20th Anniversary Program in Historic Committee Hearing Room Featured Special Awards to Reps. Berman and Schiff
WASHINGTON—Armenian Americans gathered on Capitol Hill on the evening of Oct. 26 with 18 members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, the Armenian Embassy, and friends of Armenia to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s rebirth as an independent state, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We were pleased to join today with so many Congressional supporters of Armenia, the Armenian Embassy, a broad cross-section of Armenian Americans, and our friends from across the foreign policy community in celebrating Armenia’s rebirth as an independent state,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian, following the event. “This gathering—on the milestone of Armenia’s 20th anniversary—served a vital purpose in marking our progress, reinforcing our shared values, and recommitting ourselves to the unfinished work that lays before us as we realize our nation’s democratic and national aspirations.”
The celebration was held in the historic hearing room of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building. This room has been the setting for many watershed meetings on Armenian issues, including the approval of a series of Armenian Genocide resolutions and, just this past July 20, the adoption of the Return of Churches amendment calling on Turkey to restore confiscated Christian religious properties to their rightful owners.
The evening’s program was opened and hosted by Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.). The schedule featured a moving awards ceremony, presided over by Armenia’s ambassador, Tatoul Markarian, during which he bestowed Armenia’s “Mkhitar Gosh” Medal upon House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Armenian Genocide Resolution lead co-sponsor Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), for their years of dedicated service in seeking U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and strengthening U.S.-Armenia ties.
“It’s a great honor to receive the Mkhitar Gosh Medal of the Republic of Armenia,” stated Berman upon receiving the award. “I will always treasure it, as I treasure my bond with Armenian Americans and with all Armenians. I will not waver in my commitment to justice for the Armenians. That means winning U.S. Congressional recognition of the genocide, ending the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade, and ending the isolation of Nagorno-Karabagh.”
Schiff expressed his appreciation to the Armenian American community for embracing him as an adopted son, and for working hand in hand with him on issues of broad community concern. “The Republic of Armenia is a strong U.S. ally and an example of a working democracy. Domestically, Armenian Americans continue to illustrate what a valuable asset they are to our society, breaking new ground economically, socially, and politically in California and across the nation. Congratulations to the people of Armenia, and to Armenians in America and around the world, on the significant achievements of the past 20 years.”
Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Armenian American Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Shelly Berkeley (D-Nev.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) also offered remarks. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Robert Dold (R-Ill.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) participated in the celebration. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) was unable to attend, but sent a strong statement of support to the gathering.
Members of Congress expressed their commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Armenia relationship through promoting trade and continuing U.S. assistance to the blockaded country. They went on to pledge support for U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and the ongoing Return of Churches campaign. Special attention was given to ensuring the right to self-determination of the people of Karabagh. Sherman spoke forcefully about generating targeted U.S. support for the at-risk Armenian population of the Javakhk region of Georgia.
Prayers marking the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence were offered by Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of the Soorp Khatch Armenian Church in Bethesda, Md., and Rev. Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary’s Armenian Church in Washington, D.C.
The Democratic National Committee was represented by its newly appointed director of ethnic outreach, Jeff Marootian, a seasoned and highly regarded political and public policy professional, with long-standing ties to America’s ethnic and immigrant communities.
The event was organized by the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, in coordination with the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia and Armenian American organizations. The Republic of Nagorno Karabagh (NKR) was represented by its permanent representative to the U.S., Robert Avetisyan.
In the months leading up to Armenia’s 20th anniversary, the ANCA circulated educational materials to Congressional offices underscoring the warm friendship, enduring alliance, and practical cooperation between the United States and Armenia. This relationship, shaped and strengthened day-in and day-out by Americans of Armenian heritage, is based on shared values, common hopes, and mutual interests. Key points of cooperation include:
–Armenia’s partnership with the United States as part of Coalition operations in Iraq, as peace-keepers in Kosovo, and, most recently, as a growing contingent of security forces in Afghanistan.
–Armenia’s cooperation with successive U.S. administrations on a range of regional issues, including talks with Turkey and the ongoing OSCE peace talks to settle the Karabagh conflict.
–Armenia’s economic progress, as reflected by its Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, its membership in the World Trade Organization, and consistently high Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation ratings for economic freedom.
The ANCA has stressed that, despite this progress, there has been little initiative by any of the past three U.S. administrations to materially expand U.S.-Armenia trade and investment. “Two very simple steps that the Obama Administration can take in this direction—both long overdue—are negotiating a Double Tax Treaty and putting in place a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “These two accords would materially help business-people from across the United States to engage in commerce with a friendly country, creating trade-driven jobs in both nations.”
“So, today, as we celebrate this milestone—two decades of freedom—let us resolve to bring an added measure of substance to the U.S.-Armenia relationship by expanding our bilateral trade and investment levels. Let us, as a start, agree that the 2010 level of overall trade—$189 million—is far too low, and that we should, within the next five years, see this figure top $1 billion, and then move up from there.”