aim. Our networking event, ‘Pints and Professionals,’ was particularly successful. Over 100 young Armenian professionals in attendance were anxious to learn more about the Assembly and excited for other upcoming events,” Kaloustian said. “The South Florida Regional Council plans to continue this renewed energy and encouraging momentum for the duration of 2016,” she added.

On Saturday morning, Assembly members and friends gathered at the Boca Raton Marriott for the Members and Board of Trustees meeting. The meeting featured reports from Board of Trustees Co-Chairmen Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, Board President Carolyn Mugar, and other board members and staff. Members also approved the Assembly’s annual budget and amended by-laws. The Board of Trustees meeting will hereafter convene every two years, rather than annually, to review the organization’s budget, endowment fund, and audit reports.

The Assembly’s current Board of Trustees include Anthony Barsamian, Co-Chairman; Van Krikorian, Co-Chairman; Hirair Hovnanian, Chairman Emeritus; Carolyn Mugar, President; Robert A. Kaloosdian, Vice Chairman and Counselor; Edele Hovnanian, Vice President; Bianka Kadian-Dodov, Treasurer; Oscar Tatosian, Secretary; Lisa Kalustian, Assistant Secretary; Aram Gavoor; Alex Karapetian; Raffi Kassarjian; Lu Ann Ohanian; Toros Sahakian; Joyce Stein; Annie Totah; and Talin Yacoubian. Mark Momjian will continue to serve as Solicitor.

During the meeting, the Assembly thanked Michael and Marie Haratunian, who became life trustees after years of dedication with the Assembly. Former Chairman of the Board Michael Haratunian participated in the Airlie House conferences that established the Armenian Assembly of America in 1972 and served as a member of the Board of Directors for many years. He also participated in the Assembly’s Mission Trips to Armenia in 1993, 1994, and 1997.

“The Armenian Assembly, the Armenian American community, and Armenians around the world are grateful to Michael and Marie Haratunian for their hard work over the years, preparing a new generation of leaders,” Assembly Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said. “The value they place on the Assembly’s core philosophy to approach important issues in Washington in a professional and on a non-partisan basis yielded a remarkable record of success, promoted four decades of interns, and helped Armenians everywhere.”

Krikorian and Barsamian also recognized several Assembly members and other prominent Armenian American leaders who passed away over the last year, honoring them with a moment of silence. Assembly members spoke in memory of the departed: Harry Keleshian; Gregory Adamian; George Kay; Hirant Candan; George Yacoubian, Sr.; former Washington Post Editor Ben Bagdikian; and former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore. While speaking about Ambassador Gilmore, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) shared about the tree planting on October 14 at the Memorial Park in Parakar Village, west of Yerevan, which was done in his honor.

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Armenian Assembly of America Board of Trustees Co-Chairmen Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, President Carolyn Mugar, Board Member Aram Gavoor, and Armenia Tree Project Deputy Director Jason Sohigian.

During the meeting, the Board of Trustees reviewed the Armenian Genocide centennial anniversary year and presented updates on Assembly activities from around the world, including Vatican City, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Yerevan, and more. The Assembly members reviewed the events in 2015 and additions to the Assembly’s staff, with new positions filled in California, Washington, D.C., and Armenia.

Krikorian spoke about the new, young leadership and the updated by-laws, aimed at charting the Assembly’s path toward a successful future. The board announced the now-mobile friendly Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) website as an example, and showcased the virtual museum. AGMA is now easily accessible on mobile and tablet devices.

Reflecting on the situation on the front line of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, prior to the four-day war, Krikorian displayed the Assembly-created Artsakh Cease-Fire Map, depicting violations by Azerbaijan on the Line of Contact. As feared, Azerbaijani aggression reached new heights in the weeks following the Assembly’s Annual Trustees Meeting, further endangering the region for Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, as well as refugees being forced to escape persecution in Syria and Iraq.

Barsamian discussed recent meetings he had with various officials, including President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia as well as OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Ambassador James Warlick in Washington, D.C. He mentioned exciting new projects in store for Armenia, including the Smithsonian Armenia spotlight on the National Mall Discovery Center to be opened in 2018, where the Armenia Tree Project plans to play a significant role.

Assembly President Carolyn Mugar presented on the Assembly and ATP’s tree planting projects. She focused on last April’s commemoration dedicated to the memory of U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau in Armenia, where ten members of the extended Morgenthau family, including eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren of Ambassador Morgenthau, participated in several ATP events.

On Saturday evening, Assembly members and friends gathered for a reception where guests discussed the new energy and planned initiatives of the Assembly. Attendees enjoyed the rest of the night dancing with live music provided by Dick Barsamian (Oud), John Arzigian (Accordion), and Mike Gregian (Dumbeg).

The Assembly’s Annual Members Meeting weekend concluded on Sunday with a book presentation at St. David’s Church where renowned Armenian American photojournalist Scout Tufankjian presented her book There is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenian Diaspora Project. Released in April 2015, the publication culminates six years dedicated to documenting Armenian communities in over 20 countries. Tufankjian is best known for her photography during the Barack Obama campaigns and her work in the Middle East reporting on the Egyptian Revolution.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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NR#: 2016-029

In South Florida U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial Presents Findings on Genocide and Mass Atrocities in Iraq

By Mercedes Gechidjian
FLArmenians Miami Contributor

A displaced Iraqi Christian woman prays at the home where she is staying in Erbil. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A displaced Iraqi Christian woman prays at the home where she is staying in Erbil. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On Tuesday, February 9th and on Wednesday, February 10th, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton and the University of Miami (UM), respectively, had the honor of hosting a presentation by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) entitled “Exposing the Darkness: Perspectives on Mass Atrocities.” The panel discussion featured human rights experts Naomi Kikoler, Deputy Director at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the USHMM, and photographer Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin. This brilliant, powerful discussion was co-hosted by FAU’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education and by the University of Miami Hillel.

In 2015, Kikoler and Knowles-Cousin travelled to northern Iraq to document evidence of mass atrocities carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). The USHMM report found that IS has committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing against various minority groups and perpetrated genocide against the Yezidi people.

“The event discussed previous atrocities, such as the Holocaust and crimes in Iraq, and brought forth ideas on how these atrocities could be prevented,” stated Michael Bezjian, a University of Miami Armenian Student Association (UM-ASA) member who was present at the Miami panel.

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Naomi Kikoler, Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin, and Michael Bezjian

Knowles-Coursin’s work focuses on identity within the context of migration and statelessness, so his photographs documenting the Islamic State’s brutality brought to life the plight of the displaced and persecuted.

According to USHMM’s mission statement, the “Museum strives to broaden public understanding of the history of the Holocaust through multifaceted programs: exhibitions; research and publication; collecting and preserving material evidence, art and artifacts related to the Holocaust; annual Holocaust commemorations known as Days of Remembrance; distribution of education materials and teacher resources; and a variety of public programming designed to enhance understanding of the Holocaust and related issues, including those of contemporary significance.”

Florida Armenians were encouraged to attend the USHMM discussion in the hopes of raising awareness and broadening perspectives on genocide and man’s inhumanity to man.

“Growing up as an Armenian American, I’m no stranger to the stories of genocide, as they were told to me by my grandparents, who learned from their parents. Attending high school in South Florida, we learned about Nazi Germany and the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps during WWII,” stated Florida Armenians Boca Raton Chair George Sarkisian who was present at the FAU presentation.

“’Exposing the Darkness: Perspectives on Mass Atrocities’ was truly eye-opening, and really put in context the level of violence currently taking place in Iraq and Syria. The pictures and stories shared by the panelists provided a small but powerful glimpse into the lives of the people suffering at the hands of ISIS. I was especially touched by the pictures and stories of the displaced people living in camps located in northern Iraq and it feels like the history of the Armenian people a century ago may well be repeating itself today,” Sarkisian said.