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1) Uproar in French Parliament as Armenian Genocide Vote Is Shelved
2) Senators Sarbanes And Boxer Question US Ambassador Designate to Azerbaijan
3) Prime Minister of Canada Congratulates ANCC for Opening of National Office

1) Uproar in French Parliament as Armenian Genocide Vote Is Shelved

PARIS (AFP/ANCA)–Angry scenes broke out in the French National Assembly on
Thursday after the National Assembly’s President Jean-Louis DebrĂ©, under
pressure from the French Government, called off a vote on a bill that would
make it a punishable offense to deny the Armenian genocide.
Despite the fact that it was listed as only the second item on the
Parliamentary agenda, President DebrĂ© effectively blocked the bill’s
consideration by artificially extending the first agenda item by adding
speakers, extending time limits, and other dilatory tactics.
These tactics were confronted by Socialist, Communist, and Centrist groups.
Shouts filled the assembly as the bill’s supporters accused members of the
ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) of stalling debate.
These protests, notably that of the President of the Socialist group,
Jean-Marc Ayrault, led to Debré finally consenting to examine the anti-denial
measure during the remaining thirty minutes left in the session. The time
allocated for the bill’s discussion ran out before a vote could take place.
Discussion of the text–which has sparked a diplomatic dispute between France
and Turkey–will now be pushed back to October at the earliest, under the
parliamentary calendar.
Dozens of lawmakers angrily yelling, “Vote! Vote!” had to be evacuated from
the building after the leader of the assembly declared the session closed.
Earlier Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy came out openly against the
bill, which follows a 2001 French law officially recognizing the Turkish
massacres of Armenians at the end of World War I as genocide.
“If adopted, this text would be seen as an unfriendly gesture by the great
majority of the Turkish people,” he told lawmakers, warning its adoption would
have “serious political consequences and weaken our position not only in
Turkey
but across the entire region.”
“Turkey is a leading economic and trade partner… we cannot accept this
bill,” Douste-Blazy said.
Almost all the other speakers argued in favor of sanctioning Armenian
genocide
denial. Sources within Parliament reported that a broad majority of members,
including those in the conservative majority, were prepared to vote for the
resolution.
The bill would make punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of
45,000 Euros the crime of denying that Turkish troops committed genocide
against the Armenians.
The same punishment is on the statute books for people who deny that the
Jewish Holocaust took place.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan–backed by Turkish business
leaders and unions–appealed this month to France to block the contentious new
bill, warning of the threat to bilateral relations.
Ankara briefly recalled its ambassador from Paris for consultations this
month, amid rising tensions over the bill.
Former Socialist minister Jack Lang said it would “undermine the efforts of
those in Turkey who are trying to bring Ankara to recognize its history,” and
warned against a trend towards “criminalizing public expression.”
In light of these developments, President of the European Armenian Federation
Hilda Tchoboian thanked the deputies who supported passage of the bill and
condemned the French Government for preventing passage of the bill.
`We thank the deputies who, by their commitment to the struggle for justice
and dignity, preserved the honor and prestige of France as a nation committed
to these high ideals. We are however scandalized by the shameful schemes
employed by the French government to hamper the free expression of members of
the National Assembly on this core issue of concern to the conscience of all
people,’ said Tchoboian.
`Both the government and the media should keep in mind the lesson of the
referendum on the European Constitution–namely that in a leading democratic
nation, such as France, the will of the people cannot be ignored, deterred, or
obstructed by the Government. Sooner or later, the imposition of penalties
for
Armenian genocide denial will be adopted because, in their wisdom, the French
people and their elected representatives understand that the true basis for
peace and progress are justice and the dignity,’ concluded Tchoboian.

2) Senators Sarbanes And Boxer Question US Ambassador Designate to Azerbaijan

–Ambassador Designate Anne Derse pledges no US financial support for railway
bypassing Armenia; defends administration call to break military aid parity

WASHINGTON, DC–US Ambassador Designate to Azerbaijan Anne Derse responded to
questions by Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Paul Sarbanes (D-MD),
Wednesday, on a series of US policy concerns focusing on Azerbaijan’s
belligerent attitude toward Armenia and Karabagh, as well as the
Administration’s budget request, which would break military assistance parity
to Armenia and Azerbaijan, reported the Armenian National Committee of America
(ANCA). Senators Sarbanes and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had submitted the
questions
during the May 12 Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, led
by Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN).
In response to a question by Senator Sarbanes expressing concern about the
Bush Administration’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget request which would provide over
40% more military assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia, Ambassador Designate
Derse defended the decision, stating that `we do not believe that the slight
differences in military assistance… undermine prospects for peace or send the
wrong message.’
Derse was echoing a similar response by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice,
again to a question by Senator Sarbanes at a Senate hearing in February 2006.
Secretary Rice had noted that `the minor increase in FMF [Foreign Military
Finance] for Azerbaijan as proposed in the President’s budget request in
January does not signal any change in the US position on Nagorno-Karabagh.’
Senator Boxer specifically questioned Derse about the US response to the
Azeri
destruction of the historic Armenian cemetery of Julfa in the Azeri controlled
region of Nakhichevan. Azeri soldiers decimated the cemetery, which included
thousands of cross-stone carvings, known as `khatchkars,’ in December 2005.
The ANCA had urged US Ambassador Reno Harnish to visit the site and
investigate
the demolition. Senator Boxer asked if Derse would `visit the cemetery site
and commit [herself] to investigating the demolition of this unique
cemetery.’
Derse has yet to submit a response to Senator Boxer’s inquiries.
`We would like to thank Senators Sarbanes and Boxer for raising key concerns
about the destruction of Julfa and military parity agreement with Ambassador
Designate Derse,’ stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. `We remain
troubled by the Administration’s retreat from its 2001 agreement to maintain
military aid parity and are hopeful the Congressional appropriators will honor
this agreement to ensure military aid balance to the region.’ The House
Foreign Operations Subcommittee is set to discuss the issue during their
mark-up of the FY 2007 foreign aid bill scheduled for this Friday, May 19.
In response to Senator Sarbanes’ question on efforts toward regional economic
integration in the Caucasus, Derse noted that the `opening of the border
between Turkey and Armenia would contribute to the economies of both
countries,’ but made no reference to the 18-year Azeri blockade of Armenia and
Nagorno Karabagh.
Derse did, however, make specific mention of recent efforts to build a
railway
line connecting Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, stating `because the proposed
railway would bypass Armenia, and thus not be beneficial to regional
integration, we have no plans to support such a railway financially.’
Legislation restricting US aid to the railway project due to the exclusion of
Armenia has been introduced by Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Robert
Menendez (D-NJ) and has the support of Senate Deputy Majority Whip Wayne
Allard
(R-CO). Similar legislation in the House has been introduce by Reps. Joe
Knollenberg (R-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and George Radanovich (R-CA) and
currently has 82 cosponsors.
In her response, Derse reiterated the State Department’s support for `the
territorial integrity of Azerbaijan’ and noted, `the future status of Nagorno
Karabagh is a matter of negotiations between the parties.’ She stressed that
both the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been forewarned that `any
attempt at a military solution to the conflict would only deepen its tragic
impact.’
During the hearing, Chairman Lugar, who has visited the Caucasus and met with
former Azeri President Heydar Aliyev, expressed concerns about democracy in
Azerbaijan and transparency associated with the large influx of oil-wealth
into
that country. Derse responded that `promotion of democracy, freedom, and
human
rights is indeed a top priority in our relationship with Azerbaijan,’ and went
on to express a commitment to `working to promote transparent and accountable
government, an independent judiciary and parliament–promotion of basic
freedoms, including religious freedom and freedom of assembly.’
Anne Derse is a Foreign Service Officer with more than a quarter century of
experience. She most recently served as Director for Biodefense Policy at the
Homeland Security Council. Her prior postings have included service as
Minister
Counselor for Economic Affairs at the US Embassy in Iraq and at the US Mission
to the European Union. Derse also has held posts in the Philippines, South
Korea, Belgium, and Singapore, among other locations.
The complete text of Senator Sarbanes’ questions and Derse’s responses are
provided below.

Questions for the Record Submitted to
Ambassador-Designate Anne Derse
By Senator Paul Sarbanes
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
May 12, 2006

Question: What steps will you take in response to President Aliyev’s
increasingly belligerent rhetoric and actions, such as his threats to restart
the war against Nagorno-Karabagh, his call for a return of Nagorno-Karabagh
`no
matter what it takes,’ and his proposals for vast increases in military
spending? What impact do you believe such actions will have on the prospects
for a negotiated settlement in Nagorno-Karabagh?

Answer: We support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and hold that the
future status of Nagorno-Karabagh is a matter of negotiation between the
parties. Despite promising indications at present, both Armenia and
Azerbaijan
have much to do to prepare their publics for the compromises any just
agreement
will entail. We have told the presidents of both countries that any
attempt at
a military solution to the conflict would only deepen its tragic impact.
Although the Rambouillet meeting between the two presidents marked a
temporary
stall in negotiations, the process has gained momentum again with a series of
individual visits by the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to the region. An agreement on
Nagorno-Karabagh is within the grasp of the two presidents now. We believe
that 2006 is the best window of opportunity for Presidents Aliyev and
Kocharian
to come to a mutually agreeable solution that will provide the basis for a
lasting peace between their two countries. This will require acts of
political
courage by each president as they prepare their respective publics for a peace
settlement. We hope the presidents will seize the opportunity to reach a
peaceful settlement of the conflict soon so that the important work of
post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization can begin.
If confirmed, I plan to continue to work toward a settlement, along with my
colleagues at the Department of State.

Question: Despite US and international calls for regional cooperation and
economic integration, Turkey and Azerbaijan continue their illegal decade-long
blockade of land-locked Armenia. Azerbaijan and Turkey are now escalating
this
policy of isolation by planning to build a railroad line to connect Turkey and
Azerbaijan, excluding Armenia.
There is currently legislation pending that would prevent any US
financing of
the approximately $800 million venture. Do you intend to raise concerns about
the railway? What steps will you take to end Azerbaijan’s blockade of
Armenia?

Answer: The US Government strongly encourages regional integration in the
Caucasus. Removing trade barriers would improve regional integration and
enhance economic cooperation and development within and beyond the region.
Regional integration should, of course, include all countries of the region.
We have long believed that opening the border between Turkey and Armenia would
contribute to the economies of both countries and to such important broader
areas as energy security for Europe and Eurasia.
Because the proposed railway would bypass Armenia, and thus not be beneficial
to regional integration, we have no plans to support such a railway
financially. If confirmed, I will strongly support the Administration’s
efforts to pursue regional integration for all countries in the region.

Question: In the aftermath of September 11th, Congress granted the President
limited and conditional authority to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support
Act, with the understanding that the administration would ensure military
parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, in this year’s budget, the
President requested over $1 million more in military aid for Azerbaijan than
for Armenia. On what basis has the administration decided to depart from its
previous commitment to provide equal amounts of military assistance for
Armenia
and Azerbaijan?

Answer: It is US policy to ensure that our security assistance to Armenia and
Azerbaijan does not affect the military balance between the two states, but it
is not the Administration’s view that military funding levels for Armenia and
Azerbaijan should be identical. As Secretary Rice said recently in testimony
before the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee on Appropriations, we believe
slight differences in military assistance can be tolerated between Armenia and
Azerbaijan. The waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act every year
since 2002 has allowed us to provide military assistance that enhances
Azerbaijan’s interoperability with NATO and US forces and furthers US
peacekeeping objectives, as well as assistance aimed at advancing democratic
and market economic reform. Assistance to Armenia for similar purposes
requires no waiver.
As a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, our goal is to help Armenia and
Azerbaijan achieve a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.
Military assistance to both countries in light of that ongoing conflict is
carefully considered and calibrated to ensure that it does not hamper ongoing
efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Progress is being made in the negotiation process and we continue to view
2006
as the best window for the sides to reach an agreement. At the same time, we
are strongly urging the presidents to prepare their publics for peace. We do
not believe that the slight differences in military assistance in the FY 2007
budget request undermine prospects for peace or send the wrong message.

Question: Do you believe that Azerbaijan deserved to be elected to the UN
Human Rights Council? How did the US vote on Azerbaijan’s candidacy? What
steps will you take to improve respect for human rights in Azerbaijan?

Answer: The vote of the United States on these issues is always
confidential.
We stand ready to work with all the new members of the UN Human Rights
Council. We will urge Azerbaijan will use this opportunity to fulfill its
commitments to make real progress on advancing democracy and improve
fundamental respect for human rights both domestically and throughout the
world. If confirmed, I will continue to urge the Government of Azerbaijan to
fulfill its own human rights commitments, and will look for opportunities to
advance this effort through diplomacy, programs, and other measures.

3) Prime Minister of Canada Congratulates ANCC for Opening of National Office

OTTAWA–Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, has sent a congratulatory
certificate to the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC) on the
occasion
of the opening of its national office in Ottawa.
The certificate recognizes the `profound’ contributions of the Armenian
community in Canada.
`Your new permanent office in the nation’s capital will ensure that
Parliament
and the Government of Canada are aware of the concerns and aspirations of
Armenian-Canadians,’ reads the certificate.
Over 30 Members of Parliament and Senators, among them the Prime Minister’s
Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe,
attended ANCC’s national office opening on April 25.
`The Prime Minister’s heartfelt sentiments and initiative are greatly
appreciated by tens of thousand members and supporters of ANCC,’ said Aris
Babikian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of
Canada.
`We are proud and honored with our association and cooperation with the Prime
Minister,’ he said. `It is a great pleasure to see a government and a prime
minister with such compassionate and principled feelings towards Canadians and
their concerns.’

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