By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Cong. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on
Armenian Issues, has been a staunch friend and an outstanding supporter of
the Armenian Cause for many years. He has visited not only Armenia, but also
Karabagh, several times! He has repeatedly raised scores of Armenian
concerns in the U.S. Congress. Over the years, he has held countless private
and public meetings with Armenian-American organizations as well as with
leaders of Armenia and Karabagh to exchange views on political developments
and to assess the best course of action on the Hill.
On January 2nd, Cong. Pallone issued a press release in which he described
the challenges facing Armenia following the war on international terrorism
and the upcoming possible attack on Iraq which enhanced Turkey's standing
with the U.S. The fact that the Congressman made this analysis public,
rather than discussing it behind closed doors with leaders of
Armenian-American organizations, meant that he probably wanted to
communicate his message directly to a larger audience. One can speculate as
to which audience he had in mind (the Armenian-American community, Turkey,
the Bush Administration) and what specific message he was trying to convey
to them? Regrettably, there has been no public reaction to the congressman's
assessment of the serious issues affecting Armenia.
Cong. Pallone noted with apprehension that "the Bush Administration has been
bending over backward in the last few months to help Turkey on various
fronts, starting with the IMF loan package, the free trade amendments that
passed in the House of Representatives at the end of the Congressional
session, and the proposed New Year's present of a war aid package. Turkey
was given a leading role with peacekeeping in Afghanistan, and now it is
poised to be in the forefront of our potential war efforts against Iraq as a
base in American operations." He added, "the concern has to be how far the
Bush Administration is prepared to go to appease Turkey. ...What are the
implications in Armenia, which continues to suffer a Turkish blockade?"
Cong. Pallone correctly points out that despite these developments, "there
are opportunities for Armenia as long as the government in Yerevan as well
as pro-Armenian organizations in the U.S. and members of Congress realize
the changed context in which we operate in the aftermath of September 11th,
and the potential war with Iraq."
While the congressman's intent may be to steer Armenian-Americans towards
more creative approaches in the pursuit of their interests, his statement
could have the unintended consequence of dampening community's enthusiasm,
lessening their political involvement, and lowering their expectations of
what can be accomplished through Congress in this new atmosphere.
The New Jersey congressman's press release covers two other sensitive
topics. He states, "tension between Turkey and Armenia will be seen as
problematic and efforts to bring the two countries together will be viewed
[by the U.S. government] in a favorable light. The same will be true for
Armenian/Israeli relations." In both cases, it would be unfair to put the
onus on Armenia.
As the congressman knows, the Armenian government would have every right to
reject normal relations with Turkey - a country that continues to deny the
Genocide, deprives the remnants of the Turkish-Armenian community of its
most basic rights, blockades the modern Republic of Armenia, supports
Azerbaijan in the Karabagh war, and engages in periodic saber-rattling by
massing troops on its borders. Ignoring all of these hostile actions,
Armenia's leaders have proclaimed their readiness to establish diplomatic
relations with Turkey without any pre-conditions! Ironically, the Turks are
the ones who refuse to hav
e such relations with Armenia, demanding that the
Armenian government abandon its efforts to have the international community
recognize the Armenian Genocide, and return Karabagh back to Azerbaijan.
Regarding Israel, Armenia would welcome better relations with that country.
It is regrettable, however, that the Israeli government has decided to
cultivate its ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan at the expense of Armenia.
Armenians not only have to endure the periodic insulting denials of the
Genocide by high-ranking Israeli officials, they also have to counter the
combined might of Turkish, Azeri and Jewish lobbies in Congress.
Cong. Pallone then warns, "Washington will be watching Armenia's domestic
policies with greater scrutiny in 2003. ...The presidential election in
February will be seen as a bell weather for Armenia's adherence to
democracy. Efforts to reduce corruption and bureaucracy and create a more
favorable business climate for trade and investment will be key. Any
restrictions on the media and religious activities will also be carefully
watched by the State Department and NGO's."
Various U.S. officials have delivered, both privately and publicly, similar
messages to the Armenian government in recent days. The most important point
that is missing in all of these messages, however, is that Armenia should
not take any of these actions just because the U.S. government and
international observers "are carefully watching." Armenia should have fair
elections, reduce corruption and improve its economy because it is the right
thing to do, and Armenians, like all other people, deserve to live under a
freely-elected, democratic government.
Despite all of the challenges facing Armenia in this new environment, Cong.
Pallone is fortunately optimistic that "Congress and the Congressional
Caucus on Armenian Issues, in particular, will continue to work towards
certain priorities such as increased humanitarian assistance to Armenia, a
genocide recognition resolution, an end to the economic blockage by Turkey
and Azerbaijan, and the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh
At the end of his press release, Cong. Pallone, knowing well some of the
lingering internal disagreements created by the Turkish Armenian
Reconciliation Commission, appeals to Armenian-American organizations to
"work together." He urges "the pro-Armenian forces ... to meet the
challenges united." Armenians would do well to heed the advice of a close
friend who belongs to no side and has the best interests of all Armenians in