Tennessee panel rejects pro-Azerbaijan measure

A key committee of the Tennessee House of Representatives rejected, today, an anti-Armenian resolution initiated by pro-Azerbaijan forces, once again dealing a serious setback to Baku’s efforts to undermine the independence of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, reported Armenian National Committee of America – Eastern Region.

HR 145 lead sponsor Representative Joe Towns (D) introduced a motion to move the resolution forward, but none of his committee colleagues offered a second in support. Committee Chairman Ryan Haynes declared the motion failed. Tennessee becomes the fourth state in less than two months to reject deeply flawed pro-Azerbaijan measures, joining Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

“We welcome today’s decision by the Tennessee House of Representatives State Government Committee to stand strong against the Azerbaijani Government’s efforts to mislead state legislators about the good people of Nagorno Karabakh and their commitment to peace,” said Steve Mesrobian, ANCA Eastern Region Board Chairman. “We are particularly proud of ANC Tennessee and Armenian American activists throughout the state, who spoke forcefully in support the rights of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh. We look forward to broadening our relationship with Tennessee legislators and find areas of cooperation on a broad range of Armenian American concerns. ”

In the weeks leading up to committee consideration of the measure, ANC Tennessee leader Bearj Barsoumian rallied Armenian Americans throughout the state to oppose the resolution, with activists meeting with over a dozen state legislators, educating them about the Republics of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade and aggression against the historically Christian states. In many cases, Tennessee Armenians traveled for over two hours from around the state to share their concerns with Tennessee House leaders, including Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R), Minority Leader Craig FitzHugh (D-TN), State Government Committee Chairman Ryan A. Haynes (R) and Vice-Chairwoman Sheila Butt (R), Committee members Johnny Shaw (D), Deborah Moody (R), Bob Ramsey (R), Billy Spivey (R), Richard Floyd (R), Mike Carter (R), and other legislators including Rep. Rick Womack (R). Several of the activists attending the meetings, including Erik Grigoryan, fled the 1990 Baku pogroms, and have found safe-haven in the state of Tennessee. Community members were at the Committee hearing ready to provide testimony against the measure, should the resolution have moved forward.

Tennessee ANC and community members also met with the lead sponsor of HR 145, Rep. Joe Towns (D), shared stories of the horrors of the Baku pogroms and urged him to reconsider his support for the bill. Unfortunately, Rep. Towns refused, paving the way for a Committee defeat of the measure.

“Today’s vote was proof-positive that our democracy is not for sale, as our legislators joined with those in Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming in standing up for truth and against Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev’s campaign to export anti-Armenian hatred to our shores,” said ANC Tennessee leader Bearj Barsoumian. “It was particularly inspiring to work with the broad range of Armenian American grassroots advocates here in The Volunteer State and across the country – all bound by a deep commitment to Artsakh freedom.”

Upon the January introduction of the measure, the ANCA-ER issued an action alert urging Tennessee advocates to speak out against HR 145. In the days leading up to the Committee vote, the ANCA-ER reached out to all members of the Tennessee House of Representatives cautioning them about any affiliation with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s brutal dictatorship.

The ANCA-ER noted a disturbing pattern of activity, where “to win over U.S. legislators and clean up its image, last year alone, Azerbaijan spent huge sums of money flying former Obama Administration officials like David Plouffe, Jim Messina and Robert Gibbs and over 150 U.S. legislators – including some from Tennessee – on expensive junkets to its capital, Baku.”

Tennessee news outlets, including Knoxnews.com and News Channel 5, reported extensively about these free trips to Azerbaijan, questioning the reasoning behind them.

The ANCA also shared research done by the ANCA Western Region Near East Relief Committee, which showed the important role Tennessee played in assisting survivors of the Armenian Genocide as part of a United States-wide humanitarian campaign.

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