Armenian Americans Congratulate Obama On Inauguration

WASHINGTON–Armenian American advocacy, civic, religious, charitable, and educational organizations joined together Saturday in congratulating President-Elect Barack Obama on his inauguration and outlining the community’s expectations of the incoming Obama-Biden Administration.

The text of the January 17th letter, delivered Monday to the Presidential Transition Office, and a listing of the signatories is provided below.

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January 17, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
The President-elect
Office of the President-elect
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President-Elect:

We are writing, as the collective leadership of Armenian American advocacy, civic, religious, charitable, and educational organizations, to congratulate you on your historic election as President of the United States and to warmly welcome your inauguration to this high office. On behalf of some two million Americans of Armenian heritage, we look forward to working with you and your Administration to end the cycle of genocide, strengthen U.S.-Armenia relations, contribute to Armenia’s economic growth, and work toward a fair and sustainable regional peace.

We have, as a community, long admired your principled commitment to ending genocide, including, of course, the need for urgent efforts to stop the ongoing slaughter in Darfur. As a vital part of the growing genocide-prevention movement, our community looks forward to working with you from the first day of your Administration to end the Darfur Genocide and to help bring peace to this troubled land.

As a community, we have been proud that you have stood with us as we have worked toward Congressional commemoration, Presidential recognition, and Turkish acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. As you have stated so eloquently and repeatedly, the facts of this crime are undeniable. The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, as the Turkish government shamefully contends, but rather a widely documented mass crime supported by an overwhelming body of evidence. Confronting this denial represents an obligation for America and the entire international community. Our nation’s commitment to the principles of the Genocide Convention, which just last year marked its 60th anniversary, is rooted in America’s values and cannot be sincerely upheld in our relations with the rest of the world without an outright recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Our government must clearly and unequivocally condemn the 1915 crime of race extermination by Ottoman Turkey that, during the course of eight years, killed one and a half million Armenia’s, emptied vast areas of the Armenian homeland, and inflicted grave material harm to every aspect of the Armenian people’s cultural heritage, depriving it, to this day, of its right to exist on its native soil. Sadly, the inevitable consequence of Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge this crime has been its inability to adapt to the changing realities in the region. Rather than being a factor for peace, Turkey has actively contributed to increased tension in the South Caucasus. Instead of demonstrating a willingness to honestly confront the past in the spirit of truth and justice, its leaders have sought to pressure other governmen’s to underwrite Turkey’s historic guilt. The United States should neither be a hostage to Turkey’s fears, nor a victim of its moral failings. For its part, Armenia, which supports international recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a core element of its foreign policy, has called for the normalization of relations with Turkey without any preconditions.

As you have stated on several occasions, America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. The clarity of your promise is particularly welcome in light of the unfortunate practice of past U.S. Presidents to use, under Turkey’s pressure, evasive and euphemistic terminology rather than directly acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. The term, Armenian Genocide, is the only one that can meaningfully be used to characterize the crime committed by Ottoman Turkey. We look forward, in the coming weeks, to your firm and principled leadership in clearly and unambiguously ending the sad chapter of the U.S. Executive Branch’s capitulation to pressure from Turkey.

We are particularly encouraged, in this regard, that you will be joined in your Administration by supporters of Armenian Genocide recognition, among them Vice President-elect Joe Biden, a 35-year champion of this human rights issue, and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, who, in January of last year, so eloquently stated that, "our common morality and our nation’s credibility as a voice for human rights challenge us to ensure that the Armenian Genocide be recognized and remembered by Congress and the President of the United States." Others in your Administration, including incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and CIA Director Leon Panetta have also supported Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide. We are also pleased to see that the Congress will be led by two of the most longstanding advocates of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of whom have repeatedly called for full U.S. recognition of this crime against humanity. We look forward to your leadership with these officials and others in Congress, among them Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, John Kerry, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Howard Berman, to help bring about Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

We look forward to continuing, over the next four years, the active engagement that we established with you and your leadership team during your service in the U.S. Senate, and more recently during your campaign for the Presidency. Among the issues that will, of course, remain as high priorities on our common agenda will be those that contribute to the growth of U.S.-Armenia relations, Armenia’s economic development, and Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh’s security. We welcome your commitment to expanding bilateral commercial, political, military, and cultural relations, and are eager to work with you to increase U.S.-Armenia trade and investment levels and to expand our development assistance programs, through the FREEDOM Support Act, the Millennium Challenge Account, and other avenues. We place, as well, a very high priority on U.S. leadership in lifting the Turkish and Azerbaijani economic blockades of Armenia and in ending the exclusion of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh from regional commercial and infrastructure projects.

In terms of ensuring a durable regional peace, we echo your call for a Nagorno Karabagh settlement that respects democracy and self-determination and encourage you to ensure that these principles serve as the pillars of any agreement. As you know, a vital key to peace, in Nagorno Karabagh and around the world, is direct dialogue. For this reason, we encourage elimination of all artificial barriers to U.S.-Nagorno Karabagh contacts, communication, and other means of increasing our level of mutual understanding. With Azerbaijan’s President once again threatening war, as recently as in his New Year’s message, it is more important than ever for the United States to strengthen the current ceasefire, to work through the OSCE process to secure the commitment of all parties to the disavowal of force, and, as a matter of high priority for our government, to take concrete steps to prevent a renewed war in the South Caucasus. Our ability to advance these and our nation’s many other interests in this strategically pivotal region would be substantially enhanced by a concerted effort on the part of our government to expand U.S.-Armenia relations.

Working with you and your White House, Department of State, and Pentagon staffs on all of these issues, we will, as you stated in your remarks this past January 19th, "build, in new and exciting ways, upon the enduring ties and shared values that have bound together the American and Armenian peoples for more than a century."

Thank you for your consideration of the priorities we have raised in this letter and for your years of friendship with the Armenian American community. The enthusiastic and broad-based support the Obama-Biden ticket received from Armenian Americans during the campaign, including endorsemen’s from all our leading civic groups and newspapers, reflects our community’s confidence in your leadership and ardent support for the real change that you have pledged in how our government acts on all these issues.

We join together in warmly welcoming your victory and look forward to working with your Administration. In this spirit, we stand ready to meet with you to discuss these issues in greater detail and also to address the challenges facing our nation both at home and abroad.

Sincerely,
Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian Catholics
Armenian Bar Association
Armenian Evangelical Union of North America
Armenian General Benevolent Union
Armenian International Women’s Association
Armenian Missionary Association of America
Armenian National Committee of America
Armenian Relief Society
Armenian Rights Council of America
Armenian Youth Federation
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern U.S.)
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Western U.S.)
Hamazkayin Armenian Cultural & Education Association
Homenetmen Armenian General Athletic Union
Knights of Vartan
Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Eastern U.S.)
Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Western U.S.)
Tekeyan Cultural Association, Inc.
United Armenian Fund
U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee

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