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Reflections on Recent House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearings

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

By AAA Intern Robert Avakian

During the week of June 24th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held two hearings that highlighted situations requiring the attention of the Armenian-American community – the war in Syria and the protests in Turkey.

HFAC Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) oversaw the hearing, entitled “Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle.” Chairman Smith and other sitting members hammered the State Department official witness on the inactivity of the Obama administration. Other members stressed the importance of non-military actions. While these two sides of the argument were being presented, it was refreshing to see that not only was the Christian plight brought to light, but more specifically the dire situation of the Armenian-Syrians. Chairman Smith asked the State Department witness “Some 100,000 Armenians have fled, are there any special efforts being made to reach out to that community, as well as others, to help them with their refugee status?” Although an adequate answer didn’t follow, I found some solace knowing that the question had been raised. Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, also brought forth testimony on behalf of the Armenian-Syrians, sharing some news which I most likely would not have heard elsewhere. Ms. Shea quoted a story confirmed by the Vatican news agency, Fides, that detailed a purposeful search and kidnapping on a bus, saying, “Father Michael Kayal of the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo was abducted by Islamic extremist rebels as he was travelling on a bus on his way to Rome. He was pulled off when Islamist gangs spotted his clerical garb. He has not been seen since.” The situation in Syria is only growing worse, and it is of some comfort to know that there are those drawing awareness to Syria and specifically Armenian-Syrians.

The very next day a hearing focusing on the Gezi Park protests in Turkey took place, entitled “Turkey at a Crossroads: What do the Gezi Park Protests Mean for Democracy in the Region?” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Chairman of the HFAC Subcommittee, presided over the hearing. Unfortunately, the questioning at this hearing was a lot softer than the previous days. No breaking news was brought forth and no pointed questions were asked. Armenians may be familiar with Congressman Rohrabacher given his flip-flop on Armenian issues, particularly since he previously co-sponsored Armenian Genocide Resolutions and now makes statements on the House floor praising Azerbaijan. There was barely a mention of Armenians or that Gezi Park was seized from the centuries-old Armenian community of Istanbul. The testimony seemed to recycle what was already in the news, and reinforced the bleak picture of Turkish democracy and the Turkish government’s restriction of fundamental human rights. Some testimony hinted at the authoritarian progression of the government. Kadri Gursel, a contributing writer to Al-Monitor, provided evidence of the authoritarian crackdown by the Turkish government.  “Turkey has no free press, no checks and balances…protesters are the checks of the Government,” Gursel said. This shift in policy can only be detrimental to Turks, Christians, and Armenians alike.

To access the HFAC Joint Subcommittee Hearing “Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle” and for more information please click here.

To access the HFAC Subcommittee Hearing “Turkey at a Crossroads: What do the Gezi Park Protests Mean for Democracy in the Region?” please click here.

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