By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)
June 2, 2015
Congress returns this week with a full slate, US aid to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh is under consideration, and Turkish parliamentary elections are slated for June 7. Welcome to the Assembly Agenda, your guide to Armenian American issues in Washington, DC.
A lot has happened this year with the Armenian Genocide centennial commemorations taking place around the world. With everything going on, it’s easy to forget about important legislation and key events taking place in Washington that shape the outcome of our advocacy. So, in the words of Eminem, it’s back to reality, and on to the Agenda…
The Senate returned for a rare Sunday session as the Patriot Act was set to expire. At issue are the controversial NSA provisions on warrantless wiretapping and bulk collection of American citizens’ phone records. Republican Presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) filibustered the Act’s renewal last week. He objected to the NSA provisions and continued to block advancement on Sunday, causing the Act to expire while putting himself at loggerheads with key members of his caucus. The Senate will be busy this week working on an alternative homeland security measure, the USA Freedom Act, a watered down version of the Patriot Act which has already passed the House.
The House returned last night for votes and is set to tackle a number of bills, namely twelve related to funding the government.
MONEY FOR ARMENIA, NAGORNO KARABAKH:
It’s summer time in the nation’s capital and that means the appropriations process will seriously begin with Congress in session 8 out of the 9 weeks ahead, and with a budget in place, Republicans will try to complete as much of the process under “regular order” as possible, read: 2016.
The Senate has not yet scheduled a markup for the FY 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which covers US assistance to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (NK). However, the House has scheduled its SFOPS appropriations bill for markup on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 10:30 AM.
Earlier this year, Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny testified before the House SFOPS Appropriations subcommittee, outlining nine key policy priorities of the Armenian American community with an overall request of not less than $40 million for Armenia and $5 million for NK.
President Obama’s FY2016 budget request calls for $22.36 million for Armenia with no allocation for NK, a reduction of $2.34 million from FY 2015. The House Appropriations Committee is headed by Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), a co-chair of the Congressional Turkish Caucus, and Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), an active member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus. The Assembly will continue to work with House and Senate appropriators throughout the process to ensure the best possible outcome for Armenia and NK.
ARMENIAN GENOCIDE TRUTH & JUSTICE RESOLUTIONS:
The House version of the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution, H. Res. 154, now has 62 cosponsors, while the Senate version, S. Res. 140, boasts 20 cosponsors. These bills are not to be confused with the traditional Armenian Genocide Resolution, which passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2000, 2005, 2007, 2010, and which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014.
Efforts in the House to advance the Armenian Truth and Justice Resolution have been checked by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). However, the Senate version has the support of over 1/5 of the chamber and unlike his House counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not publicly opposed Armenian Genocide recognition efforts. Notable cosponsors to the Senate Armenian Truth and Justice Resolution include Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Both Republicans have announced their candidacy for President of the United States. While neither Rubio nor Cruz cosponsored the Armenian Genocide resolution in the last Congress, Senator Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), did vote YES during the committee passage. Senator Cruz is not a member of the SFRC so he didn’t have a chance to vote on it. However, Senator Rand Paul does serve on the SFRC and was absent for the 2014 vote.
ERDOGAN THE LIBERATOR? :
Turks will head to the polls on June 7 in parliamentary elections largely seen as a referendum on Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. Erdogan’s goal is to gain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would enable him to strengthen the role of the Presidency by weakening the role of the Prime Minister, thus completing Turkey’s transformation into an authoritative executive/presidential government. In typical fashion, Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hit the campaign trail and made some pretty astonishing statements. For instance, at a campaign rally over the weekend, Erdogan called for Muslims to invade Israel and sack Jerusalem. “Conquest is Mecca, conquest is Saladin, it’s to hoist the Islamic flag over Jerusalem again,” Erdogan reportedly stated.
A few days earlier, at another campaign stop to mark the opening of an airport in a Kurdish province, Davutoglu reportedly stated “By Allah’s will, Jerusalem belongs to the Kurds, the Turks, the Arabs, and to all Muslims. And as our forefathers fought side by side at Gallipoli, and just as our forefathers went together to liberate Jerusalem with Saladin, we will march together on the same path [to liberate Jerusalem].”
Last year, Erdogan displayed his true anti-Armenian colors when he addressed those who questioned his ethnicity: “I was called a Georgian. I apologize for this, but they even said [something] worse: They called me an Armenian.”
This provocative and racist rhetoric is matched only by Erdogan’s crack down on civil society and the press. Turkey ranks #1 in the world for the most imprisoned journalists. Weeks before last year’s election, Erdogan’s judges blocked the country’s internet access to Twitter and YouTube, as an audio recording was released implicated Erdogan’s inner circle in plotting events that would justify sending Turkish troops into Syria to attack Christians and Kurds. See Kessab and Kobani. This year, Erdogan’s judges have again blocked access to YouTube, this time after a video was posted showing trucks belong to the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, delivering thousands of weapons and munitions to ISIS in Syria.
UPCOMING EVENTS IN DC:
– Coptic Solidarity will hold its 6th annual conference, this year entitled “100 Years Later: Middle East Christians Face Another Genocide” on June 11-13, 2015. Yours truly will be a panelist on Friday, June 12, at 4:30 PM;
– The Knights and Daughters of Vartan will hold their 2015 Grand Convocation, July 15-18, 2015 in Washington, DC.
ARMENIAN AMERICAN POLTICAL TRIVIA:
Name the highest ranking US government official of Armenian ancestry. Bonus points if you can name the administration in which this person served.
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