(l-r) Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Washington, D.C. - The annual Capitol Hill Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide took place on Wednesday evening, April 19, 2023 at the Capitol Visitors Center, in a bipartisan event in collaboration with the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues.
The theme of preventing a second genocide took centerstage as a number of high-ranking U.S. elected officials shared their insights on the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Commemoration and linked the atrocities to the dire situation today in Artsakh, where Azerbaijan has created a man-made humanitarian crisis by blockading the Lachin Corridor for over four months.
Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who last year visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Tsitsernakaberd, Armenia, noted that it was a "truly life-changing experience," where she learned more of the horrific truths of the Armenian Genocide, which "affirmed our firm belief that the Ottoman Empire's monstrous crimes must never be erased, and we must ensure these atrocities never happen again."
Speaker Emerita Pelosi, who the Assembly honored after her visit to Armenia, applauded the efforts, mobilization, and persistence of the Armenian American community that led to the successful passage of Armenian Genocide resolutions in Congress and by President Joe Biden, that resulted in U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.
She highlighted that the current focus now remains on Azerbaijan's "use of force in Nagorno-Karabakh, which threatens to drag the region into a dark and deadly path" in a battle of democracy versus autocracy.
"There must be a "negotiated, comprehensive, and lasting settlement to the [Nagorno-Karabakh] conflict so that we can pave a way to peace and security," concluded Speaker Emerita Pelosi.
(l-r) Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Assembly Board Member Aram Gavoor, and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA)
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reflected on the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the "impressive achievements" that resulted in U.S. affirmation, but noted that there's more work to be done because of the Turkish government's continuous hiding of the truth, and also because "right now Azerbaijan is enforcing an illegal blockade of the Armenian people in Artsakh" that has resulted in an "acute humanitarian crisis...where [Armenians] face the threat of ethnic cleansing."
Senator Menendez maintained his commitment to earmarking more U.S. humanitarian assistance to Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as his efforts to cease U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan and stop the waiver of Section 907, which is meant to ban security assistance to Azerbaijan until the country "takes demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh."
"We should not be in bed with governments like Azerbaijan," said Senator Menendez. "It's inexcusable. It's morally repugnant. It's got to stop."
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Armenian Caucus co-chair, commented on how far the Armenian American community has come in advocating for U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
"The Armenian cause is a cause that we have to be constantly vigilant about, particularly now with what we see happening in Artsakh, both with the attacks and the aggression that took place a couple of years ago, and the cutting off of the Lachin Corridor, [which] in my opinion, is nothing more [than] a continuation of the genocide," said Pallone.
He emphasized that the Armenian people in Artsakh are suffering without access to enough food and medical supplies, "which sounds like genocide."
"Whether it's Azerbaijan or Turkey, it's this idea that the Armenians should not be recognized, that they should be wiped out, and it's not just Artsakh," said Pallone. "We see the Azeri army constantly pushing into Armenia to take more lands."
Pallone concluded by saying that he hoped the "constant pressure" by the U.S. will ultimately "lead to the re-opening of the Corridor and the reigniting of negotiations for Artsakh being recognized as Armenian territory."
(l-r) Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Young Kim (R-CA),
and Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA)
Armenian Caucus co-chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) commemorated the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the decades of efforts for U.S. recognition. Despite these accomplishments, he recognized that "Armenians are still under attack today, including those who lost their lives in Artsakh due to the unprovoked assaults from Azerbaijan, and the thousands of Armenians who remain at risk of another genocide as Azerbaijan tries to drive them out of Artsakh and Armenia."
Rep. Schiff noted his "concern" that Azerbaijan "may intend another all- out war on Armenia and Artsakh" following the months-long inhumane blockade on the Lachin Corridor, which has resulted in over 120,000 Armenians being cut off from access to food, medicine, gas, electricity, and basic freedom, as "Azerbaijan's president Aliyev has amassed forces along the border, as they escalate tensions in the region."
"We cannot allow violence and crimes against humanity to go unanswered, whether they occurred 108 years ago or as recently as this year, this month, or this week. We must stop U.S. support for the Aliyev regime, and hold them accountable for war crimes. We must issue strong sanctions to reopen the Lachin Corridor and release prisoners of war and captured civilians, and support Artsakh's right for self-determination," concluded Rep. Schiff.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who also worked for over two decades for U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, stated that "genocide denial is the first step in the next genocide."
"Today the survivors of the Armenian Genocide are besieged in Artsakh," he said. "We reflect on the fact that the blockade is the tactic. The effect of the blockade is human deprivation. The goal of the blockade is to ethnically cleanse Artsakh. And the results of the blockade will be failure, because the Armenians who have lived there for over a thousand years aren't going anywhere."
Rep. Sherman noted that he has joined his colleagues in demanding to look into sanctions on Azerbaijan due to the country's unprovoked aggression on the Armenian people in Armenia and Artsakh that has resulted in the blockade of the Lachin Corridor and humanitarian crisis.
(l-r) Rep. Seth Magaziner (D-RI), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), and Rep. Michael Lawler (R-NY)
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) noted that the Armenians in the U.S. are "an extraordinary community of people" and it's everyone's responsibility to "continue telling the terrible truth of the Armenian Genocide to ensure such genocides never happen again."
"When we speak of justice, we must speak of what is going on in Azerbaijan and their inhumane blockade of the Lachin Corridor," said Sen. Booker. "We must make sure we don't remain silent in the face of this humanitarian tragedy."
Sen. Booker expressed his "commitment to Armenian sovereignty and to humanitarian rights" in order to avoid a large-scale humanitarian crisis from the Lachin Corridor blockade.
Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) stated that "the pain of the Armenian genocide is deep," and applauded the survivors who came to the U.S. and created vibrant Armenian American communities.
In hand with recognizing the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Rep. Valadao said it was also time to condemn the ongoing aggression of Azerbaijan against Armenia, which is "in direct violation of international agreements" and that the blockade of the Lachin Corridor is preventing delivery of basic necessities and is a "blatant violation of human rights."
During his visit to Armenia, Rep. Valadao reflected on the positive experience he had seeing the Armenians who fought for their people to have a free society. He vowed to "fight to resolve" the blockade as quickly as possible and be a "strong voice in Congress."
Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) emphasized that the Biden administration should continue taking steps to end the Lachin Corridor blockade.
"American taxpayers should not be subsidizing Azerbaijan's hostility against the Armenian people," she said. "As long as the aggression continues, Azerbaijan should not receive any military assistance."
She commented that she was proud to stand with Armenian Americans "in solidarity and in memory to honor your past and to fight for your remarkable future."
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) stated the importance of commemorating the 108th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide as it is an "important reminder that crimes against humanity should not go without recognition."
To that end, she said that she is a proud co-sponsor of the Armenian Genocide Act "to promote greater public awareness and understanding of the history lessons and consequences of the Armenian Genocide."
While it was significant to remember the past, Rep. Meng highlighted the
"ongoing tragedies in front of us" noting that the blockade of the Lachin Corridor is "simply unacceptable."
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) emphasized Azerbaijan's aggressive policy towards Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, stating that he will use "every tool available to help bring it to an end."
"We cannot and will not sit idly by," he said. "We will gather together, stand together, and say that we must protect the people of Artsakh and the people of Armenia. We are with you and we are together as Americans and Armenians."
Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) underscored the importance of remembering crimes against humanity as well as educating the next generation about history, noting that she is "proud" to co-sponsor the Armenian Genocide Act.
"I look forward to working with my colleagues to allocate for the Armenian American community for genocide recognition, for lifting the blockade, for attending local community events," said Rep. Kim. "I will continue to be an advocate for you, so consider me your strongest friend and being your voice."
Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) expressed that Azerbaijan has "once again demonstrated its disregard and its respect of a sovereign nation," by attacking its neighboring country.
"The world is watching and it's incumbent upon us to hold Azerbaijan accountable, as we must hold Turkey accountable," said Rep. Costa. "Your advocacy and your involvement makes a difference, and that's why it's so important to continue this participation, because never again means never again."
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) emphasized that "there are those who want to erase and deny history and claim this genocide never happened, and we cannot allow this."
She highlighted the importance of teaching the Armenian Genocide and standing up for Armenia and Artsakh "so history cannot repeat itself."
Rep. Chu, who visited both Armenia and Artsakh, said she received warnings from Azerbaijan not to travel to Artsakh, and when she did, they banned her from the country.
"It's a badge of honor and it strengthened my resolve to stop Azerbaijan's continued aggression and illegal blockade of Artsakh," she said. "I'm even more determined to stand by the people of Armenia and Artsakh as they struggle for their right to self-determination."
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) commended the Armenian American community's efforts to have bipartisan recognition of the Armenian Genocide signed into law.
"Now we are making sure that our next generation will learn about [the Armenian Genocide] in their classrooms and be more enriched and better educated so that it never happens again," said Rep. Swalwell. "I will be a fierce advocate to make sure the atrocities committed by Azerbaijan are never endorsed by the U.S. government and are always condemned."
Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) noted that Armenia is a "great neighbor in a difficult neighborhood oftentimes surrounded by enemies" and despite the gains the Armenian American community has made, from passing resolutions to amending historical language, the blockade in Artsakh is a new challenge to overcome.
Rep. Michael Lawler (R-NY) acknowledged the "dark chapter in history" regarding the Armenian Genocide and the importance of also acknowledging the current conflict in Artsakh and the blockade that is causing "immense suffering" and that "we must work towards ending the blockade."
"We stand here today to remember the past and support the past and future of the Armenian people," said Rep. Lawler. "We recognize the contributions of the Armenian community to the world and here in the U.S. as we continue to work together to promote human rights, peace and justice."
Rep. Seth Magaziner (D-RI) said he stands with the Armenian people "against renewed aggression from Azerbaijan" and has worked to request restriction of military assistance to the country, push for the freedom of Armenian POWs, and lift the blockade on Artsakh, "which must end now."
"I am here today in solidarity with the Armenian community which has demonstrated time and again incredible resilience and strength in the face of persecution," he said, noting that Armenians have made "tremendous contributions" to Rhode Island. "I will ensure that the U.S. and Armenia, as free democratic and peaceful nations, stand together now and forever."
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Titus emphasized that "we took a position that we will not tolerate the blockade" and will work towards a safe passageway to provide humanitarian relief for the victims of the blockade.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) highlighted that it was the 129th day of blockade as 120,000 Armenians in Artsakh continue to be cut off from daily essentials due to a "manmade crisis created by the Azeri government that is unjust and unconscionable."
She committed to her support for the victims of the blockade and her efforts to "always remember the challenges the Armenian people have faced throughout the world."
(l-r) Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA),
Dr. Michael Rubin, and Robert Avetisyan
Robert Avetisyan, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Artsakh to the United States, emphasized the "sense of urgency every day and every hour" in Artsakh during the blockade of the Lachin Corridor as "Azerbaijan disregards calls from U.S. Congress, major democracies from the across the globe, from the State Department and continues to push their agenda" and aggressive expansion.
Rep. Avetisyan also expressed thanks to U.S. "supporters on the Hill for their decades of support for Armenia and Artsakh and for their continued efforts today to help lift the blockade and to increase assistance to Armenia and Artsakh."
"We hope that in the 21st century that a tyrannical repressive government cannot succeed," said Rep. Avetisyan. "Aliyev thought Artsakh would give up easily and succumb to their pressure, and people are astonished that Artsakh still exists."
Rep. Avetisyan concluded that he hopes that the world will join the efforts of Artsakh as the people continue their struggle and "demonstrate to ourselves, to the aggressors and to the world that Armenians deserve liberty and safety."
Dr. Michael Rubin, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), elaborated on the importance of history not repeating itself, especially as Azerbaijan continues its aggression against the Armenian people in Artsakh and Armenia. He applauded the Armenian American community for its achievements in obtaining U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide in Congress and President Biden, as well as recognition from all 50 U.S. states, noting that "Turkey is going to have to face history sooner rather than later."
In relation to Azerbaijan, Dr. Rubin expressed disappointment that Section 907 continues to be waived even though it is "ingrained in law" and its waiver is an "affront to the entire Congress."
Regarding the 44-day war launched by Azerbaijan in September 2020, Dr. Rubin highlighted his concern of "whether or not this was an intelligence failure [on the part of the U.S.] or if it was deliberate decision to look the other way." He called upon the Armenian community to "pressure congress to get to the bottom of this because it's a matter of historical truth and not making the same mistake twice."
"Genocides don't happen when the light is shining on them, they happen in the darkness," he stated, before urging the White House not to "simply pay homage to what happened 108 years ago because genocide is looming."
"It's important that the White House not take the easy way out, but rather focus and call out what is going on as looming genocide, genocide version 2.0, because if that message comes from the White House, Azerbaijan will be put on notice that the world will not let this happen again," concluded Dr. Rubin.
Aram Gavoor, Board Member of the Armenian Assembly of America and Associate Dean at the George Washington University Law School, also expressed his disappointment of the waiver of Section 907, as "indigenous Armenian populations have been subjected to a consistent campaign of brutalization in Artsakh and internationally recognized borders of the Republic of Armenia," he stated, emphasizing that Azerbaijan has killed thousands of Armenians and forcibly "displaced from their ancestral lands."
"For Armenians worldwide, this feels like a second armenian genocide is happening. The urgency cannot be more significant than it is right now."
Gavoor urged advocacy, organization and knowledge sharing to prevent a second genocide, which is a "key and dominant mission of the Armenian Assembly of America."
"Since 1972 the Assembly has promoted the public awareness of Armenian issues, encouraged Armenian American participation in the American democratic process, and assisted in humanitarian development programs in Armenia and Artsakh, while strengthening the U.S.-Armenia relationship," he said.
(l-r) Richard Ghazal, President of American Friends of Kurdistan, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Mariam Khaloyan, Assembly Congressional Relations Director, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Mariam Khaloyan, Assembly Congressional Relations Director,
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ) and Bryan Ardouny,
Assembly Executive Director
Dean Tsilikas, Government Affairs Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council served as Master of Ceremonies, and remarks were also given by Executive Director of In Defence of Christians (IDC) Richard Ghazal, President of American Friends of Kurdistan (AFK) Diliman Abdulkader, Executive Director of A Demand for Action (ADFA) Steve Oshana, Chair of the Congressional Armenian Staff Association (CASA) Maria Martirosyan, and Executive Director of the ANCA Aram Hamparian. Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the United States, delivered the invocation. Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of Soorp Khatch Armenian Church in Washington, D.C., and Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary’s Armenian Church in Washington, D.C., also joined the Commemoration.
Elected officials present at the Commemoration included: Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senators Robert Menendez Jr. (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Kevin Mullin (D-CA), Katie Porter (D-CA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Dina Titus (D-NV), Jim Costa (D-CA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Young Kim (R-CA), Michael Lawler (R-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Grace Meng (D-NY), David Valadao (R-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Seth Magaziner (D-RI).
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.