Friends, supporters, and leaders of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) joined together virtually on Sunday, June 28 with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to honor his long-standing legislative leadership on Armenian American issues.
Consistent with Covid-19 health guidelines, the virtual reception was hosted on Zoom by ANCA National Board Member Ani Tchaghlasian, ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian, distinguished attorneys and ANCA supporters John Shahdanian from Old Tappan, New Jersey, Joseph Ariyan from northern New Jersey, as well as ANC of New Jersey activists James and Maral Sahagian.
“It’s an honor to support Senator Menendez, a man who has done so much for Armenians in the United States and in Armenia. We, as a community, must support the public servants who understand history, are on the right side of it, and are not afraid to fight for it,” said Ariyan who co-hosted the event.
“As a proud Armenian-American and grandson of a Genocide survivor, it was my honor to support the Armenian community’s greatest advocate in the U.S. Senate. The fact that he is my home state Senator makes it all that more meaningful. I look forward to Senator Menendez continuing to lead the charge on all issues that are important to Armenians,” said Shahdanian.
Senator Menendez, who has consistently scored an “A+” rating on his ANCA Report Card, serves as the Ranking Democrat on the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A staunch supporter and a long-time friend of the ANCA, his unwavering leadership led to the unanimous passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (S.Res.150), a bi-partisan measure led by Senators Menendez and Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Senator Menendez was direct and uncompromising in his calls on the Senate to end U.S. complicity in Turkey’s Genocide denial. “The simple threshold question for this body comes to this: Do we recognize a clear case of genocide when it happens, or do we let a country like Turkey determine our own views, determine our own sense of history, determine our own moral obligation, and determine the public record,” said Senator Menendez.
“At what point do we say enough is enough? At what point do we simply move forward and acknowledge the truth? The truth is that the Armenian Genocide happened. It is a fact. To deny that is to deny one of the monstrous acts of history. This denial is a stain on the Senate and our country. We have an opportunity to right that wrong and put the U.S. Senate on the right side of history,” continued Senator Menendez, who took to the Senate floor four times in as many weeks to secure the unanimous consent passage of the resolution on December 12, 2019.
Attendees joined the virtual reception on Zoom where they heard from the Senator about his work past and present including his support of U.S. aid to Artsakh for the life-saving de-mining work that the HALO Trust has been doing as well as the re-purposing of $25 million in already appropriated U.S. aid to bolster Armenia’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic for the Fiscal Year 2021 foreign aid bill.
Attendees engaged with the Senator through a question and answer period during which long-time ANCA leader and public health expert Kim Hekimian, PhD, told the touching story of her mother who was undergoing surgery during Senate consideration of S.Res.150, and whose first question upon awakening was whether the landmark human rights legislation had passed. Hekimian spoke about the importance of the historic vote to not only the generations who were represented on the virtual reception, but for the older generations who had long-awaited for the U.S. government to take a principled position on the issue.
“For over three decades – the ANCA has built a strong and durable relationship with Senator Menendez – based on mutual respect and a shared commitment to justice,” remarked ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian. “From his days as the mayor of Union City, to his service in the New Jersey Legislature and up and until today with his work in the U.S. Congress – Senator Menendez has blazed a brilliant and productive track record championing the Armenian Cause on Capitol Hill.”
“The Senator’s bold leadership last December in passing the Armenian Genocide resolution in the Senate was just the latest example of why the ANCA consistently awards him with our highest rating – an A+. Frankly, if the ANCA had a higher rating – I would urge Senator Menendez get it – because we have no better ally in the U.S. Senate fighting for Armenia and Artsakh,” added Hamparian.
Senator Menendez’ commitment to Artsakh safety and security has been a hallmark of his tenure in both the Senate and House. Most recently, he was joined by 30 Senate colleagues in calling for continued life-saving U.S. demining and rehabilitation assistance for Artsakh. Alarmed by a U.S. military aid program to Azerbaijan that has “skyrocketed” to more than $120 million over the past three fiscal years, Senator Menendez formally requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a detailed report on this assistance program and its compliance with Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Enacted in 1992, Section 907 places statutory restrictions and requirements on U.S. taxpayer funding to Azerbaijan until that government takes “demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.”
“It is a great honor to support a brave and principled leader like Senator Menendez who relentlessly fights for justice for all people. His unwavering determination and purpose is a force to be reckoned with – a true champion of all Armenians,” added Maral Sahagian, who along with her husband James, were co-hosts of the event.
Senator Menendez, whose outstanding track record of support on key Armenian American community concerns began with his election as mayor of Union City in 1986, continued through his time in the New Jersey state legislature from 1988 to 1992, and flourished on a national scale following his 1992 election to the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of the House International Relations Committee, then-Congressman Menendez voted in favor of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in 2000 and 2005, setting the stage for future House consideration of the measure. During his years in the U.S. House, he is best remembered for his leadership in maintaining Section 907 restrictions on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan in 1997.
He continued to elevate Armenian American priorities when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. Whether he is scrutinizing U.S. ambassadorial nominees to Turkey and Azerbaijan regarding their positions on the Armenian Genocide or mediating a lasting peace for the Republic of Artsakh, Senator Menendez has been a stalwart leader on Armenian American concerns.