Armenian Assembly Urges Support for Armenian Caucus Outlining Key Priorities for Fiscal Year 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C — On Wednesday March 7th, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) urged support for the just released Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues letter outlining key aid priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019.

The Caucus initiative comes as a delegation of Armenian Parliamentarians, led by Arpine Hovhannisyan, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia and Chairwoman of the Armenia-U.S Parliamentary Friendship Group, are in Washington, D.C for a week-long working visit.

The letter states in part: “We are writing to thank the [House Foreign Operations Appropriations] Subcommittee for its longstanding leadership in support of Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) – especially as we celebrate a century of U.S-Armenia relations. We encourage you, as your work with your colleagues in preparing the Fiscal Year 2019 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill to advance U.S interests by strengthening Armenia’s independence, promoting a lasting and stable peace in Artsakh, and supporting Armenia as a regional safe haven for at-risk refugees in the Middle East.”

In addition, the letter requests that $6 million be appropriated to Artsakh for demining, rehabilitation programs, and water supply systems. It also stipulates the lifting of any official or unofficial restrictions on U.S travel, communication or contacts with Artsakh government officials or civil society stakeholders, and ensures no less than $4 million be allocated to support implementation of the Royce-Engel peace proposals to improve security in the region.

In response to Azerbaijan’s ongoing cease-fire violations and aggressive militant rhetoric, the Armenian Caucus proposes to “suspend U.S military aid to Azerbaijan until its government ceases its attacks against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, ends its threat of renewed war, and agrees tot he peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.”

The letter also called for stricter provisions of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act to ensure that Azerbaijan will not take hostile action towards Armenia or Artsakh, and instead pledges to demonstrate its commitment to pursuing lasting peace through solely non-violent means.

As pointed out in the letter, Armenia has taken significant strides since its independence, and remains committed to democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, and free enterprise while participating in U.S led peace-keeping deployments. As a results, the Armenian Caucus proposes that Armenian receives not less than $30 million for economic assistance, not less than $10 million for military assistance, and a full and fair consideration for Science, Technology, Education, and Math education grant for its public school system through the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Finally, the letter requests that the Subcommittee appropriate at least $20 million “to help Armenia provide transition support to refugees from Syria and throughout the Middle East who have found safe haven in Armenia,” especially considering Armenia’s efforts to provide shelter for 25,000 refugees from Syria, despite being a small country.

“The Armenian Assembly strongly encourages its grassroots activists to contact their Member of Congress and ensure they sign onto this bipartisan initiative to further help Armenia and Artsakh,” stated Development and Grassroots Associate Mariam Khaloyan.

The House and Senate are still finalizing the FY 2018 appropriation bills, and once complete, will being work on the FY 2019 bills.

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Rep. Schiff Submits Statement of Congressional Record Honoring Victims of Sumgait Pogrom

Last week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Vice-Chiar of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, submitted a statement to the Congressional Record honoring the lives of those lost in the pogrom thirty years ago.

Schiff’s full statement reads as follows:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the pogrom against the Armenian residents of the town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan. On February 27th, 1988, and for three days following, Azerbaijani mobs assaulted and killed Armenians. The violence left hundreds of Armenia civilians dead and injured, women and girls raped, and some victims burned alive. Thousands were forced to flee their homes, leaving behind their belongings. The pogroms came about as the result of years of vicious, racist, anti-Armenian propaganda by Azerbaijani authorities, dehumanizing Armenians. Azerbaijan authorities made little effort to punish those responsible, instead attempting to cover up the atrocities in Sumgait to this day, and denying the government role in instigation the killings. Indeed, even today, racist propaganda against Armenia and Armenians is prevalent in Azerbaijan.”

“The assault on ethnic Armenian civilians in Sumgait helped touch off what would become a direct conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan which tool thousands of lives and dislocated millions more. The anniversary of Sumgait is a reminder of the consequences when aggression and hatred go unchecked.”

“Mr. Speaker, this April, we will mark the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, an event the Turkish government, Azerbaijan’s closest ally, goes to great length to deny. We must not let such crimes against humanity go unrecognized, whether they occurred yesterday or 30 years ago or 100 years ago. Today, let us pause to remember the victims of the atrocities of the Sumgait pogroms. Mr. Speaker, it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred and to remember the victims, in hope that history will not be repeated.”

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Armenia Received $101 Million in Humanitarian Aid in 2017

By Diana Ghazaryan

In 2017, some $101 million (AMD 48.781 billion) in humanitarian aid was sent to Armenia: 2.2 times more than in 2016.

About $50 million of the total was in the form of chemicals and related manufactures. This amount of 3.5 times more than in 2016.

The United States sent the largest amount of aid – $9.4 million. Overall, however, the amount of humanitarian aid from the U.S dropped a bit when compared to 2016.

Switzerland sent $8.5 million in aid, followed by China ($5.65 million), Germany ($4.465 million), and India ($2.994 million).

European Union countries sent $15.363 million in aid in total, while CIS member states sent $9 million in aid.

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Armen Sargsyan Elected New President of Armenia

Following the result of the vote held March 2nd, in the National Assembly of Armenia, the only candidate, Armen Sargsyan nominated by the ruling coalition, was elected the new President of the country. For the candidacy of Sargsyan, 90 MPs of the Armenian Parliament voted for, and 10 against.

Only the “Elk” Block was against it.

Recall that, according to the new Constitution, adopted in 2015, from April this year, Armenia will completely pass to the parliamentary form of government.

Sargsyan was Prime Minister and resigned a few years ago. He was named Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

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President Serzh Sargsyan Signed a Decree Terminating the Armenia-Turkey Protocols

President of Armenia Serzh Sagsyan signed a decree last Thursday (March 1st) to terminate the process of signing the Armenia-Turkey protocols. The decision was announced during the meeting of the National Security Council. The decree signed by president says: “Governed by the amendments of 2005, by the 7th paragraph of the 55th article of the Constitution of Armenia and taking as a basis the first part of the Article 39.1 of the law “On international treaties of the Republic of Armenia”, I decree:

To cancel the procedure for signing the protocols “On the establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey”, signed on October 10, 2009 in Zurich.”

The Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs is instructed to notify Turkey about the cancellation of the protocols.

In 2008, at the initiative of the President of Armenia a new phase of Armenian-Turkey relations was started. As a result, on October 10, 2009 in Zurich, the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Turkey — Edward Nalbandian and Ahmet Davutoglu — signed the “Protocol on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey” and “Protocol on development of relations between of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey”.

The signing ceremony was attended by U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, head of the Council of Europe Committee of Minsiters Slovenian Foreign Minister Samuel Zbogar and Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union.

The Armenian authorities sent the protocols to the National Assembly for ratification in April the following year, however, Turkey delayed the ratification for a long period of time. Moreover, Ankara out forward preconditions and links the ratification to the Karabakh conflict.

Turkey officially recognized the Republic of Armenia on December 24, 1991 and until now refuses to establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Armenia. In 1993, Turkey unilaterally closed its air and land borders with Armenia.

Taking into account the call of Political Council of the parties-member of the ruling coalition, on April 22, 2010, the President of Armenia signed a decree of the process of ratification of the Protocols. The notifications has been sent to Turkey.

In 2015, President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan recalled the Armenia-Turkey protocols from Parliament.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly session in September 2017, Sargsyan said that the Turkish government is putting forward ridiculous pre-conditions for the ratification of the Zurich protocols. According to the President, as there is no positive progress on Turkey’s ratification of these agreements, Armenia will annul the agreement.

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Thermographic Cameras Installed on Turkey-Armenia Border

The Armenian – Turkish border is now monitored through thermographic cameras. Aksam Turkish newspaper says in a story about the everyday life of border guards in one of the patrol stations in Kars.

According to the paper, the thermographic cameras installed in September 2017 enable the guards to immediately record border violations and take appropriate measures.

Some 10 kilometer border section is monitored from the patrol station from where “strict control is carried out round the clock.”

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Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre Closes in Protest Amid Row with Israel

By Jonathan Lis and Nir Hasson

I a rate move; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed until further notice in protest of Israeli government legislation and new city tax policy. The decision was announced by the churches sharing the management of the property, the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the Armenian Apostolic.

The heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem announced the move as the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation was set to discuss a bill that would allow the state to expropriate land in Jerusalem sold the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches since 2010. After the church was closed, the ministerial panel decided to postpone the debate on the bill.

A sign on the Church of Holy Sepulchre says “enough is enough, stop the persecution of churches.”

The churches are also protesting the Jerusalem municipal tax payments for church property. The head of the churches, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Custos Francesco Patton and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, released a statement attacking the legislation and the recent move by the city, which they labeled as “systemic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land.”

“The systemic campaign….reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land is being promoted,” the statement said. “This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.”

The ministerial panel is set to discuss the church lands bill, which is designed to put an end by the churches to private real estate companies. Most of the lands involved, about 500 dunams (125 acres) are in the centrally located neighborhoods of Rehavia, Talbieh, and Nayot. Some of the residents living on the land have protested the move, which would force them to evacuate when the lease on the land ends. The bill would authorize the finance minister, with the approval of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, to expropriate lands sold since the beginning of the decade in return for compensation for the companies that bought the land. The bill is quite unusual in terms of Israeli jurisprudence, and because it applies retroactively to land sales that have been finalized. It limits the property rights of the churches and private firms that bought the land.

Church leaders have made it clear a number of times that they consider this a serious violation of their property rights and the status quo. Leaders have also announced they will fight the law both legally and diplomatically.

Meanwhile, church representatives have accused Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat of breaching international treaties after the municipality said it planned to collect 650 million shekels ($186 million) in back taxes owed by the churches and international bodies with property in the city.

So far, the church property has been exempt from paying property tax, but the municipality last month said it has begun collecting municipal taxes from offices, schools, and building designated for various purposes and owned by the churches. Municipal taxes however would not be collected from place of worship, which are exempt from taxation.

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Dutch Parliamentary Khadija Arib Branded “Traitor” by Sabah Daily After Voting for Armenian Genocide

Turkish newspaper Sabah has accused five members of the Dutch parliament of “betrayal” after they voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

The five MPs — Dilan Yesilguz of VVD Party, Socialist MPs CEm Lacin and Saadet Karabulut and Green Left members Zinhi Ozdil en Nevin Ozutok — are all of Turkish descent.

They were subjected to a blizzard of abuse on social media after the newspaper, which supports the Turkish government, branded them “traitors to the mother country” and called the vote “scandalous.”

Parliament chairwoman Khadija Arib denounced the newspaper’s intervention. “Threats or inciting threats in response to people expressing their opinion is unacceptable,” she told Nieuwsuur. “This has no place in a democracy and in a free and open society such as ours.”

Tunahan Kuzu, for the Denk Party, told Turkish television that the vote was “a stunt to win support in the run-up towards the municipal elections”. Kuzu, whose party is popular with the Netherlands’ Turkish minority. added the “recognizing something like this is unacceptable to us, and Turkish Dutch candidates need to make clear where they stand.”
Empire and the Republic of Turkey as an act of genocide, foreign minister Sigrid Kaag said the government would continue to refer to it in more moderate terms as “the issue of the Armenian genocide.”

However, the Netherlands will send a representative this year for the first time to the official commemoration of the genocide in Armenia in April.

The vote was the outcome of a long-running campaign by Christian Union MP Joel Voordewind.

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William Saroyan House-Museum to Open August 31st on the 110th Birthday

On August 31st, William Saroyan’s Museum in Fresno will officially open, announced the Renaissance Cultural and Intellectual Foundation, which implements the Saroyan House Project.

The Project coordinator Avag Simonyan co-founder of Storaket Architectural Studio Merujan Minassian and Saroyan House Board member Barlow Der Mugrdechian met with Mayor of Fresno Lee Brand and introduced the project. The Mayor welcomed the idea and expressed willingness to support the Project.

The parties have agreed that the museum, which will tell about known and unknown episodes from William Saroyan’s life, is to become one of the cultural and educational centers of Fresno. Moreover, the guests will have the opportunity to “meet” William Saroyan “personally” via a hologram.

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U.S Intelligence Chief Dan Coats Warns of Large Scale Fighting in Karabakh

The unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could escalate into “large scale” fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijani forces, the U.S director of national intelligence, Dan Coats warned on Tuesday February 13th. “Tension over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh could devolve into a large-scale military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which could draw in Russia to support its regional ally,” Coats said at the U.S Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats.”

“Both sides’ reluctance to compromise, mounting domestic pressures, Azerbijan’s military modernization, and Armenia’s acquisition of new Russian equipment sustain the risk of large-scale hostilities in 2018,” he added.

Russian military assistance to Armenia stems from a defense alliance between the two countries. At the same time, Russia has been Azerbaijan’s leading supplier of weapons. Moscow and Baku signed arms deals worth at least $4 billion in 2009-2011.

Armenian officials say those deals contributed to four-day hostilities around Karabakh that broke out in April 2016nd left at least 180 soldiers from both sides dead. It was the worst fighting in the conflict zone since a Russian-brokered truce stopped a full-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani war in 1994.

Together with France, the United States and Russia have long been spearheading international efforts to end the Karabakh dispute. Diplomats from the three world powers called on the conflicting sides to take “additional steps” to reduce tensions on the frontlines.

In a joint statement issued after their latest tour of the region, the mediators also said Yerevan and Baku have expressed readiness to continue “intensive” peace talks in the months ahead. The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents pledged to intensify the peace process when they met in Geneva in October.

Coats mentioned Karabakh in the context of Russian’s efforts to maintain a strong influence on other ex-Soviet states. “The Kremlin will seek to maintain and, where possible, expand its influence throughout the former Soviet countries that it asserts are in its self-described sphere of influence,” said the U.S intelligence chief.

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