Armenian Assembly of America
122 C Street, NW, Suite 350
Washington, DC 20001
Email: [email protected]
May 7, 2004
CONTACT: Christine Kojoian
E-mail: [email protected]
SENATOR SARBANES URGES ARMENIAN COMMUNITY TO CONTINUE FIGHT FOR GENOCIDE
Washington, DC – Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) stressed the importance of the
Armenian-American community working together with Washington policymakers to
secure affirmation of the Armenia Genocide in a speech April 19 to
participants of the Armenian Assembly’s National Banquet.
Sarbanes, as the banquet’s keynote speaker, also highlighted the importance
of the event sponsors – the Armenian Assembly of American, the Armenian
General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Eastern and Western Diocese of the
Armenian Church, uniting for the betterment of the community for the
first-ever National Conference and Banquet, held April 18-20 in Washington,
Below is the full-text of Senator Sarbanes’ remarks:
It is a pleasure to be here tonight with such good friends on this important
occasion. It is a great honor to be in the company of His Eminence
Archbishop Barsamian and His Eminence Archbishop Derderian and I want to
particularly acknowledge the wonderful work they do and the leadership they
provide to the church. I know how important the church is to the community
and how much of an organizing principle for the community it is. I speak
from the perspective of my own community in this regard, and I just wanted
to say how appreciative we are to have both of the Eminences here.
I also want to thank Berge Setrakian, the President of the Armenian General
Benevolent Union, for joining tonight with the Assembly for this event. In
my first campaign for the U.S. Senate, Alex Manoogian, the driving force of
the AGBU and for many, many years its president, took me under his wing, so
to speak, when I went to Detroit. He was a very strong supporter of mine in
that first effort to the United States Senate, and we remained close friends
until his death. The AGBU has done wonderful work. The “benevolent” in the
union’s name is really reflected in the benevolence of its work including,
in my view, the especially strong support for education, making sure the
young people in the community have an opportunity to gain a top-notch
education and move forward.
I want to thank Ambassador Kirakossian for the work that he does. We work
closely with him on the Hill, and know how effectively he represents the
Republic of Armenia.
I would like to honor two other people: Frank Pallone and Joe Knollenberg
who serve as co-chairs of the Armenian Caucus in the House of
Representatives. I know their commitment to this cause and how effective
they’ve been. We have been privileged to work across the aisle and across
the Capitol with them. They work together across the aisle, just as I do
with Mitch McConnell, whom you heard from at lunch. We have been able to
join together in a partnership on issues that are of such concern to all of
And finally, I want to thank the leadership of the Armenian Assembly –
Hirair Hovnanian, Anthony Barsamian, the Executive Director Ross Vartian and
of course Annie Totah whose vision and commitment and plain hard work have
made this conference possible.
Now let me tell you something about Annie Totah. Of course, you know all
about her. She’s not only a vice chair but she was the first woman chair of
the organization in its 32-years existence and, of course, she is always a
steady voice on the issues of concern to the Armenian-American community,
and many other issues as well. She is both thoughtful and passionate in her
convictions. Annie and her husband Sami are residents of Maryland. They’re
constituents and very dear and close friends of mine, and they represent the
best of informed and responsible citizens. These are the sort of people,
just as so many others in this room, who make American democracy work.
Tomorrow you will be meeting with your representatives in the Congress of
the United States. You have important issues to put before them and I urge
you, as Frank Pallone said, to make your voices heard as never before.
Although you are a relatively small community among the many that make up
our nation, you enrich our national life out of all proportion to your
numbers–in the arts and sciences, in medicine, and law and business, in the
daily life of our communities across the nation. Perhaps your family came to
this country as refugees fleeing the persecutions and the genocide of the
Ottoman Empire, or perhaps your family sought out this country for its
democratic institutions and its economic opportunities. Whatever the
circumstances, each generation has prospered. You have raised your children
to participate fully in American life while continuing to honor their
Armenian heritage and traditions. The newly independent Republic of Armenia
to which you have contributed in so many ways has helped to strengthen these
ties. This is in the best American tradition.
I make this observation from first-hand experience. My parents came from
Greece and settled on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where I grew up and went to
school. They ran a restaurant. Interestingly enough, on this occasion, it
was named the Mayflower Grill. Thank you for bringing us to the Mayflower
I learned from my parents what it meant to be an American-to live in a
democratic society and to assume the responsibilities of citizenship while
at the same time, taking pride in my family’s Greek heritage. This is how,
in group after group across our country, we have built this nation and this
is what diversity means. We should be proud of our diversity and what it
stands for and the strength it has brought to America.
The Armenian Assembly exemplifies this spirit. Since its founding in 1972,
the Assembly has marshaled the talents of the Armenian-American community to
speak to the nation’s leadership. The Assembly is today one of our country’s
most effective advocacy groups. Let me just mention the internship program,
which I regard as a major achievement, as many of you who have participated
in it know first hand. Each year I meet with a new group of interns. We have
very interesting sessions. One member of my staff, Greg Aftandilian, who
serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, first came to
Washington in 1977 to participate in this internship program. Dean
Shahinian, another senior staff member, who works with me on the Banking
Committee, ought to be considered an honorary member of that program. In
2001, Dean helped to organize the visit to Washington of the Supreme
Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, His Holiness, Karekin II. In
fact, Dean has been a lay delegate who has gone to Etchmiadzin to
participate in the assembly which elected His Holiness. I was gratified to
play a small part in arranging for His Holiness to deliver the Senate’s
morning prayer during his visit to this country, and a number of you that I
see here were present on that occasion.
Another great achievement is the Assembly’s advocacy program, which is what
brings us here tonight, and I want to emphasize how important that is. Just
think of the urgent issues before us: parity and U.S. military assistance to
Armenia and Azerbaijan, Section 907 and the issue of assistance to
Azerbaijan; Nagorno Karabakh; non-military assistance to Armenia; permanent
normal trade relations for Armenia and acknowledgement and commemoration of
the Armenian Genocide. We shall turn to these issues in order.
The Administration’s budget request this fiscal year disregards what I
consider to be a good faith understanding between the Administration and the
Congress for maintaining parity in military assistance to Armenia and
Azerbaijan. The budget sets the assistance levels at $2.75 million and $8.75
million, respectively. In my judgment, this is not acceptable. The
Administration actually sought to tip the balance last summer, using a
congressional notification procedure to add $2 million in assistance to
Azerbaijan beyond the initial budget request. We held up that notification,
and eventually the Administration agreed to add the same amount for Armenia,
and parity was restored.
This year the challenge is greater, first because the gap in the budget
request is much greater – $8.75 million as against $2.75 million – and
second because the request cannot simply be held up by a few members’
objections, but will be put to a vote. A critical vote will probably be
taking place in the Foreign Operations Subcommittees of the two
appropriations committees in the House and the Senate and, therefore, it is
extremely important that you make your views known to the Subcommittee
members. This policy of imbalance, in my judgment, will contribute to the
destabilization in the South Caucasus and make more difficult, not less
difficult, the war against terrorism.
Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act must be upheld.
That Section restricts U.S. government assistance to Azerbaijan in response
to the Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia. In the wake of 9/11, the
Administration obtained a waiver for Section 907. As approved by Congress,
however, the waiver specifies that any assistance shall not “undermine or
hamper” the Nagorno Karabakh peace process or be used for offensive purposes
against Armenia or Armenian communities in the South Caucasus. It is in our
national interest to adhere to the letter and spirit of Section 907.
The Nagorno Karabakh peace process must have our active support.
The prospect for real progress in the negotiations which seemed to be
opening up at the Key West talks in April of 2001 between Presidents
Kocharian and Aliyev unfortunately did not materialize. President Aliyev
went back to Azerbaijan and shifted his position markedly from what seemed
to be developing in Key West, much to our great regret. This, in fact, is
another reason to maintain parity in U.S. military assistance. Tipping
toward Azerbaijan will only give that country less reason, not more reason,
to negotiate in good faith over Nagorno Karabakh.
Now let me turn to non-military assistance for Armenia which is essential of
course to building democratic institutions and strengthening the economy.
The administration’s continuing efforts to cut assistance are short-sighted.
For the current fiscal year, the Administration had requested $50 million.
Through hard work in the Congress, through your friends, again, on both
sides of the aisle, both Republicans and Democrats, we were able to raise
that figure by 50% to $75 million dollars. For the next fiscal year, the
budget now before us, the Administration has asked for about $62 million. I
can assure you that efforts to ensure a higher funding level will continue,
and again, you need to raise this funding issue with your representatives in
You should remind your representatives that the Azerbaijani and Turkish
blockades of Armenia raise the cost of doing business there by at least 30%
and constitute an obstacle to the economic development Armenia seeks and
needs, and it constitutes a rationale for raising this assistance level.
We have been focused for quite some time on the effort to extend permanent
normal trade relations – PNTR – to Armenia. Both countries would benefit
from normalizing the trade relationship. Last year on the Senate side,
Senator McConnell and I joined together with Senator Boxer in introducing
legislation for this purpose, as did Frank Pallone and Joe Knollenberg in
the House of Representatives. It was encouraging to learn that earlier
today, appearing here at your sessions, Beth Jones, the Assistant Secretary
of State for Europe committed the Administration to support PNTR for
Armenia. This is, of course, good news for all of us but now, we must
continue to press the Administration and the relevant committees in the
Congress to expedite this important issue and carry through on this
Finally, I want to speak to you about the need for us to continue to work
together to secure at last the acknowledgement and commemoration of the
You have had some encouraging developments. Plans for the Armenian Genocide
Museum in Washington are moving forward, which, of course, means it will
serve an important educational function right here in the nation’s capital.
In Europe, a number of governments have formally recognized the Armenian
Genocide – France, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece, Russia,
Cyprus, as well as the European Parliament.
Through your efforts, an increasing number of states in our own country are
passing resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and I want to
acknowledge the presence here tonight of my former chief of staff Peter
Marudas who, many of you know, played a very instrumental role as the
Maryland legislature was considering this resolution and was able to dismiss
from the scene some arguments that were being raised, arguments that were
Furthermore, a new spirit of inquiry is beginning to appear in some Turkish
academic circles. According to a New York Times feature report on March 6th,
Professor Taner Ackam at the University of Minnesota has called the Turkish
government’s continuing denial “a misrepresentation that has to be
confronted.” Another Turkish historian, Fikret Adanir of the Ruhr University
in Germany, has said, “we have to deal with history, like the Germans after
the war. It’s important for the health of the democracy, for civil society.”
Both of these academics are outside of Turkey but it may be the beginning of
important new thinking about this question because, in my view, Turkey’s
interests and its prospects for the future are not served by the
government’s refusal to face the facts, and our task is to help set the
historical record straight.
Every year I join with many of my colleagues to commemorate the great human
tragedy that was the first genocide of the 20th century. Our resolutions are
routinely met by arguments about the alleged “strategic interests” of our
foreign policy. But any strategy based on a denial of the truth has a
dubious foundation, particularly the truth involving basic human rights.
Your voices can make the difference. In 2001, as I indicated, the active
support of the Armenian Assembly and other Armenian organizations was
critical to the passage in the Maryland legislature of a resolution on the
Genocide in the face of vigorous opposition. Evidence of the Armenian
Genocide is available in our own National Archives. In addition to
Ambassador Morgenthau’s dispatches, the Archives include reports from other
U.S. officials stationed throughout the Ottoman Empire at the time. I have
read those reports myself.
In his recent history, the Burning Tigris, the Armenian Genocide and
America’s Response, Peter Balakian has done a masterful job of bringing the
documentary evidence together. As he observes, “The breadth and intensity of
American engagement… is an important chapter in American history and one
that has been lost.” Professor Balakian is correct. This chapter is
important to Armenian history and it is important to American history.
As you make your rounds, you may hear the familiar arguments that your
concerns reflect only narrow, ethnic interests and disregard the broader
needs of an effective U.S. foreign policy. Do not let that deter you. We
have a national interest – an American national interest – in seeing that
our foreign policy is grounded in the same principles on which this nation
was founded-respect for the truth, the rule of law and democratic
As you make these rounds and you do your advocacy in a thoughtful and
well-informed and courteous way, remember that an American foreign policy
worthy of the support of the American people should be based on principles
and values. In making your arguments on these issues that I have
enumerated, you are speaking out as American citizens for an American policy
true to our values and principles. So do not be hesitant in taking this
message to your representatives. You have my best wishes as you set out in
The Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide
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