U.S.-Armenian Tycoon Launches New Lobby Group

U.S.-ARMENIAN TYCOON LAUNCHES NEW LOBBY GROUP
By Harry Tamrazian in Prague

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
Dec 13 2006

Gerard Cafesjian, a U.S. philanthropist of Armenian descent, has set
up a new lobbying organization which he hopes will "complement" the
existing Armenian-American advocacy groups and match their considerable
influence in Washington.

The Cafesjian-funded U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC)
announced its creation in a mission statement last week, pledging to
become a "powerful and effective addition to the Armenian-American
lobby."

The group will be run by Ross Vartian and Rob Mosher, two former
senior executives of the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), which
is led by another U.S.-Armenian tycoon, Hirair Hovnanian. Cafesjian
himself has long been a member of the AAA board of trustees.

Vartian, who was the Assembly’s chief executive as recently as last
year, insisted that the USAPAC is not a splinter group, arguing that
Cafesjian will remain on the Assembly board. "Our primary purpose
is to add to the community of the Armenian lobby in a unique and
collaborative way and make the Armenian lobby stronger by doing it,"
he told RFE/RL in an interview.

"It’s quite clear that in any large lobby there are many voices,"
he said. "The problem is not the number of voices, the problem is do
those voices work together? And we pledge to do that."

The AAA and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)
have been instrumental in the passage of congressional bills making
Armenia one of the largest per-capita recipients of U.S. aid in the
world. They are also at the forefront of a long-running campaign for
U.S. recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

According to Vartian, the USAPAC will concentrate on countering the
impact of Azerbaijani oil on U.S. policy towards Armenia and pressing
Washington to take a pro-Armenian stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict. He said genocide recognition will also be on the USAPAC
agenda but indicated that the new group will favor a softer line on
Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

"Turkey today is not a friendly neighbor to Armenia. But as a fully
mature member of the EU, Turkey would be a much more friendly neighbor
of Armenia," Vartian said.

Vartian denied that the USAPAC will also be furthering the interests
and agenda of Armenia’s government, with which Cafesjian is believed to
have close ties. "While the Armenian government may welcome our doing
this, we are not here to promote or push the Armenian government,"
he said.

Cafesjian is the principal owner and sponsor of three Armenian
television stations that are staunchly supportive of President Robert
Kocharian and his government. Their news coverage of opposition
candidates during the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections
in Armenia was criticized as extremely biased by Western observers.

The TV channels caused an uproar earlier this year by suggesting that
Armenia’s leading human rights groups work for Western intelligence
services. One of the accused human rights campaigners charged at the
time that Cafesjian’s money is being used for "spreading government
propaganda and disinformation."

In Vartian’s words, the USAPAC believes that democracy is important for
Armenia and hopes that the upcoming national elections in the country
will be free and fair. "We will not hesitate to talk about the pluses
and minuses of what is happening in Armenia, just like anyone else
does," Vartian said. "It would not be a problem for us to criticize."

"But we are not here to criticize, we are here to support," he added.

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