Sassounian: Armenian Genocide No Longer Litmus Test for Presidential Endorsements


Now that over a dozen candidates have announced their intention to run for president in 2016, Armenian Americans are wondering who to support in next year’s elections.

Faced with that same question in 2012, I wrote a column explaining why I was not voting for either the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama, or his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

During his first four years as president, Obama not only failed to keep his repeated promises on the Armenian Genocide, but also failed to support many other Armenian-American issues.

Romney did not fare any better. During the presidential campaign, the Republican candidate made no promises to and held no meetings with the Armenian community. Some interpreted his detachment as a sign of honesty, thinking that he did not wish to make promises that he would not keep. Romney’s problem was that if a presidential candidate exhibits such callous disregard toward a block of voters right when he most needs their support, imagine how much less attention he would pay to Armenian Americans and their issues after he becomes president!

For several decades, the Armenian-American community has sought a pledge from all presidential candidates that as president they would recognize the Armenian Genocide. All too often, the thrill of anticipated victory has turned into agony, as every president since Ronald Reagan has suffered from amnesia upon entering the White House. Consequently, the Armenian community has become disappointed and disengaged from the American political process, believing that all politicians are liars.

To break this vicious circle of promise and deception, I would like to suggest two alternative strategies:

The first is to evaluate all presidential candidates on the totality of their positions on many issues of significance to the Armenian-American community:

– increasing the amount of U.S. aid to Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh);
– pressuring Turkey to lift the blockade of Armenia;
– demanding that Turkey return the confiscated Christian churches to their rightful owners—Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks;
– condemning Azerbaijan for its repeated threats and frequent attacks on Artsakh;
– supporting Artsakh’s self-determination;
– promoting U.S. trade with Armenia; and
– holding annual meetings with representatives of the Armenian-American community.

I have intentionally left out from the above list the request from presidential candidates to “recognize” the Armenian Genocide, as it has been repeatedly recognized by the United States! Hence, there is no need to make genocide recognition a litmus test for presidential endorsements, particularly after its global acknowledgment during the Centennial. Moreover, when presidential candidates make a campaign promise on the Armenian Genocide, they should not be automatically endorsed based on that single issue, while ignoring their positions on all other issues.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the elected president will keep his/her promises on other Armenian issues. However, if Armenian Americans make a large number of requests, they may be able to obtain satisfaction on a few of them.

It is important to note that those candidates who have already deceived the Armenian community during previously held elective or appointive positions should be eliminated from all consideration. One such candidate is Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state called the Armenian Genocide “a matter of historical debate,” after staunchly defending it as a senator, and then as a presidential candidate in 2008. Armenian Americans should not trust any candidate who has already lied to them. As the popular saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” The real issue transcends genocide recognition and reflects the character and integrity of the candidate.

An alternate election strategy would be not to endorse candidates during their first run for office, to avoid being misled by false promises. Let elected officials earn Armenian Americans’ trust by taking positive actions on issues important to them during previous terms in office.

Finally, not voting for presidential candidates in their first run for office does not mean staying away from elections or the political process. One-third of the U.S. Senate and all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are up for reelection every two years. Armenian Americans should support all incumbents in federal, state, and local elections who have a proven record of accomplishments on Armenian issues, while helping defeat those who have opposed Armenian interests during their term in office!

It is more prudent to engage in intelligent and efficient political activism rather than wasteful and abortive electoral participation.



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.


  1. The bullfrogs will start flying again, and the pitiful Armenians will fall for it hook line and sinker. I trust this time it wont be another foolhardy, mendacious, deceitful repeat. Do not bother at all, promises will be gone with the wind the day after elections. I do not have another prescriptions, other than admit we are in no position to make our weight felt in any significant manner leveraging the plethora od venal, medacious political pupets.

    • True. But the stronger Armenia gets, the more ‘weight’ it will hold.
      Unity is the key. That’s the very lesson of the genocide.

  2. I am an American of Armenian heritage. There are many serious issues facing this country on both domestic and global issues. I have no intention of voting for or against a candidate solely because of his or her position on so-called “Armenian issues”.

    • US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland goes to Yerevan, and during a press conference demands, in so many words, that NKR authorities release, quote, on “humanitarian” (sic) grounds two Turkbaijani terrorists who had invaded Armenian lands, kidnapped a 17 year old Armenian youth, tortured him, murdered him, and had dumped his body in a forest. (also had murdered an Armenian officer, and gravely wounded a civilian woman).

      In effect, a very high ranking representative of the US State Department was giving the green light to Azerbaijan to kidnap and murder Armenians.

      Sir, please tell us which one of the “….many serious issues facing this country on both domestic and global issues” compels a high ranking executive of US State Dept to tell Azerbaijan, in so many words, it is OK to murder Armenians in their own ancestral lands.
      That it is OK to murder a 17 year old Armenian youth.

  3. I have not voted for a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate for the last two elections. I voted for Libertarian. With all the candidates for the next election, I don’t see even one that could be reliable no matter what they promise. Shifting the votes away from the two dominant parties maybe will force some changes in their attitude towards the citizens of this country.

  4. Well written Ashirin and John. Just remember, promises as we have heard for years by American presidential candidates have not materialised and will not until such time America has no need of turkey or vice / versa. Please don’t fall for it.

  5. Recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians by the United States of America entails voting for and passing such a resolution in the United States Congress. No such thing has happened.

    I agree with Harout Sassounian that the Armenian Genocide is not a Litmus test for presidential endorsement or for voting by individual Armenian American voters

  6. Recently we had elections in the UK. As a British Armenian, I stayed away from the booths on polling day and voted for no one! In the UK, the word “Armenian” is whispered, let alone the acknowledgement of the genocide. My approach is, If you want my vote, you need to show me you “GENUINLY” care!

  7. my personal experience has in western sosiety that no one gives a dam about Armenian Genocide, except us the Armenians.
    Genocide has been a very private painfull existence for me all my life. I could see the hypocrisy in the eyes of all,
    It seems to me on personal side all individuals have agendas to push to realise their dreams,using Genocide.
    Probably very few genuine..
    I think by now the whole world knows what we want .i don’t give a dam if the president of America is not going to recognise ARMENIAN GENOCIDE HE CAN GO TO HELL

  8. I have dual Uk and NZ citizenship. 2 months ago I had not heard of the Armenian Genocide. Then I listened to the BBC radio4 Sunday show with Geoffrey Robertson and I was amazed that I did not know about this. I have since read Peter Balakian’s “The Burning Tigris” which was very informative and surprisingly readable. As a kiwi and given the obvious (but apparently ignored) connection between the ANZAC Gallipoli landings and the Armenian Genocide I am very interested to discover that I am not alone in being ignorant of the Armenian Genocide as I have struggled to find any other NZers who are aware of this issue. This I find quite perplexing and disappointing, especially given that the commemorations at Gallipoli this year was held on the same day as the Armenian Genocide commemorations. I am doing all I can (Facebook etc) to educate all my friends about the Armenian Genocide. I’m delighted to see that it was raised at the House of Lords a couple of days ago. Just because these events happened 100 years ago doesn’t mean that it is extremely important to remember the past. There is no justice without the truth. So there are some non Armenians who feel and hopefully understand at least a bit what all Armenians must feel.

    • {“So there are some non Armenians who feel and hopefully understand at least a bit what all Armenians must feel.”}

      that’s a good start.

    • “Just because these events happened 100 years ago doesn’t mean that it is extremely important to remember the past.”

      The reason it’s important to remember is that there was a deliberate effort to have it not be remembered by the world thanks to Turkey’s efforts dating to right after WWI. It’s not something that people innocently forgot over time. Turkey likes to portray this as an attack on itself, but it’s actually an effort to undo what they did to the history of the genocide. Understanding and remembering the Armenian Genocide is the first step for justice.

  9. Not participating in US elections because we have no influence on the POTUS is incorrect.
    US has a population of 320 million.
    There are a lot of powerful interests pushing in different directions.
    Don’t expect to win every time, given our numbers and our aggregate wealth in US as Armenian-Americans.
    Don’t compare us to Jewish-Americans either: they are about 6 million in US, have been here much longer than us, and their aggregate wealth is much, much greater. All that, when properly deployed, translates into more political power.
    That’s how it works here.

    If we participate, we will have some influence on some issues that concern us. If we do not participate, we are guaranteed to have zero influence.

    Participating in the electoral process has other benefits also that are not obvious.
    For example: ANCA has been very successful in blunting any and all attempts by Azerbaijan to pass Anti-RoA and Anti-NKR legislation at various levels (Fed, State, Local).
    ANCA works on a shoe-string budget and with a skeleton staff.
    They don’t have an extra $500,000 laying around to buy a corrupt politician (…not that they should).
    Their power comes from the grassroots.
    One reason ANCA can do that is because when they send out a call-for-action, Armenian-American electorate responds.
    I myself have called Reps, Senators, written snail mail.
    Politicians know that Armenian-Americans are politically active.
    One thing politicians here fear more than death is losing an election.
    Politicians see 160,000 (mostly) Armenian-Americans march in LA on a Friday and take notice.

    People don’t realize what disastrous consequences allowing Turkic interests pass Anti-RoA or Anti-NKR legislation would have on RoA and NKR.
    Like Nature, America abhors (political) vacuum: if Armenian-Americans are not present, somebody Anti-Armenian will fill the space.

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