Sassounian: Two LA-Area Congressmen in Heated Debate over Armenian Issues

Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, both serving on the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, are forced to run against each other in the Nov. 6 elections, because of redistricting.

The two Congressmen are both Democrats, both Jewish-Americans, and both consistently supportive of Armenian issues. Voters of the 30th congressional district have a difficult choice in this hotly contested congressional race!

The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region hosted a public debate at the Ferrahian School’s Avedissian Hall in Encino on Sept. 29, giving the congressmen an opportunity to present their views on Armenian issues to Armenian-Americans voters. ANCA co-chair Nora Hovsepian delivered the welcoming remarks, followed by moderator Zanku Armenian who introduced the two candidates.

The debate got heated right from the start when Sherman pointed out that while he has been exclusively a member of the Armenian Caucus, Berman has been a member of both the Turkish and Armenian Caucuses in Congress.

Berman countered stating that “for nearly three decades of service in the Congress, I have been an ardent, consistent, and outspoken advocate for the Armenian cause. I worked persistently to achieve U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I led the successful effort to win that recognition at the Committee level.” He went on to affirm that it would be his priority to have the House recognize the Armenian Genocide before its 100th anniversary, and he would personally urge President Obama to keep his pledge on the genocide. The failure to recognize the genocide is “a huge moral stain on this great nation’s record,” Berman stated.

He then proudly announced: “I halted the transfer of sensitive arms to Azerbaijan because I grew sick and tired of Azerbaijan’s arms buildup and bellicose rhetoric. Just this week, I wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about one of the most disgusting actions any world leader has taken within memory—I am talking about President Aliyev’s decision to pardon an Azerbaijani axe-murderer who was serving a life sentence for killing an innocent Armenian soldier in his sleep. … I asked Secretary Clinton that first, all of NATO condemns Aliyev’s action, and secondly, that Azerbaijan is suspended from all future NATO-sponsored activities.”

In response to questions from panelists Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, and Ara Khachatourian, English editor of Asbarez, the congressmen addressed U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, reparations from Turkey, Israel’s refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide, protection of Armenian communities in Syria and Georgia, payment of rent for the U.S. air base in Incirlik, Turkey to Armenian owners of that land, return of churches in Turkey to Christian communities, Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan, U.S. aid to Karabagh (Artsakh), Azerbaijan’s and Hungary’s culpability in releasing the Azeri axe-murderer, the independence of Artsakh, U.S. trade agreements with Armenia, and Turkish Gulen charter schools in the United States. Below are excerpts from their remarks:

Berman: “Turkey has to understand that they have to come to terms with their own history. I am Jewish. The notion that in order to avoid hurting sensibilities, we do not acknowledge the historical truth of the genocide, to me, is a horrible stain on our country.”

Sherman: “Genocide denial is the last step in genocide; and the first step in the next genocide. That’s why it is critical that America recognize the first genocide of the 20th century. I will work…as many years as it takes, but hopefully as quickly as possible, to get Congress to recognize the genocide. … It is time to put pressure on the administration, especially in the next 38 days, to turn to both candidates for president and get a clear statement from them. … We should know what they are going to do next April.”

Berman criticized Clinton for having referred to the Armenian Genocide as an “historical debate.” He stated: “No one in the Congress makes the case that the genocide didn’t happen. They may argue ‘Oh, we can’t hurt our relationship with Turkey’ or maybe they’re close to some people who are representing Turkey…but nowhere do I hear now, like I used to hear, ‘This is an historical debate.’ … It is very disappointing when the leadership of our country goes back to raising that issue . … This happened. It has to be acknowledged. The Germans acknowledged it, and particularly for somebody who is Jewish, the notion that you can get away with denying this or try to fuzz it up as a historically debatable point, is in a very fundamental sense wrong.

To be continued…

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

13 Comments

  1. Mr. Sassounian:

    It was a great debate. Good questions from the panel.
    However, I think the question about Israeli arms supplies to Azerbaijan was a mistake. No Jewish-American member of Congress is going to do anything that might be harmful to Israel. That question also allowed Rep Berman to open the can of worms about Iran: a total distraction. A better question would have been the one I list below.

    The question about Incirlik rent was also unrealistic and a distraction.

    Here is the question that should have been asked:

    “Congressman: Turkey refused to allow its NATO ally US to use its territory for transit during the Iraq war. Only to transit.
    Turkey refused to allow Israel to attend NATO meeting in Chicago as an observer.
    After the Islamist AKP win in Turkey, it has become a major threat to Israel. It is becoming more Islamized every year. Isn’t it time for US to throw Turkey out of NATO and bring in Israel instead ?”

    Hit Turkey where it is most vulnerable and use Israel to do it: without NATO protection, Turkey is toast.

    Other than that, it was a great event. It was professionally organized and run: congrats to ANCA-WR.
    The most amazing thing was watching two very powerful Jewish American members of US Congress fighting for Armenian-American votes.
    It is too bad we will be losing one of our great friends in the US Congress.

    • Fact, Armenia has protected Iran on many occasions. Do not forget that Armenia gave guns to Shiite militants in Iraq to kill US Soldiers. (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-armenia-sent-iran-arms-used-to-kill-us-t/). Also, Armenia is aiding the terrorist Ayatollahs in Iran to dodge sanctions by the international community (http://news.yahoo.com/iran-looks-armenia-skirt-bank-sanctions-164606803.html). The facts are the facts.

      Speaking of Jewish Americans, what about principled Congressmen like Steve Solarz, Tom Lantos, Robert Wexler, and Steve Cohen. Now those are principled Congressmen.

    • So,

      Mr. Kirlikovali now uses the nom de plume of Bob van Houten, no doubt one of his aging synapses thinks this is a proper American [well, Dutch-American, but who’s counting?] name.

      [While he thinks this evokes the image of American suburbia, it actually recalls to mind a Manson family member, but I digress.]

      Steve Solarz once seemed unashamed if honest enough to say he was Constantinople’s, err, I mean Istanbul’s man, in Washington.

      Tom Lantos finally was instructed by AIPAC to allow the Armenian Genocide Resolution to pass out of Committee, a not too subtle first public warning to Turkey by Israel, where he voted for it. Ergun, surely you remember that day. I speculate it was the day you had to start wear your first double heavy duty duct tape odor guard adult diapers, so great was your magnificent Kemalist wrath, or something the rest of us call plain old “hysteria. ”

      By the way, for those of you who want a laugh, go to youtube and search for “Kirlikovali yelling.”

      Robert Wexler is now a paid spokesmodel for an unknown think tank, but is deeply troubled by Turkey’s belligerence towards Israel of late. No longer in that big velvet red bag.

      And Cohen is a buffoon. If you want him, please take him, buy him a fez, put your God-awful Ottoman marching band in front of his house, and enjoy advocating offering him the Denny Hastert Chair of Ottoman studies at Orange coast College.

      Your claim that Armenia supplies guns to kill Americans is risble. Armenians serve in the same theatres where Americans serve, [in far greater percentages than do Turks, and in combat roles]. Not so laughable is Turkey’s documented allowance of guns and bombs originating in Iran for Hezbullah, as you, me and Hurriyet all know.

      But Ergun, you’re not a real American, as established not merely by your use of risible aliases, but also by your reaction to Sybil Edmonds’ charges that your ideological colleagues have corrupted members of congress, such as the estimable Solarz – our man in Bolis.

      An American wife and kid at USC hardly makes you American. Your furious reaction against her, in the face of her concernful and credible charges against Turks and their American toadies, calls into question your loyalty to this country which gave you freedom and wealth Turkey could never give you. I mean let’s face it: alternate Kemalist Ergun, had he stayed in Turkey, would probably be an admiral behind bars today – am I right, “Bob”?

      We still note your vicious unAmerican 19th Century racism against Armenians and Mexicans. Every member of congress and the State Dept. has binders full of your articles, such as the ones in which you said Armenians are born into a criminal culture, that Armenians killed Hrant Dink, that Armenians killed your family….in the Balkans, and that the Genocide reminds you of a joke you know about killing a fly.

      Still laughing?

    • The “her” in the third to last para refers to Sybil, not your wife, Bobby.

      No go back to trying to get Dr. Oz to advocate against Christian Genocide victims’ rights and memories. How many times have you tried to get through to him through his father, an honoree of that Ellis island group?

  2. The debate was indeed very heated. I found Berman’s response to the Turkish Caucus issue to be insufficient. Saying that he’s working for Armenian causes and Armenian Genocide recognition does not take away from serving in the Turkish Caucus at the same time. It cancels out his work for the Armenian community.

    In general, Sherman looked way more well-prepared, while Berman seemed like he was on the defensive and, at times, frazzled. He even said the independence of Ngorno-Karabagh was questionable. 30 years representing an Armenian constituency in Congress and he can dare to make a statement like that?

  3. If we have such a presence in the district, why do we need to depend on them? How about working to get an Armenian elected?

  4. Hmm….as a Turkish-American and a partisan Democrat (I actually told Michael Dukakis that I might be the only Turkish person who voted for him), I know that I would vote for Berman over Sherman if I lived in southern California thanks to this discussion board. Though I sympathize with the underlying reasons why the Armenian diaspora is angry with Turkey as long as it carried out in a civil fashion (as the nephew of a Turkish diplomat, I’m glad ASALA is now a dormant entity), the current events in Syria prove that Turkey is a vital ally and at this time, relations with Washington DC and Ankara must be solid. I would hope given that there is a significant Armenian population in northern Syria, that Armenian-Americans appreciated Turkey’s disposition, and respected it more than it seems at the moment. But, I do agree with Armenian-Americans that what Azerbaijan did regarding releasing one of its citizens who had killed an Armenian in Hungary was a travesty. Ethnic politics is an ugly matter, and I do try to stay out of the fray until I feel that someone has to speak to the rational individuals on your side as well as mine who realize some amount of civil dialog is needed irregardless of the ugliness of this delicate matter.

    • Speaking only for myself, I appreciate your post.

      Elif Shafak’s mother or father was also a diplomat during the early 80’s, but the experience made her curious about who the Armenians were and are, and what had happened to him. She wanted to know why they are so hated in Turkey.

      If you were educated here, what were you taught, and what part of Turkey is home?

      Where is the public humane voice of your diaspora?

      For my part, I also condemn the acts of ASALA etc., and my guess is that the overwhelming majority of Armenians in this country do.

      However, the closer one is to Western Armenia, the more palpable is the sense and detailed knowledge that the Turkish state is and always has been actively at war on all Armenians in a process commencing in the 1870’s through today. You can see it in the racist ravings of the ATAA President Kirlikovali, who once wrote that the Genocide recalls to his mind a joke about the death of a fly.

      When the first Azeri or Turk crosses the border in strength, 10M Armenians worldwide will act to prevent another Genocide, by every means possible worldwide, I suspect.

      I see the Turkish state’s open Genocidal impulse in the laughing policemen who “arrested” Hrant Dink’s assassin. We know what awaits us if we don’t defend ourselves. Against these gleanings, ASALA may merely have been premature, some might say.

      From such a perspective, the assassinations were self-defense.

  5. And Mr. Kirlikovali,

    don’t get excited. Your views reflect your unique Genocidal hatred, but nobody thinks you work for or are paid by the Turkish state.

    I have in mind your statements, such as: Armenians spring from a crime culture; Hrant Dink was killed by an anti-Turk, code for Armenians, that only 6,000 Armenians died in 1915, those who died did so at the hands of other Armenians, and of course your joke about the fly.

  6. Turk-oglu Ergun Bobby Van Houten Kirlikovali:

    1. Here is a clip of your Al-Qaeda sympathizing Turk countrymen protesting against our US VP Biden.
    Your Islamist buddies are protesting against my American buddies greasing a bunch of Al-Qaeda/Taliban terrorists.
    So proud of our Red-White-and-Blue warriors.
    GOD Bless America.
    Maybe next time you have one of those fake ‘Anatolian Culture’ events in our American Orange County, you can invite your Turkish Al-Qaeda Islamist buddies to participate. That way Christian Americans can see the real face of Islamist Turkey.
    http://www.reuters.com/video/2011/12/02/outcry-over-biden-in-turkey?videoId=226158298

    Q: What is a so-called ‘Anatolian Culture’ ?
    A: It is what Turks call the culture of the indigenous inhabitants of Asia Minor: Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians.
    Invading Turks stole the culture of the indigenous creators after murdering them all. Since they cannot call it ‘Turkish Culture’ (too obvious a lie), they obfuscate and confuse the kind, trusting Christian Americans of Orange County by calling it the non-existent ‘Anatolian Culture’.

    2. Here is another news item of how much Americans can trust Turks:
    [Turks attack American soldiers in southern Turkey]
    http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nID=25769&NewsCatID=341

    3. Turkey helping Iran. (I guess Turks can help Iran, but Armenia cannot ?)
    [Turkey’s PM tells businessmen to boost Iran trade]
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/16/turkey-iran-trade-idUSLDE68F2B820100916
    {STANBUL, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Turkey wants to triple its trade volume with Iran within five years, Turkey’s prime minister told businessmen on Thursday, at a time when sanctions are scaring off Western investors from the Islamic Republic.
    Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi oversaw the meeting which brought together over a hundred businessmen, including Turkish investors eager to buy into Iran’s mostly government-owned textile, machinery and automotive industries.}

    [“Davutoglu says Prime Minister Erdogan, Obama argue over Iran” — Anatolia headline]
    http://www.biyokulule.com/view_content.php?articleid=4017

    I am telling ya, Jefe: Genocidal, Anti-Christian, Anti-Semitic Islamist State of Turkey cannot be trusted.

    Finally:

    Regarding the fake planted story that Armenian banks are helping Iran skirt sanctions: the fake news, created by Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, was debunked long time ago.

    Nevertheless, if Armenia wants to help Iran, none of anybody’s business – least of all Turks’.
    Armenians and Iranians are genetic cousins. We had been neighbors for 1000s of years before your nomadic ancestors escaped their asylum in East and Central Asia and invaded our homelands. The last people that should rag on Armenians are Denialist progeny of Genocidal Turks.

    • Avery, I am presenting my facts about Armenia being a poor terrorist pariah state. How is Turkey and Iran allies by the way? Didn’t you forget Sunnis and Shiites hate each other. Let’s not forget Shiites will pick Orthodox Christians over Sunnis.

      What about Vladimir Arutunyan’s terror plot to kill George Bush as well. Let’s not forget that. Or how the Communists backed terrorist groups like the ASALA and the PKK.

  7. in the meantime: while our unarmed American sailors were attacked by savage Anti-American Islamist Turks for the crime of being Americans (surprise, surprise), and the criminal thugs were let go by the Anti-American Islamist Turkish police (surprise, surprise), the US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern and his lovely wife Libby enjoy a day out in the beautiful Lori region of RoA, sampling the local cuisine. Please note that the Ambassador and Mrs. Heffern are surrounded by a phalanx of gun-toting DPS guards, in case Islamist terrorists manage to elude RoA NSS and attempt to harm Armenians’ honored guests. Well, not really. Watch the video for yourself:

    http://www.news.am/eng/news/120254.html

    and after a hearty meal, the US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern and his lovely wife Libby decide to burn off some calories dancing in Yerevan, in a public square:

    http://www.news.am/eng/news/123996.html

    Were the US Ambassador and his lovely wife accompanied by submachine-gun toting DPS guards while in a public square in Yerevan ?
    Are you kidding ? Armenia is not Libya: Yerevan is not Benghazi. Armenia is not Turkey: Yerevan is not Antalya.

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