AAA: Sen. Mcconnell Urges Strenghtening US-Armenia Ties

Armenian Assembly of America
122 C Street, NW, Suite 350
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202-393-3434
Fax: 202-638-4904
Email: [email protected]

May 7, 2004
CONTACT: Christine Kojoian
E-mail: [email protected]


Washington, DC – Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as the
featured luncheon speaker at a major non-partisan, pan-Armenian conference
April 19, pledged to work towards increasing Armenia’s funding level above
the Bush Administration request of $62 million for FY 2005. McConnell, a
well-known advocate of Armenian issues, also said he supports current
legislation granting permanent normal trade relations to Armenia.

The Conference, a three-day advocacy push led by the community’s major
non-partisan organizations – the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian
General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Eastern and Western Diocese of the
Armenian Church, brought hundreds of activists to the nation’s capital for
this first-ever gathering.

McConnell, who holds the second most powerful position in the United States
Senate, was introduced by Armenian Assembly Board of Directors Chairman
Anthony Barsamian, who hailed the Senator as, “an extraordinary friend of
our community.”

Below is the full text of Senator McConnell’s speech:

“Well, thank you very much. It’s great to see all of you again. I see some
old friends that I’ve been involved in a few wars with. Hirair Hovnanian,
thank you for being here. I’m proud of the work that you do on the East
coast and of course one of my best friends and buddies – the guy you just
described as being in charge of me – Albert Boyajian and his wife Tove. I
had the opportunity to go to Armenia with them a few years ago. If you are
not Armenian, there is nothing like going to Armenia with somebody who is
Armenian because it really adds a lot to the experience while you’re there
and Albert I thank you for teaching me about Armenia and for being my friend
and always being there when I need you. I think he does an extraordinary job
of making sure all of us who are not of Armenian decent understand the
history of Armenia and the importance of the U.S./Armenia relationship which
is, of course, what I’d like to talk about today.”

“I visited Nagorno Karabakh. I’ve been to Azerbaijan as well and I’ve had a
chance to spend some time with President Kocharian and others, none of which
I would argue makes me an expert but I suppose I know a little bit more
about Armenia than most Americans. I must say that I think it has enormous
potential in large measure because of the Armenian-American community and I
want to thank all you for what you’re doing for the place from which you all
came at one point or another. Without you, the story of Armenia simply
would not be told in America.”

“I also want to encourage you to lobby Armenia to continue to move in the
direction of a closer relationship with the United States. It’s no secret
when I tell you that the Azeris work very hard to cultivate a good
relationship with the United States. They have been very cooperative in the
war on terror and as you all know, since 9/11, a lot of U.S. foreign policy
tends to be viewed through the prism of how committed are you to the war on
terror and how much are you helping us on the war on terror and I know we
have representatives from the Armenian government today and I want to
encourage you to be – to work with us as closely as you possibly can in the
war on terror because I think it is pretty apparent after 9/11 and the other
attacks that have occurred around the world. This is not just something that
happened to the United States – that this is the central challenge of the
21st century. This level of radicalism is a threat to the civilized world
and we simply must stand up to it.”

“Now there are sort of two schools of thought here in the United States.
There are some that think this is kind of a law enforcement problem. You
know, maybe what you ought to do is try to arrest somebody and maybe give
them Johnny Cochran’s card so they’ll be properly represented. There are
others who view it as clearly a wartime issue. So let’s go back to 9/11. I
am a little bit exasperated with the 9/11 commission because they’re
spending an awful lot of time, it seems to me, formerly prominent politicos
enjoying being interviewed and telling us what we already know which is that
Al-Qaeda did it. We know that. We knew it on the day of the attack. These
absurd suggestions by the media and the press that the president should
apologize – I don’t recall FDR being asked to apologize for Pearl Harbor.
What does the president need to apologize for? There’s no question that
during the eight years of the Clinton Administration and the 200 and some
odd days of the Bush Administration, we were not on a war footing with
Al-Qaeda. Monday morning quarterbacks always call the best plays and
hindsight is always 20-20. I think we can all agree that if we’d been on a
war footing against the terrorists before 9/11, we might have had a chance
of preventing it. Although, Richard Clarke, the president’s most persistent
critic, when asked the question – if President Bush had done everything you
asked him to when he was sworn in, would the attack have been prevented? –
he said no. He said no.”

“So I think more important is where do we go from here? The president
believed that it was an act of war, not a law enforcement matter, although
law enforcement is certainly a part of conducting the war on terror. And the
president felt we needed to get on offense. Since many of you are basketball
fans – I know that Albert [Boyajian] tries never to miss a Lakers home game
if he can avoid doing that – let me offer another analogy. In order to have
a good team, you’ve got to have an offense and a defense. But I think we can
all stipulate that it’s easier to score on offense. We have been working to
improve our defense. We passed the Patriot Act which broke down the barriers
between the FBI and the CIA so they could communicate with each other, made
it possible for us to update such things as the inability to get a warrant
to tap a cell phone. That’s how old the laws were. That’s been fixed. We
created the Department of Homeland Security which is all about defense,
having a better defense here at home in trying to protect us from attacks.
It’s easier to score on offense and so the president called out the military
and we went into Afghanistan and we liberated Afghanistan – something the
British had a hard time with and something the Soviets had an extremely hard
time with. Your military here in the United States did a superb job.
Afghanistan has a new constitution, it’s going to have elections next
summer, little girls are back in school after 6 years of being denied the
opportunity to be educated and Afghanistan has a chance of realizing its
aspirations to be a normal, civilized country.”

“And then next on the list, if you want to drain the swamp of the
terrorists, you couldn’t ignore Iraq – a country that had used weapons of
mass destruction twice, that had started two wars, one with the Iranians and
one with the Kuwaitis – a war we had to end by liberating Kuwait led by a
man who tried to assassinate former President Bush and in general was
looking for a way to do us harm again. Some of the critics are now saying
you acted too soon. Scratch your head a minute and think about 9/11.
President Bush is being criticized for acting too late on 9/11 and being
criticized for acting too soon on Iraq. When is the best time to deal with a
terrorist state, before or after they attack you? I rest my case. It’s
before. And so we knew the problem with Iraq was coming and the president
concluded it’s better to deal with it beforehand rather than afterwards and
the same people who are criticizing him for going too soon in Iraq, believe
me, would have been criticizing him for going too late in Iraq had he waited
until after something happened. I was in Iraq in October and Afghanistan in
October and my wife who is a member of the president’s cabinet, was in Iraq
in February and I can tell you that a lot more is going right there than you
think. Unfortunately they teach them in journalism school that only bad
news is news. This reminds me of the story of President Bush out fishing
with the Pope. A strong wind came along and blew the Pope’s hat off and
President Bush stepped out of the boat, walked across the water, picked up
the Pope’s hat, brought it back to him and the Pope put it back on his head.
And the next day the headline in the New York Times was “Bush can’t swim.”
You get my drift. The interest of the media in Iraq is only writing bad
things and certainly we do have a security problem.”

“There is no denying that and there are some remnants of the old Bathist
regime that certainly don’t want to go easily and it’s a challenging
situation. On the other hand, when I was there in October, some six months
ago, we’d already rebuilt 1500 schools – we’ve done many more than that now.
The head of the 101st division, airborne division, the famous 101st
airborne, which happens to be headquartered in my state, they were up in the
northern part of the country, did a marvelous job and they’ve already had
local elections up there. They’ve now come home but their leader, General
Petraeus, is going back to head up the development of the Iraqi military.
The reason I’m spending a good deal of time on the war on terror is because
it seems to me that the key to the U.S./Armenia relationship is cooperation
on the war on terror and I want to encourage again, those of you who are
activists on behalf of Armenia and who go there frequently and the Armenian
government representatives who are here today, look for ways to help us win
this battle because Armenia will not be exempt. No civilized country will be
exempt in the future from this kind of outrageous effort to try to move us
back to the middle ages. And I think particularly, I say to you women in
the audience, if the terrorists had their way, you would have no rights at
all – none. You would not be seen and you would not be heard. They really
want to go back to the middle ages. This kind of fanaticism needs to be
stood up to. It’s the only way to deal with it and I hope that Armenia will
move in that direction.

As was indicated, I tried to make sure Armenia had adequate foreign
assistance from the United States. The request in the present budget this
year was $62 million. I’ll be trying to increase that amount. Armenia
received $75 million last year and that is considerably more than
Azerbaijan, an imbalance that I don’t apologize for, and we will try to
achieve such an imbalance again this year. (applause) But let me reiterate
that I think it really is the key to the U.S./Armenia relationship -really
is cooperation in the war on terror.

With regard to permanent trade status for Armenia, let me just say that
right now, with all of this talk about out sourcing going on in the United
States – we can discuss whether that’s a real or an imaginary issue – free
trade agreements are not moving much this year because of the political
environment. Having said that, I’m not running away from free trade
positions. I think free trade agreements are good, both for the United
States and for the country entering into it with us and I hope that we’ll be
able to move this legislation although I must say I don’t think we’ll be
able to move it this calendar year but I hope we’ll be able to move this
legislation in the near future.”

“Finally, let me just say in conclusion how much I thank all of you for what
you’re doing for this country. America is a country of immigrants. As some
of you know, my wife came to this country as many of you did. She came at
age eight, didn’t speak a word of English and there are all kinds of
interesting stories about her early life in Queens, New York in a little
apartment with her sisters and her parents. One of my favorite ones is when
there was a knock on the door one night and they opened the door and there
are these sort of medium sized to small people dressed up in these costumes
with bags. They thought they were being robbed and they were so frightened,
they gave all the food in the refrigerator to them in order to get them to
go away. So I’ve heard scores of these coming to America stories from my
Chinese-American in-laws but of course many of you have had similar
experiences coming here. Immigration renews and invigorates America and as I
go around the country in the course of my work, it seems to me, and this is
just anecdotal, I can’t prove it by any survey or anything – anecdotally,
that the people that got here the most recent seem to be the most gung-ho,
you know the most excited about the opportunities in America. I think other
countries look at us – and many of them don’t like us because it’s purely a
case of envy – we’ve done very well but there are people in America from
almost every country in the world who’ve come here and realized the American

“Now why is that? Why is that? It’s because of the system. The system. And
it is constantly renewed and reinvigorated by people who come here from
abroad and who haven’t gotten accustomed to it like many of us who’ve been
here many generations have – haven’t gotten accustomed to it, really
appreciate it and enthusiastically and vigorously pursue the American dream
and then the pattern is, as these new arrivals of second generation folks do
better and better here in America, they want to help the country that they
came from or that their ancestors came from and I find that exciting. I
know that many of you have spent a good deal of time every single day trying
to do something, not only for America but for Armenia because you love it
and you want it to realize its dreams and you want it to become a country
like America. I assure you, with your energetic participation, some day,
that’s going to happen and some day they are going to be everything you hope
they will be and you’ll be the reason for it. Those of you who’ve gone back
there, who’ve invested there, who’ve employed people there, who’ve done so
much, will have a lot to be proud of in the coming years. So thank you for
what you’re doing, not only for America, but for Armenia. It’s a privilege
to be with you today and I look forward to seeing you again soon.”

Thank you.

The Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide
organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian
issues. It is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.