Armenian Assembly Notes Key Priorities for U.S.-Armenia Relations
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On January 23, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nomination of Rex Tillerson by a party line vote of 11 to 10, clearing the path for approval by the full Senate.
As genocide denialists are calling upon President Trump and his team to guarantee that the Armenian Genocide will not be recognized by his administration, Trump’s cabinet nominees are taking a considered view of this important human rights issues. Responding to a question for the record posed by New Jersey’s senior Senator, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Secretary of State nominee, for his part, said: “The tragic atrocities of 1915 remain a painful issue in the relationship between Armenia and Turkey, and it is in the U.S. interest to ensure peaceful and stable relations between the two countries. If confirmed, I will support a full accounting of the historical events and an open dialogue between Armenia and Turkey in the interest of regional stability.”
Additionally, President Trump’s U.S. Representative to the United Nations nominee Nikki Haley responded to Senator Menendez’s question about supporting a U.S. declaration calling the Armenian Genocide as such and whether the failure to do so hereto speaks ill of our values and encourages the continuation of such crimes. She promised: “I will never shy away from calling out other countries for actions taken in conflict with U.S. values and in violation of human rights and international norms.”
Focusing on Turkey’s violations of basic freedoms, Tillerson made it clear that he is “very concerned about many of the measures recently taken by the Turkish government.” He stated: “Religious freedom is a core American principle and an important aspect of international peace and stability. If confirmed, I will work with Turkey to safeguard religious minorities and promote respect for their cultural heritages, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Halki Seminary.”
“The Armenian Assembly greatly appreciates Senator Menendez’s long-standing commitment and leadership on Armenian issues and the questions he raised for the nominee,” stated Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. As Tillerson awaits a final vote by the full Senate, more responses to questions regarding U.S.-Armenia relations and the region are anticipated.
“We look forward to working with the new Administration and Congress to further strengthen the permanent bonds between the United States and Armenia as well as expand economic opportunities for Armenia,” Ardouny said.
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 Newshttp://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 firstname.lastname@example.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.