Members of Congress Call for An End to Armenian Genocide Denial At Annual ANCA Capitol Hill Observance

Sen. Bob Dole Honored at Event Co-Sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed and Rep. Joe Knollenberg

WASHINGTON–DC–Senators and Representatives from both parties and around the nation joined with Armenian Americans last week on Capitol Hill to honor the Armenian Genocide recognition efforts of former Senator Bob Dole and to renew their commitment to ending official United States complicity in Turkey’s denial of this crime against humanity.

The annual observance–held in the historic Senate Caucus Room–was hosted by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and the Armenian National Committee of America’s Eastern Region–Western Region and Washington–DC offices. ANC San Francisco activist Roxanne Makasdjian served as Mistress of Ceremonies during the two hour program which included the participation of Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT)–Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)–Arlen Specter (R-PA)–and George Allen (R- VA)–and–from the House–Congressional Armenian Caucus Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–International Relations Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Ben Gilman (R-NY)–Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representatives Xavier Becerra (D-CA)–Eric Cantor (R-VA)–Joseph Crowley (D-NY)–Barney Frank (D-MA)–Mike Honda (D-CA)–Steny Hoyer (D-MD)–Patrick Kennedy (D-RI)–Jim Langevin (D-RI)–Sander Levin (D-MI)–Michael McNulty (D-NY)–Connie Morella (R-MD)–Steven Rothman (D-NJ)–Adam Schiff (D-CA)–Brad Sherman (D-CA)–and Mark Souder (R-IN). Maryland Armenian Genocide resolution sponsors State Senators Perry Sfikas and Chris Van Hollen and Delegate Sheila Hixson were among the invited guests as well as Worcester–MA City Councilor Timothy Murray. The event also featured an exhibit by photo artist Berge Ara Zobian of "Gallery Z" in Providence–RI and a series of sketches by artist Kevork Mourad of New York.

Sen. Dole Stresses Armenian Genocide Recognition and Commitment to a Strong Armenia:

Former Senate Majority Leader Dole–referring to the Senate battles he led over the years urging U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide–told attendees at the observance that he "admires the Armenian community for its insistence that the United States–Turkey and other nations come to terms with the Genocide and the other atrocities that were visited on the Armenian people in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire." The most recent Senate battle–which culminated in several days of intense floor debate in 1990 essentially "ended up in 50-50 tie – that’s the way the Senate is split today–just in other ways," explained Dole.

Senator Dole went on to mention his ongoing commitment to a secure–prosperous–and democratic Armenia–stating "I’ve been to Armenia. I was there after the earthquake with my wife Elizabeth and I have been there since–working with Kirk Kerkorian–trying to find jobs and opportunities for young Armenia’s." He noted that at the beginning of the 20th century over 500,000 survivors of the Armenian Genocide were forced to leave their homes and start a new life in other countries. Similarly–he noted–that now at the beginning of the 21st century "about 500,000 young people have left Armenia’since the yoke of communism was removed." He pledged to work with the Armenian American community in working against this outward migration by providing economic opportunities for the people of Armenia and "working diligently to promote freedom from without and within."

Senator Dole was presented with the ANCA Lifetime Achievement Award for his years of work–both in and out of Congress–toward official U.S. Armenian Genocide recognition and on behalf of a broad range of issues of concern to Armenian Americans. Among his most notable efforts were his pioneering role in securing U.S. aid to Armenia following the 1988 earthquake and his 1990 campaign to win passage of a Senate Armenian Genocide resolution. Senator Dole is also widely respected for authoring and securing passage of the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act in response to Turkey’s blockade of U.S. humanitarian aid to Armenia. Senator Dole helped enact and later defended Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act in order to pressure Azerbaijan to lift its illegal blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Following his Presidential bid in 1996–he began his oversight of the Lincy Foundation’s approximately $165 million programs to assist the economic development of the Republic of Armenia.

ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian presented the Senator with the award – an abstract painting by noted Armenia-born artist Armen Yepoyan entitled "When the Sun Goes Down." Upon receipt of the award–Senator Dole commented–"I am especially moved because this recognition comes from a people who have suffered one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century and have triumphed under great adversity."

Sen. Lieberman Urges Attendees "Never to Let the World Forget:"

In his remarks at the observance–Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman–who ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket in November of last year–highlighted the close bond between Armenian Americans and himself–a Jewish American–as "survivors–if you will–of genocides of the past." He stressed the special obligation "in memory of–in faithfulness to those who perished–never to forget and never to let the world forget."

Commenting on the participation in the program by Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan–Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern U.S. and Canada and Father Raphael Andonian representing the Exarchate of the Armenian Catholic Church–Senator Lieberman noted that he is "so proud that the clergy are here today. Remember what ties us together is that we are all children of the same God and–as such–we are all entitled to what the Declaration of Independence says – the right to life–liberty and the pursuit of happiness–the same rights that those victims of the Armenian Genocide had taken away from them violently. So we commit ourselves as we go forward–remembering the past but committed to making sure not only that it does not happen again–but that we enhance those rights to life–liberty and the pursuit of happiness in our country and throughout the world." Other Armenian religious leaders in attendance included Father Khoren Habeshian–pastor of Soorp Khatch Church in Bethesda–MD and Father Vertanes Kalaydjian–pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Washington–DC.

During his invocation–Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan–Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S. and Canada–stated "we gather here with a heart not filled with hatred but with gratitude and hope. Gratitude – to those who helped us survive and those who survived to continue the legacy of their ancestors and to build a new nation. Hope – that the current nation of Turkey will admit the evil that was done and that finally justice will be served–our legitimate rights will be given–and the souls of our martyrs can finally rest in peace."

Armenian Government Continues Efforts to Promote International Affirmation of Armenian Genocide:

In a thoughtful and compelling presentation–the Republic of Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States Arman Kirakossian outlined the reasons underlying the Armenian Government’s efforts to secure international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. He noted that–"As a representative of the Armenian Government–I want to reiterate our commitment to promote a greater international acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide–which remains on the foreign policy agenda of Armenia. As an independent nation–we are committed to the prevention of ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity. International recognition of the Armenian Genocide will serve the dual purpose of exposing the first genocide of the 20th century and better prevention of new genocides. For Armenia it serves a humanistic noble purpose of upholding historic justice." The Ambassador went on to explain that "from the regional context–the Genocide is the thorny issue in the development of a healthy bilateral relationship between Armenia and Turkey–which is widely seen as the key to building a sound security environment in the Caucasus."

Ambassador Kirakossian praised the efforts of the ANCA in working toward U.S. recognition of the Genocide–stating that "the ANCA is one of the most efficient and dedicated Armenian American groups with an impressive grassroots network of committed activists and community members. The Embassy will continue working with the ANCA and we believe that we can do many things together for the benefit of the Armenian people."

Armenian Minister of Justice David Haratunian attended the event as well as Nagorno Karabakh Representative Vardan Barseghian and dignitaries from a number of Embassies including the Greek–Cypriot and Ukrainian embassies. Representatives from Greek and Kurdish organizations also participated.

Sen. Reed–Rep. Knollenberg Welcome Armenian American Activists to Washington–DC:

Senator Jack Reed and Rep. Joe Knollenberg–both of whom have actively supported this annual program since its inception in 1995–welcomed Armenian Americans from across the country to Washington–DC–and cited their commitment to working with the community to obtain official U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. "We have a special role as Americans to stand up for principle and to stand with the Armenian people," explained Sen. Reed. "This is an opportunity to remember and recommit ourselves to supporting Armenia today as we recall the suffering of the past and with one voice say "Menk pnav chenk mornar" (We will not forget).

Rep. Knollenberg told the over 250 attendees–"I want you to know that you have a lot of friends in Congress and that Frank Pallone and I–leaders of the Caucus–will do everything we can to spread the word to make sure that we continue the struggle to get acknowledgment of this terrible crime against humanity against the Armenian people." Caucus Co-Chairman–Frank Pallone (D-NJ) announced that the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–established just six years ago–had enlisted its 100th member on the day of the Capitol Hill Observance. "We have never before reached the 100 member goal," explained Rep. Pallone (D-NJ). "And the reason why this is true is because [master of ceremonies] Roxanne [Makasdjian] and [ANCA Executive Director] Aram [Hamparian]and all of you go around and you make it your business to contact Members and urge them to join the Caucus. That should continue."

Commenting on the successes of the growing grassroots network of Armenian American activists–ANCA National Chairman Ken Hachikian explained–in his remarks–that–"What I would say going forward into the future is that we have become very sophisticated as a community politically–but the task before us grows. The opposition that we face continues to be well financed–they outnumber us but at the same time we have the high moral ground. We have the right cause and because of that we will ultimately prevail. But we will only prevail because of you – the grassroots of this organization and with our friends and supporters in Congress."

Mistress of Ceremonies Roxanne Makasdjian echoed these remarks–stating that–"increasingly we see our government realizing that we are not going away. The Armenian American community will not stop pushing this issue until it is resolved justly. We won’t be quieted with presidential statements that virtually give the encyclopedic definition of genocide–while so conspicuously leaving out the word itself."

The Armenian Genocide Cited as a Core Human Rights Concern:

Outspoken Armenian Genocide recognition advocate Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) argued against those who would describe the Genocide as a purely Armenian American concern. "[The Armenian Genocide] is fundamentally a human rights issue. The United States ought to stand for a moral foreign policy with human rights at its forefront. This is an essential element of what this country stands for. So when you fight for these principles and then you see these press reports that refer to you as an "Armenian lobby" – you’re not an Armenian lobby–you are an American lobby fighting for a principled American foreign policy."

Noted human rights leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) concurred–stating "As some deny the Holocaust of WWII–there are far too many who deny the first holocaust in the last century – the Genocide of the Armenia’s. Ladies and Gentlemen–you are heroes in the fight–as Paul Sarbanes said–not for the Armenia’s – though heroes for the Armenia’s you are – but you are heroes for the rights of mankind."

Freshman Senator George Allen (R-VA)–who has supported Armenian Genocide recognition throughout his years in the U.S. House and as Governor of Virginia–noted "When human rights abuses occur–one must stand up–stand strong and resolved and not tolerate it and sweep it under the rug and act as if it does not exist…I stand with you and I remember."

U.S. Reps. Call for Passage of Armenian Genocide Legislation:

First term Democrat Adam Schiff (D-CA) explained–"We pride ourselves as a government in speaking plainly and we should speak plainly. The deliberate and systematic annihilation of a people is genocide and should be called genocide. We will continue to fight until both House and Administration recognize the incontrovertible facts."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) commented that–"The sad thing about that tragedy is that it is a tragedy twice. Once in the course of the Genocide and secondly in the fact that we cannot get the United States to pass a resolution memorializing and acknowledging the terrible things that happened then. This Armenian Genocide is a challenge to the conscience of our country and the conscience of the world. We will not rest until we have recognition of it."

Rep. Ben Gilman (R-NY)–who chairs the European Subcommittee of the International Relations Committee–said that–"Although the governments of many nations still refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide–it’s extremely important for our own nation to stand as a beacon in the world and recognize the Armenian Holocaust."

Michigan Democrat Sander Levin concurred–stating "I know that it has been a difficult struggle. I know that we’re not sure when exactly our Congress will step up to the plate on this issue. But all I can say is that there is no more worthy an effort and some day because of the justice of the Cause–we are going to prevail in the halls of Congress."

Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY) from the Albany/Troy area recounted his trip to Armenia in 1991 as an observer of the Armenian independence referendum–noting that "I will never forget that experience. But most of all I will remember the words that will stay with me as long as I live. When I went back to Yerevan the next day–when all the votes were counted and the results were certified–and the people were singing and dancing and shouting in the streets – Getzeh Azad Angakh Haiastan. (Long live free and independent Armenia)"

Members of Congress Urge Turkey to End Genocide Denial:

Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ) stressed that–"The first step to reconciliation and to curing the ills of the past is to acknowledge the truth. The sad terrible truth is that 1.5 million Armenia’s were slaughtered intentionally by the Turkish authorities. Turkey is a very strong and important ally of the United States. But the truth is also a strong and important ally of the United States. And–frankly–we should expect no less from an ally than their recognition of the truth and their commitment to justice–even if it means an uncomfortable recognition of their sins and of their own slaughters."

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA)–who played a critical role in blocking the Turkish Government’s bid to manipulate Armenian Genocide scholarship in American universities–said–"We can help not just the last survivors–who before they leave this earth should see finally the apology for which they are entitled. But we can also help a modern Turkey make peace with its past by acknowledging that past and acknowledging the Genocide did indeed occur and it cannot be denied."

First term Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI)–stressed that–"As a proud member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–hopefully the 100th member–and an ardent supporter of Rhode Island’s Armenian American community–I will continue to encourage my colleagues to hold the Turkish Government accountable for its actions and to honor the memory of those Armenia’s who have suffered and perished nearly a century ago.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) noted that–"I’m a Japanese American third generation and I know what it is when a government is not paying attention. I know what it is when a government makes mistakes. So with that background and experience I bring to you–the community–myself as a tool to help not only organize but also gather support for the issues that you care about."

Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) thanked all those in attendance "for making the trek to Washington–D.C. so often. But more importantly–we need you to continue to raise the issues about the Armenian Genocide–about trade with Armenia–about the issue of Nagorno Karabakh–because the more you do it the better off we will be in dealing with our colleagues as we try to lobby them to be with us on these votes."

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