Mahwah, NJ – Earlier this month, Florida Armenians (FLArmenians) Editor Taniel Koushakjian joined over 300 Armenian-Americans for the Armenian National Committee Eastern Region’s (ANCA-ER) 6th annual banquet. Mrs. Nora Kzirian, a former FLArmenian, served as the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies, as the community honored Armenian studies luminary Dr. Richard Hovannisian, and Artsakh rights champion her ladyship Baroness Caroline Cox.
National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) Director of Academic Affairs Dr. Marc Mamigonian gave a moving introduction about Professor Richard Hovannisian, this year’s ANCA Vahan Cardashian Award recipient.
Dr. Hovannisian, a professor of Armenian and Near Eastern Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), is a pioneer of Armenian studies in the United States. He has authored many books and edited and contributed to at least a dozen other works. In 1987, he was appointed the first holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA.
“I’m deeply honored and thankful to the ANCA for considering me worthy of receiving this award. Vahan Cardashian remains a champion and a symbol for the Armenian people. I feel very satisfied after my long career, and I feel rewarded that I’ve had more than a half century of wonderful experiences in the classroom teaching generations regarding Armenian history and identity,” Hovannisian said.
Ms. Virginia Davies, who sponsored FLArmenians’ participation, introduced Baroness Caroline Cox before presenting her with the ANCA Freedom Award.
“Speaking in the British parliament is a place to give voice to the voiceless, to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. … I would like to say thank you to the Armenian people, who in that holy land of Artsakh have formed that front line of faith and freedom for the rest of the world. We who live in freedom, we who call ourselves Christian, owe you a debt of gratitude for holding that front line for us. With all my heart, I thank you,” the Baroness said.
Baroness Cox has visited Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh 78 times to date, many of them during the war with Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, and is planning on at least two more visits in 2013. Working with the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), she helped establish the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre in Stepanakert in 1998, which has become a leader in providing care and rehabilitation for those with physical or mental disabilities.
Among the dignitaries in attendance were Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Garabedian of the Armenian Catholic Exarchate of America; His Excellency Ambassador Garen Nazarian, Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations; Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Co-Chair of the Armenian Caucus; Executive Director of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, Mr. Levon Filian; Armenia Fund USA Chairman, Mr. Khoren Bandazian; and many prominent community benefactors.
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.
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.”
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.