Armenian American Community Mourns the Loss of Three Titans
This past April, as Armenian Americans across the country were working hard and eagerly waiting to see if President Biden would recognize the Armenian Genocide in his first April 24th remembrance day statement, the community was also mourning the loss of three extraordinary men who would leave the their mark on the world in a way that makes all of us proud to be both Armenian and American.
In the beginning of April, the news broke that long time philanthropist and American homebuilder Hirair Hovnanian had passed away at his residence in Yerevan, Armenia, where he had retired after an impressive and successful life and career.
A bold, daring and caring individual, a visionary leader, the founder and benefactor of many charities, and devoted longtime Chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America’s Board, Hirair Hovnanian leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Hirair was an amazing leader and mentor, always ready to roll up his sleeves and tackle any challenge. Hirair’s integrity, passion, dedication, commitment, work ethic, and love of his people, were extraordinary.
A successful businessman, whose generosity extended to causes around the world, Hirair felt energized by the independence of Armenia, and did everything in his power to assist the newly independent Republic. He demonstrated his commitment to Armenia by resettling in his homeland where his philanthropy extended beyond precedent. Hirair responded immediately to the 1988 earthquake and embarked upon the recovery and rebuilding of the devastated areas. A builder and developer by profession, he knew exactly the type of assistance required and established a building parts manufacturing plant to accelerate the reconstruction process. His generous contributions in support of educational and religious institutions in Armenia and the diaspora are legion.
At the helm of the Assembly, he helped shape non-partisan advocacy, creating an example of a united voice for Armenian Americans in Washington, D.C., and strongly believed in the unique role of American leadership in advancing democracy and human rights. He lent every measure of support within his means towards the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, including the establishment of the Armenian National Institute. He welcomed Armenian Assembly interns to his home every summer and embraced the next generation with his infectious enthusiasm for all things Armenian. Through his boundless generosity, he touched the lives of countless citizens in Armenia and Artsakh to whom he exemplified the best of the Armenian diaspora.
“We are all saddened by this great loss and remain immensely grateful to Hirair for his unparalleled legacy. He was the champion of every cause that benefited the Armenian people, and he never hesitated to lead from the front with unwavering dedication and commitment. May he rest in peace,” read a statement from the Armenian Assembly.
Ambassador Set Charles Momjian, a former trustee and board member of the Armenian Assembly, passed away on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania.
“He was born in Atlantic City on April 9, 1930 to Julia and Charles Momjian, both orphaned refugees from the Armenian genocide who were raised by American missionaries. The two parents were born in Malatya in the Ottoman Empire. Charles died at an early age and the family, which included younger brother Albert, had a difficult time during the Depression era,” the Armenian Mirror-Spectator reported.
After enrolling in the U.S. Army, Set Momjian led a prolific career in marketing and advertising at the Ford Motor Company. He went on to become a special advisor to U.S. presidents, and, per President Jimmy Carter’s appointment, served as a U.S. representative to the United Nations with the rank of Ambassador. Momjian was also appointed as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Momjian’s impactful commitment to the Assembly and Armenian causes on Capitol Hill is still relevant today. His longtime friendship with President Joe Biden was cultivated during train rides he shared in the 1980s with the Delaware Senator, who was then Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and marshaled through committee approval of an Armenian Genocide resolution, which Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) brought to the Senate Floor in 1990.
“The Assembly appreciates the Momjian family’s dedication, including Set Charles Momjian’s brother Albert’s many years of service as the Assembly’s Solicitor, a role which Albert’s son, Mark Momjian, currently holds. The Assembly extends its condolences to Set Charles Momjian’s family and loved ones,” an announcement from the Assembly stated. Momjian was also active with the AGBU and the Knights of Vartan.
Three days later, on Thursday, April 15th, the world mourned the loss of Dr. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, and one of the most famous Armenians in American history.
Dr. Gregorian was invaluable in the Armenian American community’s efforts to educate the public about the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of its denial. He led the way for others who followed in his footsteps in academia, administrative leadership at top universities, and as a world leader of philanthropy and education. His life’s work, much to long to list in a single column, took him to incredible places across the globe and led to his service in prestigious posts, such as the “Savior of The New York Public Library,” as the New York Times catalogued, as well as President of Brown University, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to name but a few.
“This is a painful loss for all Armenians, the United States, and the world. His achievements will stand the test of time, and the spirit in which he delivered those achievements will always be valued. May he rest in peace,” a statement from the Armenian Assembly read.
Analysis: All Signs Point to President Biden Recognizing the Armenian Genocide
By Taniel Koushakjian
WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Over the last few months, talk has been swirling around the capital that Joe Biden would unequivocally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the President’s annual April 24th remembrance day statement. While no U.S. President has acknowledged the Armenian Genocide since President Ronald Reagan in 1981, this time things were different. Any objective observer of Armenian American politics knows that Joe Biden has the longest pro-Armenia record (nearly 40 years) of any President in American history.
While making his position ever more clear on the campaign trail in 2020, the Biden Administration has made a series of moves over the last few months all signaling that America would no longer just “not deny” the Armenian Genocide as some former officials have put it, but that our foreign service officers who represent America abroad would be allowed to speak truthfully about 1915.
The following analysis of events early on in the Biden Administration and over the last few weeks all point to an official statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide coming from the White House on April 24, 2021.
To set the stage for President affirmation, Congress, led by the President’s Democratic party, had a role to play. After all, Congress had just recognized the Armenian Genocide for the first time in modern history with unanimous passage of an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution in the Senate in 2019 and House passage of a similar bill in 2020 by a vote of 405-11.
On March 19th, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) led a letter signed by 38 Senators to President Biden urging him to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
Then, news of a Presidential acknowledgement first broke on March 20th, when Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer tweeted “White House: US will formally recognize Armenian genocide. #AboutTime.” From there momentum began to build and Turkey’s lobbyists and Armenian American advocacy groups began an intense lobbying offensive.
On March 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, the first time senior U.S. and Turkish officials have met since Biden was sworn in as President. The exchange between the two foreign ministers, by all accounts, was rather tense. “Secretary Blinken urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 air defense system, expressed concern over Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, and emphasized the importance of democratic institutions and respect for human rights,” according to a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.
By this point, President Biden had spoken directly to the head of state of nearly every major U.S. ally, except Turkey. “Erdogan is desperate to secure a phone call with Biden,” Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now Senior Director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador for USAID nominee Samantha Power tweeted about the Armenian Genocide in a tribute to the late Dr. Vartan Gregorian, an icon of the Armenian American community and a descendent of genocide survivors who passed away on April 16.
On Tuesday, April 20, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu cast his government’s final threat in typical Turkish diplomatic fashion stating that America “needs to respect international law,” that such “statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” and that “if the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” Reuters reported.
The next day, over 100 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden keeping the pressure up on the White House. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times ran headlines reading “Biden Poised to Recognize Massacres of Armenians as Genocide, Officials Say” and “Biden Preparing to Declare That Atrocities Against Armenia Were Genocide,” respectively.
Also on Wednesday, April 21, a less talked about announcement was made when the White House informed Turkey that it had signed a new deal with the eight F-35 producing nations, officially marking the removal of Turkey from the Department of Defense’s next generation stealth fighter jet program, the culmination of a years-long process begrudgingly started by the Trump Administration. Later the same day, Turkey announced it was already in talks to purchase a second regiment of S-400 air defense systems from Russia.
Then on Friday, April 23rd around noon, the White House reported that President Biden had spoken to Prime Minister Erdogan by phone and relayed his “interest in a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements.” In response to a question about the President’s call with Erdogan at the State Department Daily Press Briefing at 2:06pm, spokesperson Jalina Porter stated “So at this time, we don’t have anything to read out as far as the Secretary’s call with his Turkish counterpart. But when it comes to the Armenian genocide, you can expect an announcement tomorrow, and we would have to refer you to the White House.”
This is the first time that a State Department official has accurately referred to the events of 1915 since 2007, when former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John M. Evans publicly (although privately) acknowledged the fact of the genocide and was subsequently fired from his post.
Moments later, at 2:31pm on April 23rd, Bloomberg News reported that Biden had also told Erdogan in the phone call that he will acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in a statement the next day.
It must be stated that these events have take place against the backdrop of an increasingly Islamist Turkey whose actions under the 20 year rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned the once pro-Western NATO ally into a belligerent, autocratic, ISIS-aligned, destabilizing force that now threatens U.S. interests beyond the Middle East.
“Erdogan’s dictatorship renders ineffective Turkish diplomats—including current Ambassador Murat Mercan—who can only speak to the most ardent apologists for Erdogan’s behavior rather than those who stand in opposition. Erdogan has purged many Turkish-American lobby groups so that they reflect only his inner circle rather than Turkey’s (and America’s) broader political and intellectual spectrum. In short, Turkey can lobby but few will answer Mercan’s phone calls, let alone those of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu,” former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute Michael Rubin recently wrote in 19fortyfive.com.
Despite the well known truth of the Armenian Genocide, not to mention the overwhelming body of evidence in the national archives of nearly a dozen countries across the world, and the incredible scholarly works that, in the face of state sponsored genocide denial, have judicially and meticulously made the case, the time has finally come for Armenian Americans to feel the sense of recognition, acceptance, and pride that Diaspora Armenians in other countries around the world have felt knowing that our government hears us, believes us, and is unafraid to stand on the right side of history with us.