Republican Congressional majority casts dark shadow on Armenian interests

By Harut Sassounian
The California Courier

Nearly all congressional candidates nationwide who supported Armenian -American issues were victorious during the November 4 elections. The outcome was similarly positive for other candidates running in state and local races. Consequently, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) announced that over 95% of its endorsed candidates had been successful.

Although both Republicans and Democrats have traditionally supported Armenian-American issues, there are some dark clouds looming over Armenian lobbying efforts in Washington due to major changes in the new Congress, which take effect in January 2015, during the critical Centennial Year of the Armenian Genocide.

Several key pro-Armenian Democratic Senators will lose their leadership positions as a result of the new Republican majority. For example, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), rated A+ on Armenian issues by ANCA, will no longer Chair the Foreign Relations Committee. He will be replaced by Sen. Robert Corker (R-TN), rated D+ by ANCA, one of five Republican Senators who voted against the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the Foreign Relations Committee last April. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), rated A by ANCA, will become Minority Leader. He will be replaced by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), rated C+ and endorsed for reelection by ANCA. Sen. McConnell has voted positively on some Armenian issues.

The picture is not any brighter on the House side, in terms of the position of its top leadership on Armenian-American issues. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who saw a major surge in his party’s majority, had announced during a recent visit to Ankara that the House of Representatives will not deal with the Armenian Genocide issue. No wonder ANCA gave him a C rating. A glimmer of hope is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), rated B- and endorsed by ANCA for reelection, who has maintained close contacts with his Armenian constituents. Fortunately, Cong. Ed Royce (R-CA), rated A+ and endorsed by ANCA, will still Chair the important Foreign Affairs Committee.

It is not surprising that the Turkish media has been gloating over the congressional election results. “Republicans favor Turkey on Armenian issue,” was one of the headlines in Sabah, a Turkish newspaper. Reporter Ragip Soylu wrote: “Some changes within the Senate will help Turkey’s distasteful experience with Congress.” The “removal” of Sen. Menendez from chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee “will help Turkey’s uncomfortable and weak position in the Senate.” The reporter went on to call the continued Republican control of the House “more good news for Turkey as House Speaker John Boehner has already promised to not bring up the Armenian issue to the executive agenda of the chamber. ‘Congress won’t get involved in this issue. We don’t write history, we are not historians,’ he reportedly said during his visit to Ankara in April 2014.”

In another Sabah article, Ilnur Cevik confidently wrote: “Turkey’s fortunes are not so bad,” in the face of “the likely problems posed by the advent of the 100th year since the 1915 incidents regarding the Armenians during Ottoman times.” Cevik described Republicans not as “combative” on the Armenian issue as Democrats “who are dying to appease the Armenian lobby in the U.S. and thus would be more receptive to a tough worded motion regarding Armenians, especially in 2015 when the 100th year of the events during World War I when Armenians living under Ottoman rule were killed and the Armenians called this controversially a genocide.”

Another Turkish publication, “World Bulletin,” cheerfully headlined its report: “Republican Victory in US Congress Benefits Turkey.” The article pointed out that “a Democrat-led Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee would have been a nightmare for Turkish-American relations, as it would have come out with bills on Armenian claims of genocide during the 1915 incidents in eastern Turkey.” Soner Cagaptay, Director of Turkish Research Program at Washington Institute for Near East Policy, confirmed the pro-Turkish orientation of the new Senate, as “it has been Republicans in the Senate who have blocked bills on genocide claims against Turkey.” Another Turkish analyst, Kadir Ustun, observed that the chance of passing a Congressional Resolution on the Armenian Genocide “is now lower than ever, as the Republicans are in control of Congress.”

It is now incumbent upon Armenian-Americans who have strong ties with Republican Congressional leaders to convince them to uphold Armenian initiatives, while exposing Turkey’s support for ISIS terrorists who threaten US national interests in the Middle East.

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