|After Extensive Contacts and Protests,
Washington Rescinds Anti-Armenian Order
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Armenians worldwide were shocked and incensed by the Justice
Department's decision requiring that citizens of Armenia visiting the
United States be fingerprinted and photographed by the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS).
Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a notice signed on December 12, 2002,
ordered that all Armenian, Pakistani and Saudi males over the age of 15,
who entered the U.S. as non-immigrant aliens before September 30, 2002
and who will remain in the U.S. after February 21, 2003, register with
and provide requested information to the INS between January 13 and
February 21, 2003.
The notice placed Armenian visitors not only in the same category as
those from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, it also included them in a larger
list issued earlier of suspect countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain,
Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar,
Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Since the Sept. 11, 2002 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has
taken, understandably so, extraordinary measures to ensure the security
of its citizens. A massive new federal agency with practically unlimited
powers was created, under the name of Homeland Security to prevent
Armenians resented, however, being lumped together with a group of
countries deemed hostile or unfriendly to the U.S. Even more upsetting
to Armenians was the conspicuous absence of Turkey, Azerbaijan and
Georgia from this blacklist, despite the fact that all three countries
have had extensive links to international terrorism. Just a few days
ago, 5 Turkish terrorists were arrested in London. Osama Bin Laden has
visited Turkey more than once. Several Turkish and Azeri terrorists were
arrested by the United States in Afghanistan during the past year. As
far as Georgia is concerned, the U.S. government has sent a contingent
of its own troops to help the Georgian military capture Al Qaeda members
who routinely use that country as a transit point for terrorist attacks.
Armenia, on the other hand, not only does not harbor any terrorist
cells, it has been the target of Afghan Mujahedeen who were hired by
Azerbaijan to fight against Nagorno Karabagh. Furthermore, Armenia has
fully cooperated with all U.S. efforts to fight international terrorism.
Armenians were naturally concerned that being included in such a
nefarious list would cause irrevocable harm to their reputation. The
governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey, which never miss an opportunity to
denigrate the Armenians, would have surely exploited the Justice
Department's directive in their anti-Armenian propaganda, even though
Mr. Ashcroft did not give any reason for Armenia's inclusion in this
list. The notice simply stated that the decision was based on "recent
events" and "intelligence information available to the Attorney
General." While the official notice bears Mr. Ashcroft's signature,
since the INS falls under his jurisdiction, knowledgeable sources have
told us that the Dept. of Homeland Security was the real instigator of
It is regrettable, but not surprising that the Dept. of Homeland
Security is unfairly tarnishing Armenia's image. This super-agency is
apparently not accountable to anyone, except the President of the United
States. It does not seem to be too concerned with the constitutionally
protected rights of even American citizens, let alone with those of
The Dept. of Homeland Security does not seem to be too interested in
diplomatic niceties. It did not bother to provide advance notice to the
Armenian government so that Armenian officials could properly deal with
any legitimate concerns the U.S. side may have had. The skilled
diplomats at the
State Department would have handled this situation far
more delicately and professionally, if they were not kept in the dark!
Not even the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, the entity that actually issues
visas for visitors from Armenia, was alerted about this decision.
In a matter of two days, Armenian Americans sent over 10,000 protest
letters to the White House asking that this offensive order be
rescinded. Advocacy groups contacted Members of Congress to have Armenia
removed from this list. Influential individuals made direct appeals to
high-ranking U.S. officials, while the Armenian government expressed to
the State Department its utter displeasure with the directive.
Finally, on December 16, the Bush administration realized the serious
error in judgment made by the Dept. of Homeland Security in dealing with
this matter and decided to rescind the regrettable directive.
Armenian-Americans can be proud that the combined efforts of everyone
involved resulted in this positive outcome.