Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide Raised During Congressional Hearing on the Future of Turkish Democracy


By Peter Kechichian

AAANews Blog

July 18, 2014

This week, Turkey’s 99-year campaign of Armenian Genocide denial and other significant Armenian American issues were raised at a special subcommittee hearing by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The hearing, held on Tuesday, July 15th, at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, was entitled “The Future of Turkish Democracy,” under the direction of  Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) was also present to deliver introductory remarks.  


Chairman Royce repeatedly criticized the increased consolidation of power by the Erdogan government as well as further restrictions on human rights in Turkey. Royce stated that “I am very concerned by recent events that indicate a shift by Prime Minister Erdogan away from democratic ideals and reverting to more authoritarian rule,” further adding that Erdogan has “consistently chosen to use strong-arm tactics against opponents.”

The committee heard testimony from several experts on Turkey. These included Mr. Nate Schenkkan, Program Officer at Freedom House; Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at Tufts University; Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Dr. Kilic Kanat, Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research; and Hakan Tasci, Executive Director, Tuskon-US.

Chairman Royce began the hearing by reiterating his support for HR 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, which requires the U.S. State Department to issue an annual report on the fate of Christian properties in Turkey and the status of their return to their rightful owners. HR 4347 was overwhelmingly adopted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs late last month.

Turkey’s state-sponsored campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide was also referenced several times during the hearing. Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ) stated that Turkey appeared to be “very sensitive” about discussion of the Armenian Genocide in the U.S. He also referred to some Turkish officials as “thugs” and referenced Turkish pressure on Members of Congress. “When you vote here, you feel like you’re voting with a Turkish sword over your head,” Sires said.


Turkey Caucus Co-Chair Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who last month vigorously opposed the passage of HR 4347, also indirectly referenced the Armenian Genocide. He stated “Turkey has to come to acknowledgment with some of its past… But so do others. And we need to deal with the Turkey of here and now. Not of the Turkey of a hundred years ago or two hundred years ago or 500 years ago for that matter,” Connolly said. “Some of us are still hung up on Constantinople,” he said, as he attempted to humorously portray the death of 1.5 million men, women, and children.

Only two of the five witnesses at the subcommittee hearing made reference to issues of concern to the Armenian American community. Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou spoke in depth about Christian minorities in Turkey, the persecution they continue to face, and the destruction of Anatolia’s Christian heritage. She not only mentioned the Armenian Genocide in her prepared remarks but also strongly criticized the treatment of Christian Armenians in Turkey, as well as the status of Armenian and Greek holy sites in Turkey and Cyprus.

Dr. Prodromou referred to the status of religious minority rights in Turkey as revealing a “sobering picture of no substantive change,” further adding that “if one uses religious freedom for Turkey’s minority communities as a metric for the overall robustness and quality of democracy in Turkey, there is cause for grave concern.” She also implored the U.S. to hold Turkey to “international standards and to the expectations of a U.S. partner and NATO ally.”

In his prepared statement, Dr. Soner Cagaptay made reference to the re-opening of the Armenian Akhtamar Church in Eastern Turkey as an example of “improvements in terms of religious freedoms.” However, he failed to mention that the very same church officially functions as a museum and only allows a liturgical service once a year.

The subcommittee hearing dealt with various issues relating to the status of democracy in Turkey. Some other areas covered include restrictions on religion, internet censorship, and the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey. 

The Assembly Agenda: This week in Washington, D.C. – June 26, 2014



By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

June 26, 2014

HOUSE: The House is in session this week with final votes scheduled for Thursday night. Congress will begin their 4th of July recess this Friday and will return on Tuesday, July 8th.

– HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE VOTE THIS MORNING: Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to markup H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, at 9 AM. There has been heavy opposition to this bill, according to sources close to the committee. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) issued a letter on Friday urging his colleagues to vote NO on this important international religious freedom legislation. Even with an amended bill – one that now praises the Turkish Government – Connolly continues to work against it. The Armenian Assembly of America has written to all the committee members in support of H.R.4347 and has weighed in directly as well. You can watch the hearing live, today at 9AM, here: http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/

– HOUSE & SENATE APPROPRIATORS ADOPT U.S. FUNDING MEASURES TO ARMENIA & THE REGION: On Wednesday, the Assembly reported that both the House and Senate Appropriations Committee have passed their Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bill, which covers U.S. economic, humanitarian and military assistance to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, and Azerbaijan. While the House version did not delineate specific funding to the South Caucasus, the Senate bill highlighted Nagorno Karabakh, stating: “The Committee recommends assistance for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in amounts consistent with prior years, and for ongoing needs related to the conflict.”

After both measures pass their respective chambers, the next step in the legislative process involves the creation of an Appropriations conference committee, whose members will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill before sending it to the President for him to sign into law. http://bit.ly/1lNC7r3

SENATE: The Senate is in session this week with last votes expected on Friday. The Senate will be out next week in observance of Independence Day and will return on Monday, July 7th.

AMBASSADOR WATCH: As expected, President Obama nominated John R. Bass to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey on June 3rd. http://1.usa.gov/1qK60fa  

His nomination has been sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), officially kick starting the confirmation process. Although nothing is currently listed on the SFRC website, the Assembly expects a hearing to be held on Bass’ nomination in July. On Monday, current U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, paid farewell visits to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu. Ricciardone will take over the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East in September. http://bit.ly/1o01xBP

– NO LOVE FOR ISRAEL: Turkey recently appointed 30 new ambassadors around the world. Interestingly, their post in Israel was left vacant. http://bit.ly/1o01xBP

– HAPPY IN ARMENIA: As previously reported, current U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, who recently appeared in an Armenian spoof of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song, is expected to return to Washington later this year as he concludes his 3-year tour. A successor hasn’t been named as of this writing, but here’s the link to the video, needless to say, it’ll leave you feeling, well, you know: http://bit.ly/1mtf4T3

DC THINK-TANKED: Last week, two major conferences on Armenia related issues were held in Washington, DC. The Middle East Institute (MEI) held their 5th Annual Conference on Turkey at the National Press Club, while the pro-Turkey/pro-Azerbaijani Jamestown Foundation held a conference on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Repercussions for Moldova and the South Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Armenian Assembly summer interns Mariam Pashayan, Crystal Densmore and intern coordinator Lena Krikorian, raised Armenian American issues at the MEI conference, while intern Gevorg Shahbazyan was one of only three Armenians in the audience to counter the anti-Armenian statements made at the Jamestown conference. You can read Mariam, Crystal and Lena’s briefing here http://bit.ly/1nlIvTi and Gevorg’s coverage here http://bit.ly/1jBunnB.

– UPCOMING DC THINK-TANK EVENTS: On Friday, June 27th, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will discuss the 2014 Annual Report of the United States Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) with Robert P. George, USCIRF Chairman, and William A. Galston, NED Board Member and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. http://bit.ly/1v7MBCH You can read the 2014 USCIRF report here http://1.usa.gov/1nJ3K1w.

On Tuesday, July 1st, the Atlantic Council will host an event entitled “NATO in the Caucasus: The Case of Azerbaijan.” http://bit.ly/1pJkn1G

2014 ELECTION UPDATE – MORE ON WHAT CANTOR LOSS MEANS FOR ARMENIAN AMERICANS: Last week, I wrote extensively on the shocking primary election defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the highest ranking supporter of Armenian Genocide affirmation in the U.S. House of Representatives today. Cantor was one of two pro-Armenian Congressman in the House Republican leadership, the other being Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL). Given the Cantor loss and the ensuing leadership shuffle, Roskam sought to move up the ladder to House Majority Whip, as Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sought the Majority Leader position. McCarthy handily won and is now the Majority Leader-elect. However, Roskam was not as successful, as he was defeated by Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-LA). The Deputy Whip position is appointed, not elected, and it is all but certain that Scalise will pick someone other than Roskam as his deputy. Hence, as of July 31, both Cantor and Roskam will no longer be serving in the Republican leadership. With Cantor’s primary loss, Armenian Americans have lost two of their most prominent voices in the House Republican leadership.

– ARMENIAN AMERICANS DON’T FARE SO WELL ON ELECTION DAY: On Tuesday, two Armenian Americans on the East Coast were on the ballot. New York Democrat Jeff Kurzon, a political newcomer, lost the primary for U.S. House District 7 to incumbent, and Armenian Caucus member, Nadia Valezquez (D-NY), with 18.3%. Meanwhile, Democrat Hrant Jamgochian lost an 8-way primary for Maryland’s House of Delegates District 16. Jamgochian came in 4th place, with 15.4%. Maryland has an unusual system where, in some districts, up to three people can earn a seat representing the same district in the House of Delegates. In this case, Jamgochian was about 2,000 votes shy of getting on the November ballot.

– NEXT RUNOFF & PRIMARY ELECTION: Votersin Alabama and North Carolina will head to the polls on Tuesday, July 15th to vote in runoff elections for U.S. House, while voters in Georgia will vote a week later, Tuesday, July 22nd, to vote in runoff elections for U.S. House and Senate. The next primary election will take place on August 5th, where voters in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington will cast their ballots to elect their respective party nominees for November.


LAST WEEK’S TRIVIA WINNER(S): Paul Sookiasian, the Assembly’s ARAMAC-PA Co-Chair, and Vartkes Mengouchian, of Long Island, NY, correctly answered minutes apart that the Senator who is retiring at the end of this year and who previously introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution in the Senate is none other than Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Levin last introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution, S.Res.241, in the Senate during the 98th Congress (1983-84). For those of you who remember those days (I was only one year old!), S. Res. 241 was introduced on October 7, 1983. It would pass the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 12, 1984 with amendments, but it was never scheduled for a full Senate vote. It would take almost 30 years for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass another Armenian Genocide resolution, as we all witnessed on April 10, 2014.

TODAY’S ARMENIAN CONGRESSIONAL TRIVIA: Paul has this week’s question: Who was the first Armenian American in the U.S. Congress? Bonus points if you can tell me what party and state he/she represented. The first person to correctly respond will get a shout out in the next edition of Assembly Agenda.

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.

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