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

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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.

DAYS UNTIL GENERAL ELECTION: 132

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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Russian policies in Ukraine and their effect on the South Caucasus

By: Gevorg Shahbazyan, Summer Intern, Armenian Assembly of America

June 19, 2014

On Monday, June 16, the Jamestown Foundation held a conference entitled “Repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict on Moldova and the South Caucasus,” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. The two panel conference featured several policy experts and former U.S. government officials, including Margarita Assenova, Director of Programs for the Balkans, Caucasus & Central Asia, The Jamestown Foundation; Glen Howard, President, The Jamestown Foundation; Andrei Illarionov, Senior Fellow, CATO Institute; Vladimir Socor, Senior Fellow, The Jamestown Foundation; Ambassador William Courtney, former U.S. ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan; Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council; Giorgi Khelashvili, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Georgia; Natig Bakhishov, Political Officer, Embassy of Azerbaijan; Alexander Melikishvili, Senior Analyst, Europe/CIS Forecasting Team, IHS Country Risk; and Janusz Bugajski, a foreign policy analyst.

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Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard opened the first panel and discussed the importance of the current crisis in Ukraine, specifically referencing his visit to Kiev last month. “The world is watching what U.S. action will be in the region,” stated Howard. On his trip, he discussed “key issues” with Ukrainian government, and emphasized how important it is to work closely with the defense ministry of Ukraine to establish control along the border with Russia. Howard also discussed the importance of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine and countries in the region, particularly Moldova and Georgia.

“Hardly any doubt remains that the violent crises in Ukraine is being fueled by Russia” stated Andrei Illarionov, senior fellow at the CATO Institute. “Russia will do anything to keep Ukraine pro-Russian,” Illarionov said.

According Vladimir Socor, senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, Russia is using referendums in Lugansk and Donetsk as “political instruments.”  By escalating the situation in Ukraine, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea a few months ago, the panel unanimously agreed that the crises is going to escalate further. If the U.S. does not take necessary steps, then the crisis is sure to worsen.

“The U.S. has no foreign policy in the region,” said William Courtney, former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan.

The first panel concluded that despite the difficulties of enacting sanctions on Russia, the West should be ready to further deepen these sanctions if Russia continues with its aggressive behavior.

A second panel of speakers discussed the “South Caucasus Perspectives on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict.” Of particular focus was the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh dispute. In this context, it was remarkable to hear Mr. Natig Bakhishov, the Political Officer from the Embassy of Azerbaijan, claim that Azerbaijan is committed to “solve” the conflict by “peaceful means."  A few minutes into his statement he threatened the use of military force. "Military action is valid if negotiations fail” Bakhishov said, contradicting himself in the process.

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When asked that “you mentioned earlier that Azerbaijan is committed to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, yet your government continues to threaten the use of force against Nagorno Karabakh,” Bakhishov declined to comment but continued to provide his government’s position that "Azerbaijan is still committed to the peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

One of the speakers on the panel expressed concern over Azerbaijan’s massive military build up and the arms race it has produced with neighboring Armenia. "We are aware of the purchase of $4 billion worth of military arms by Azerbaijan,” Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council said, calling it “a measure to destabilize the region.” According to Blank, “The U.S. needs to cherish OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] negotiations,” citing limited U.S. influence in the region. Despite this handicap, Blank said that the U.S. needs to help countries in the region overcome domestic opposition and help Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova move closer to the European Union (EU) by signing Association Agreements (AA) on June 27th, 2014.

While the panel included “The Georgian Perspective” and “The Azerbaijani Perspective,” it clearly lacked an Armenian perspective. However, representatives of the Armenian Assembly of America, the Embassy of Armenia, and the Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) were present and addressed the various inaccuracies and sometimes outright falsifications presented.

Andranik Hovhannisyan, Deputy Chief of Mission from the Armenian Embassy, asked the panel why the Embassy of Armenia was not invited to participate, alluding to what seemed to be the Jamestown Foundation’s intention to exclude the Armenian perspective. Margarita Assenova, Director of Programs at the Jamestown Foundation, responded, saying at first that they had sent a letter of invitation. When Mr. Hovhannisyan informed her that, as the person who receives such correspondence, he had in fact not received an invitation, Assenova then stated that the conference was quickly assembled in only three days. However, the first public notice of the conference was issued on June 11, five days prior to the conference. It was disrespectful for Ms. Assenova to blatantly misrepresent to Mr. Hovhannisyan and the audience the panels intended structure.

Aram Avetisyan, Counselor from the NKR office asked the Azeri embassy representative, “Mr. Bakhishov, are you going to celebrate Safarov’s anniversary?” a reference to Ramil Safarov, the Azerbaijani soldier who brutally killed Gurgen Margarian, an Armenian officer, with an axe while he was sleeping, in Hungary during a NATO training course in 2004. It is important to note that Avetisyan was interrupted numerous times by the moderator, as was Hovhannisyan and the author.

Without proper oversight from the international community, particularly the U.S. and EU, Azerbajan’s hostile and provocative behavior will continue to be directed against Armenians everywhere. Therefore, it is clear that, given Mr. Bakhishov’s statements, Azerbaijan will not stop threatening Armenia with military invasion until a settlement favorable to Baku can be reached.

Today, Georgia and Azerbaijan, with the support of the U.S. and EU, are trying to bypass Russian energy supply lines and create a new Southern Corridor pipeline straight into Europe. Lessening the dependency of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus on Russian oil and gas loosens Moscow’s grip in the process. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, on the other hand, has clearly impacted the South Caucasus. It shows that Russia has many cards to play in the region and it will not hesitate to do so, especially if countries in the region signal their intention to lean toward the West.

The statement by Ambassador Courtney that “The U.S. has no foreign policy in the region” is very troubling because it is clear that countries in the region are under Russian pressure. The U.S. is not only in need of a new policy in the region, but a vision for the future of its people; one that helps the countries help themselves to flourish again, develop and grow as democratic societies. It is also important for policy makers to understand that it is crucial that Armenian Americans have a role in formulating such a vision and articulating it through a policy that respects human rights and the rule of law, and opens economies of the region to the rest of the world.