The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – December 2, 2014

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By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

December 2, 2014

HOUSE: The House returned to Washington on Monday to kick off the last ten legislative days left on the calendar. This gives legislators little time to approve “must-pass” legislation, such as passing a Continuing Resolution, or CR, to avoid a government shutdown before funding is set to expire on Friday, December 12. The CR for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 would fund the government at FY 2013 levels, given the fact that during FY2014 Congress was operating on a CR passed the previous year. President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration has thrown a wrench in the deal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brokered with his caucus and House Republicans, forcing the latter to come up with alternative ways to keep the government open while taking action against the President’s immigration order, which operates on generated fees rather than Congressional funding. The back-and-forth between both chambers is not unlikely to cease in the coming days as legislators decide how best to move forward for their caucus and the country as a new Republican congressional majority takes over next year.

– WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR U.S. ASSISTANCE TO ARMENIA & NAGORNO KARABAKH? The bottom line is that given Congress’ inability to pass a budget, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh benefit by avoiding further cuts to assistance programs. Although the U.S. budget still functions under the mandate of sequestration, gridlock in Congress has delayed more serious cuts to U.S. assistance to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

– WHAT ABOUT PRO-ARMENIAN LEGISLATION? In the 113th Congress, two pro-Armenian measures were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives: H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, and H. Res. 227, the Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution.

Under Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), H.R. 4347 passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) on June 26, 2014 http://bit.ly/UNolL9. It is now up to Speaker Boehner to schedule the bill for a vote. In fact, the bill has gained momentum with recent cosponsors such as Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY), a member of HFAC, bringing the total number of cosponsors to 32. At this time, it remains to be seen if the Speaker will bring this important, international religious freedom legislation to the House floor before Congress adjourns for the year. However, there is still the possibility that H.R. 4347 receives full consideration next week. Recall that in 2011, the House passed H. Res. 306, which similarly calls on Turkey to return confiscated Christian property – albeit on less stringent terms – during the lame duck of the 112th Congress http://bit.ly/1waTANm. The Armenian Assembly of America continues to advocate for full passage of H. R. 4347, the Turkish Christian Churches Accountability Act of 2014.

The Armenian Genocide Truth & Justice Resolution, H. Res. 227, currently has 52 cosponsors and is still pending in the HFAC. This resolution differs greatly from previous Armenian Genocide resolutions that gathered close to 200 cosponsors and which passed said committee in 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2010. These resolutions were mirrored off the Assembly-backed S.J. Res. 212, a Senate resolution commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and reaffirming the U.S. record, back in 1990.

SENATE: Like the House, the Senate returned from recess yesterday. Also like the House, the Senate is hoping to conclude the work of the 113th Congress by December 12. However, House Republicans and Senate Democrats, along with the White House, are currently posturing to achieve maximum concessions from the other party, forcing outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to threaten holding Senators in session through Christmas should there be delays in finalizing must-pass legislation. “We have a lot to do, and there isn’t much time to accomplish it. So, I encourage all senators to work hard to complete our work in a timely and efficient fashion. We may have to be here the week before Christmas, and hopefully … not into the Christmas holiday,” Reid said. With the clock ticking, the Senate is waiting to see what the House does first. Also on the Senate’s agenda is confirming several pending ambassadorial nominations.

– AMBASSADOR WATCH: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), under Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), will vote to confirm President Obama’s nominees to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills, Jr. and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively, on Thursday, December 4th at 10:00 AM. It is anticipated that the SFRC will confirm the nominees. No holds have been placed on their nomination at the time of this publication. For more on Mills see here http://bit.ly/1r3hHxZ and for more on Cekuta see here http://bit.ly/1omXhcT. Once approved by the SFRC, the nominations are expected to head to the Senate floor for a full vote next week before Congress (hopefully) adjourns, according to sources familiar with the process.

PENDING LEGISLATION: On April 10th, the SFRC passed S. Res. 410, the Armenian Genocide resolution http://bit.ly/1gQP8cR. Introduced by Chairman Menendez, it currently has 12 cosponsors and awaits a vote on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a long time advocate of Armenian American issues and a cosponsor of S. Res. 410, has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill. The Senate operates under different rules than the House wherein a single Senator can place a hold on the measure, effectively blocking its passage.

BASS ARRIVES IN TURKEY: U.S. Ambassador John Bass arrived in Ankara in October and gave a now-customary interview on US-Turkey relations to Hurriyet Daily News http://bit.ly/1tGgubV.

2014 ELECTIONS & THE NEXT CONGRESS: Last month, the incoming House and Senate majority leaders released the congressional calendar for the 114th Congress http://bit.ly/1rOvPHO. The House’s schedule is similar to this year’s, while the Senate schedule is longer, a result of the off-election year.

ARMENIAN CAUCUS RESULTS: As previously reported, 100% of Armenian Caucus members who sought reelection to their House seat were victorious on Election Day http://bit.ly/1yCs9fV. However, Armenian Americans will lose 20 Members of Congress due to retirement, resignation, primary defeat, or because they sought other office. Thus, at the beginning of the next Congress, the Armenian Caucus will start with 93 Members of Congress. For a full accounting, please see the Assembly’s 113th Congress Armenian Caucus Casualty List here http://bit.ly/1s6Iapv.

– Days until the Louisiana runoff: 4; Days until the Iowa caucuses: 412; Days until the 2016 election: 707

UPCOMING EVENTS IN WASHINGTON:

Tuesday, December 2: The Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the U.S., the Embassy of Armenia, the Armenian Assembly of America, and ANCA, in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues, will host the Annual Capitol Hill Celebration of Artsakh’s Independence featuring Nagorno Karabakh Speaker Ashot Ghulian in Washington, DC. http://bit.ly/1txJuUa

Wednesday, December 3: The Institute of World Politics will host a discussion on “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Dilemmas in 2015.” http://bit.ly/1r0UJ6s  

UPCOMING ARMENIAN ASSEMBLY EVENTS: 2 Events in Boston this week. Also, if you’re in South Florida, save the date of January 3, 2015 for our kick off event in Boca Raton, and if you’re in Southern California, save the date of January 17, 2015, for our annual new year gathering in Los Angeles.

Thursday, December 4: Annual Assembly Holiday Reception featuring Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute, will present a digital exhibit on “The Armenian Church, Etchmiadzin, & the Armenian Genocide” at the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington, MA http://bit.ly/1yHZA2S.

Friday, December 5: The Armenian Assembly Intern Alumni & YP Happy Hour will be held at Back Bay Social Club on Boylston Street in Boston, MA http://bit.ly/12mNa4R.

ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Nobody guessed correctly that Steven Derounian was the first Armenian American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. First elected in 1952, Derounian represented New York’s 2 District as a Republican, and for a brief time, the 3rd District after the 1960 redistricting process. He would go on to serve 5 terms in Congress before losing his seat to Democrat Lester Wolff in the LBJ landslide of 1964. For more about Steven Derounian, including his brother’s career as a spy journalist, check out his Wikipedia entry here http://bit.ly/1zeyJtF.

Today’s question comes from yours truly. Derounian settled in Austin, Texas and taught at the University of Texas. Name another prominent Armenian American at a university in Texas. Bonus points if you can name the university. Hint: he is a former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Israel.

Send tips, suggestions, comments, complaints and corrections to taniel@aaainc.org. If you don’t already, please follow me on Twitter @Taniel_Shant and follow the Armenian Assembly of America @ARAMAC_DC and @ARAMAC_CA.

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Members of Congress, Armenian Assembly Welcome White House Decision to Display Armenian Orphan Rug

By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

October 28, 2014

Earlier this month, the White House announced that it would finally release the Armenian Orphan Rug, also known as the Coolidge Rug, for public display, a decision welcomed by the Armenian Assembly of America and several Members of Congress. The White House Visitor Center will display the Armenian Orphan Rug from November 18-23  as part of an exhibition entitled “Thank you to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad,” according to a statement by National Security Council (NSC) Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.

“The Armenian Orphan Rug, given to President Coolidge as a symbolic thank you for America’s humanitarian relief effort in helping to save the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, is a treasured piece of American history,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “As such, we welcome today’s announcement by the White House and look forward to the permanent display of this historic rug,” Ardouny continued.

The Assembly has been working with Members of Congress and the White House to secure the release of the iconic carpet, woven by orphaned girls of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The Coolidge Rug gained notoriety last year when a planned exhibition of the carpet at the Smithsonian Institution was cancelled. Media reports at the time alleged that the government of Turkey ultimately blocked the planned exhibit.

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Leading the charge on Capitol Hill were key Members of Congress. “The Armenian Orphan Rug is an important piece of our history. Its display serves not just as a reminder of the horrors of the Armenian Genocide but also of the longstanding friendship between the Armenian and American people,” said Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who sits on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Last November, Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA) and David Valadao (R-CA) spearheaded a letter to the White House, signed by over 30 Members of Congress, urging the release of the Armenian Orphan Rug for public display.

“The Armenian Orphan Rug embodies the resilience of the Armenian people through their darkest days and serves as a poignant reminder of 1.5 million Armenians who were murdered in the first genocide of the 20th Century. It also reminds Americans that our government was a central player in efforts to call attention to the plight of the Armenian people and provide relief to survivors,” Rep. Schiff said after the White House announcement. “Since first raising this issue with the White House, we have worked to find a dignified way to display the Rug so that Americans can come to see this important artifact, and learn about an important chapter of the shared history of the Armenian and American peoples. I want to thank the White House for working with us, and look forward to seeing the rug displayed at the White House Visitors Center.”

Congressman Valadao also responded to the news of the upcoming exhibition, highlighting the “importance of the relationship between the United States and the Armenian people” that the carpet symbolizes. As an active member of the Armenian Caucus, Rep. Valadao also expressed his intention to view the Coolidge Rug with his colleagues when it is released in November.

Armenian Caucus Founder and Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) was also instrumental in rallying the Caucus on this issue. “The White House has taken an important step in recognizing historical accuracy by displaying the Armenian orphan rug,” he said. “I sent a letter to President Obama urging him to allow this unique gift to go on display in a place where all Americans could view it. I believe that past attempts to keep this rug behind closed doors were fueled by the Turkish government’s desire to prevent any further dialogue about the Armenian Genocide.  It is my hope that the rug’s exhibition will facilitate academic discourse and allow the American people to reflect on our positive role during a dark period of history,” Rep. Pallone said.

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Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) also responded, noting that “As a representative of a vibrant and large Armenian-American community in Rhode Island, I know that this rug, made by orphans from the Armenian genocide, is a source of great pride for the Armenian-American community and serves as a symbol of the enduring and important relationship between the United States and Armenia.”

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) also praised the White House for its decision to release the rug. “The White House exhibit is a step in the right direction for the United States. I look forward to the day when every branch of the American government refers to events that led to the weaving of the Armenian Genocide Orphan Rug as ‘genocide’.” 

For over a decade, the Assembly has called on the White House and the State Department to facilitate the release of the Armenian Orphan Rug for public display. Following the cancelled exhibition at the Smithsonian, the Assembly embarked on a #ReleaseTheRug campaign and has been working closely with Dr. H. Martin Deranian, author of “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” in raising awareness of this historic carpet. In addition, the Assembly has displayed the Armenian Orphan “Sister Rug,” woven by the same orphans, in Boston, Massachusetts and Boca Raton, Florida. The statement from the White House to release the rug came moments after the Assembly announced the third exhibition of the “Sister Rug” in Burbank, California, which will take place at Woodbury University-Burbank on November 6, 2014.

In 1925, Dr. John H. Finley, editor-in-chief of the New York Times and vice-chairman of the congressionally chartered Near East Relief organization, presented a rug made by orphans of the Armenian Genocide to President Calvin Coolidge. The rug was made in appreciation of America’s generosity in aiding the survivors of the first genocide of the 20th Century. It left the White House with President Coolidge as part of his personal collection, but was then gifted back to the White House by the Coolidge Family in 1982. It was previously displayed at the White House in 1984 and 1995, but not since.

After almost a year of negotiations between the White House and Members of Congress, and the decades-long work of Dr. Martin Deranian, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Near East Foundation, and many others, the Armenian American community has successfully advocated the release of the Armenian Orphan Rug. Its upcoming display in our nation’s capital, during the season of Thanksgiving, is something every American can be proud of, particularly descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors.