WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, as the 115th Congress convened, Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) Board Member Annie Totah, along with Executive Director Bryan Ardouny, were on the Hill meeting with legislators in both the House and Senate.
Ardouny congratulated Armenian Caucus Leaders on their re-election, including Caucus Co-Chair Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Vice Co-Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). During the meeting with Rep. Bilirakis, they discussed several key issues as well as the Congressman’s new role as Vice Chair.
Since its inception, the Armenian Caucus has played a critical leadership role in the House of Representatives on a wide range of issues, including assistance programs for Armenia, humanitarian aid to Artsakh, trade initiatives, addressing the ongoing Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades against Armenia, the Nagorno Karabakh peace process, and U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. Since independence, Armenia has not wavered from its commitment to the most important values shared with the United States: a commitment to democracy and a free market economy.
Long-time Assembly Board Member Totah extended her warm greetings to newly-elected Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a long-time supporter of Armenian issues who defeated Turkish Caucus Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) in the Maryland primary. Totah and Ardouny also met with freshman Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) who succeeds Rep. Edwards in the 4th Congressional District.
“As the 115th Congress gets started, it is reassuring to know that we have friends on both sides of the aisle who understand our issues and the importance of U.S.-Armenia and U.S.-Artsakh relationships. And now more than ever before, with a renewed sense of energy, we should dedicate ourselves diligently to address the issues and bring them to a satisfactory resolution,” stated Totah.
In addition to seeing House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Armenian-American Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Ardouny met with House Republican Policy Chair Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), as well as with various congressional staff.
“We have an ambitious agenda for 2017 and we look forward to working with the new Congress and Administration to ensure that our key priorities are heard and acted upon,” Ardouny said.
returns this week with a full slate, US aid to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh is
under consideration, and Turkish parliamentary elections are slated for June 7.
Welcome to the Assembly Agenda, your
guide to Armenian American issues in Washington, DC.
A lot has
happened this year with the Armenian Genocide centennial commemorations taking
place around the world. With everything going on, it’s easy to forget about
important legislation and key events taking place in Washington that shape the
outcome of our advocacy. So, in the words of Eminem, it’s back to reality, and
on to the Agenda…
CONGRESS: The Senate returned for a rare Sunday session as the Patriot Act
was set to expire. At issue are the controversial NSA provisions on warrantless
wiretapping and bulk collection of American citizens’ phone records. Republican
Presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered the Act’s renewal
last week. He objected to the NSA provisions and continued to block advancement
on Sunday, causing the Act to expire while putting himself at loggerheads with
key members of his caucus. The Senate will be busy this week working on an
alternative homeland security measure, the USA Freedom Act, a watered down
version of the Patriot Act which has already passed the House.
returned last night for votes and is set to tackle a number of bills, namely
twelve related to funding the government.
$$$ FOR ARMENIA, NAGORNO KARABAKH:
time in the nation’s capital and that means the appropriations process will
seriously begin with Congress in session 8 out of the 9 weeks ahead, and with a
budget in place, Republicans will try to complete as much of the process under
“regular order” as possible, read: 2016.
has not yet scheduled a markup for the FY 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and
Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which covers US assistance to
Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (NK). However, the House has scheduled its SFOPS appropriations bill for markup on Wednesday,
June 3, 2015 at 10:30 AMhttp://1.usa.gov/1FrUEjh.
year, Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny testified before
the House SFOPS Appropriations subcommittee, outlining nine key policy
priorities of the Armenian American community with an overall request of not less
than $40 million for Armenia and $5 million for NK http://bit.ly/1LZSsI9.
Obama’s FY2016 budget request calls for $22.36 million for Armenia with no
allocation for NK, a reduction of $2.34 million from FY 2015. The House
Appropriations Committee is headed by Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), a
co-chair of the Congressional Turkish Caucus http://bit.ly/1Jnpkae, and Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY),
an active member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus http://bit.ly/armeniancaucus. The Assembly will continue to work with
House and Senate appropriators throughout the process to ensure the best
possible outcome for Armenia and NK.
ARMENIAN GENOCIDE TRUTH & JUSTICE
RESOLUTIONS: The House
version of the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, H. Res. 154, now
has 62 cosponsors http://1.usa.gov/1FrXy7J, while the Senate version, S. Res. 140, boasts
20 cosponsors http://1.usa.gov/1BHOppY. These
bills are not to be confused with the traditional Armenian Genocide Resolution,
which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2000, 2005, 2007, 2010, and
which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014.
the House to advance the Armenian Truth and Justice Resolution have been
checked by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) http://bit.ly/1J8HNHt. However, the Senate version has the support
of over 1/5 of the chamber and unlike his House counterpart, Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not publicly opposed Armenian Genocide
recognition efforts. Notable cosponsors to the Senate Armenian Truth and Justice
Resolution include Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Both
Republicans have announced their candidacy for President of the United States.
While neither Rubio nor Cruz cosponsored the Armenian Genocide resolution in
the last Congress, Senator Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee (SFRC), did vote YES during the committee passage. Senator Cruz is
not a member of the SFRC so he didn’t have a chance to vote on it. However,
Senator Rand Paul does serve on the SFRC and was absent for the 2014 vote http://bit.ly/1gQP8cR.
ERDOGAN THE LIBERATOR?: Turks will head to the polls on June 7 in
parliamentary elections largely seen as a referendum on Turkish President Recep
Tayip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. Erdogan’s
goal is to gain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would enable him to
strengthen the role of the Presidency by weakening the role of the Prime
Minister, thus completing Turkey’s transformation into an authoritative
executive/presidential government. In typical fashion, Erdogan and Prime
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hit the campaign trail and made some pretty
astonishing statements. For instance, at a campaign rally over the weekend,
Erdogan called for Muslims to invade Israel and sack Jerusalem. “Conquest is
Mecca, conquest is Saladin, it’s to hoist the Islamic flag over Jerusalem again,”
Erdogan reportedly stated http://bit.ly/1eNzxBC. A few days earlier, at another campaign
stop to mark the opening of an airport in a Kurdish province, Davutoglu
reportedly stated “By Allah’s will, Jerusalem belongs to the Kurds, the Turks,
the Arabs, and to all Muslims. And as our forefathers fought side by side at
Gallipoli, and just as our forefathers went together to liberate Jerusalem with
Saladin, we will march together on the same path [to liberate Jerusalem]” http://bit.ly/1FrYKrI. Last year, Erdogan displayed his true anti-Armenian
colors when he addressed those who questioned his ethnicity: “I was called
a Georgian. I apologize for this, but they even said [something] worse: They
called me an Armenian” http://wapo.st/1tYU6jf.
provocative and racist rhetoric is matched only by Erdogan’s crack down on
civil society and the press. Turkey ranks #1 in the world for the most
imprisoned journalists. Weeks before last year’s election, Erdogan’s judges
blocked the country’s internet access to Twitter and YouTube, as an audio
recording was released implicated Erdogan’s inner circle in plotting events
that would justify sending Turkish troops into Syria to attack Christians and
Kurds. See Kessab and Kobani. This year, Erdogan’s judges have again blocked
access to YouTube, this time after a video was posted showing trucks belong to
the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, delivering thousands of weapons and
munitions to ISIS in Syria http://nyti.ms/1dcy3j4.
UPCOMING EVENTS IN DC:
Solidarity will hold its 6th annual conference, this year entitled
“100 Years Later: Middle East Christians Face Another Genocide” on June 11-13,
2015. Yours truly will be a panelist on Friday, June 12, at 4:30 PM http://bit.ly/1ESOiI8;
and Daughters of Vartan will hold their 2015 Grand Convocation, July 15-18,
2015 in Washington, DC http://bit.ly/1GW60R3.
ARMENIAN AMERICAN POLTICAL TRIVIA: Name the highest ranking US government
official of Armenian ancestry. Bonus points if you can name the administration
in which this person served.