By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
The Justice Department inadvertently provided a major boost to the
political clout of Armenian-Americans last week when it backed down from
requiring that adult male visitors from Armenia be photographed and
While a spokesman called the Justice Department's initial requirement "a
mistake," it was clear that the U.S. officials would not have removed
Armenia from the list of countries whose citizens are suspected of
terrorism, if Armenians had not aggressively brought this grave "error"
to their attention. The New York Times pointed out that the U.S.
government backed down only after an "intensive lobbying effort" by the
Armenian-American community. The paper attributed "he turnabout" to the
"loud complaints" from the Armenian government and Armenian groups in
Dozens of other newspapers around the country published similar articles
pointing out the "deluge of faxes to the White House from
Armenian-Americans." Several papers cited ANCA's grassroots campaign
that generated over 10,000 WebFaxes and WebMails to President Bush.
After Armenia was removed from the list, Armenians worldwide were
relieved that they had avoided the stigma of being falsely associated
with terrorism. As important as that accomplishment was, Armenians had
in fact achieved much more.
First of all, this incident proved to the U.S. government that there is
an active and vigilant Armenian community that will not sheepishly
accept decrees handed out by Washington officials with questionable
agendas. While the concepts of truth and justice may not mean much to
these politicians, they know how to count votes. When more than 10,000
messages are sent to the White House in a single weekend, officials in
Washington pay attention! After all, votes make or break their careers.
Maybe next time around, these officials will be much more careful in
taking decisions that negatively impact Armenians.
The reversal in Armenia's status had reverberations far beyond
Washington. Many in the nation and around the world took note of the
fact that of the 21 countries included on the Justice Department's list
of suspect nations only Armenia was removed from it!
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch that "pressure from Armenian-Americans led to the
change." While he acknowledged that "Armenians have the perfect right to
Challenge" the list, he wondered why 19 Islamic nations remained on the
Similar concerns were raised by officials from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia
who objected to the inclusion of their citizens on the Justice
Department's blacklist. A spokesman for the Embassy of Pakistan in
Washington said that his country would file an official protest. A Saudi
Embassy spokesman threatened to have U.S. visitors to Saudi Arabia
fingerprinted in reciprocal action.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, was overjoyed when Armenia was initially
included on the U.S. list. Samad Seyidov, the Chairman of the
International Relations Committee of the Azeri parliament, exploited the
U.S. error to proclaim that "Armenia is a country which supports
terrorism at the state level." In reporting this allegation, "Baku
Today" added that the Justice Department's decision "has caused a
serious concern for the strong Armenian lobby in the United States." The
Azeri newspaper expressed its regret that Armenia was dropped from the
list. "Armenians directed thousand telegrams to the Congress and the
government of the U.S.," the Baku paper said. "These efforts.appeared
not fruitless. Armenia was removed under the influence of the Armenian
lobby." Imagine what the Azeri newspapers would say about the power of
the Armenian lobby when Azerbaijan itself is placed on the U.S. list!
No one can top, however, the berserk comments of Mahmut Esat Ozan, the
Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Turkish Forum, a website that
claims to reach 180,000 readers worldwide! Ozan is mad as hell because
as the headline of his editorial states, "Uncle Sam buckles under
Armenian pressure." In a lengthy diatribe against the "Armenian Mother <
BR>Church" and myriad other innocent Armenian organizations, he protests in
bombastic and sometimes vulgar language the Bush administration's
decision to remove Armenia from the list.
Ozan slanders all Armenian visitors to the U.S. by calling them
"potential terrorists." He repeatedly makes references to "the
all-powerful Armenian lobby" which he describes as "the ten ton Armenian
gorilla." He blasts not only the Bush administration, but also the
"pathetic members of the U.S. Congress" whom he calls "Armenian
bootlickers." He accuses Armenian organizations of "supplying the local
legislators of more than two dozen states, plus a slew of U.S.
Congressmen and Senators, with astronomical sums of money to win them
over to their camp." He says that when Turks hear such rumors "their
frustration doubles and triples."
Ozan then pays the ultimate compliment to the Armenian community by
saying that "the combined collective potency of the lobbying power" of
the 20 other countries on the U.S. list "cannot ever match or even
approach the one of the Armenian lobby!" Ozan probably expects that the
"all-powerful Armenian lobby" which has the U.S. Congress in its back
pocket, will next force Washington to place Turkey on the U.S. terrorist
watch list. What would he write then, assuming that he survives the
trauma of his own terrifying words!
To sum up, the regrettable "error" of the U.S. government had a salutary
effect on the image of the Armenian-Americans. This incident awakened a
large segment of the community from its habitual apathy. Never before
Armenian-Americans had sent 10,000 protest messages on any issue in one
weekend. Their vigilance impressed the officials in Washington and in
many other capitals around the world. It alarmed the governments in
Ankara and Baku.
As there will be many other occasions when a quick and massive reaction
will be necessary, it behooves all Armenians to remain united and