YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia remains committed to stepping up its cooperation with the United States in various areas, President Serzh Sarkisian told visiting members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.
The 4-member congressional delegation headed by Ed Royce, the pro-Armenian chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, arrived in Yerevan late Wednesday on a three-day visit involving meetings with Armenian officials, businesspeople, pundits and civil society members. It also took part in official ceremonies marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Sarkisian praised the U.S. lawmakers for their participation and again thanked the United States for its large-scale economic assistance and “active engagement on issues vital to Armenia.” “Serzh Sarkisian assured the U.S. Congress members that Armenia is determined to continue deepening and developing Armenian-American bilateral relations,” the presidential press office said in a statement.
According to the statement, the meeting focused on Armenia’s foreign policy priorities and “regional issues and challenges.” It did not elaborate.
In a July 2013 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Sarkisian said that U.S.-Armenian relations are now closer than ever before and serve as a “strong prerequisite” for Armenia’s security and economic development.
He sent the message less than two months before unexpectedly deciding to make Armenia part of a new Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet states. John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said afterwards that Sarkisian’s U-turn will have no fundamental impact on U.S.-Armenian ties.
“We want to strengthen Armenia economically,” Royce told reporters after the talks with the Armenian president. The Republican congressman said that he and his three colleagues, all of them Democrats, are exploring ways of facilitating U.S. investments in the Armenian economy.
Royce spoke as the congressional delegation visited the Tsitsernakabert memorial in Yerevan during the annual remembrance of 1.5 million Armenians massacred in the Ottoman Empire. The lawmakers laid flowers, toured the adjacent genocide museum and planted symbolic trees in the memorial complex.
“The reason we are here today is to memorialize the Armenian genocide,” said Royce. “We feel that it is very hard for the world to get the future right if we get the past wrong. So it is important that we speak frankly about the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. That was the first genocide of the last century.
“As Hitler said when he was planning the second genocide, the Holocaust, ‘Who speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenian people?’ Well, we speak today of the annihilation of the Armenian people.”
Royce is known as a strong supporter of official U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide, having co-headed the Congressional Armenian Caucus until being elected as chairman of the House committee in 2012. Two of the other congressmen visiting Armenia, Eliot Engel and David Cicilline, are also affiliated with the bipartisan grouping.
Royce, whose California constituency has many ethnic Armenian voters, has co-sponsored several genocide resolutions in the House of Representatives. None of them was adopted by the full House.
The current House speaker, John Boehner, reportedly assured Turkish leaders in Ankara earlier this month that pro-Armenian legislators will fail to push through genocide bills anytime soon.
Royce declined to comment on Boehner’s stance. He emphasized instead the fact that the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan officially recognized the genocide in 1981.