Rep. Jackie Speier

Armenians for Biden Event Covers Genocide, Artsakh, Broader Issues with Prominent Officials

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WATERTOWN — On September 28, the night after the Azerbaijani attack on Artsakh and Armenia, the Armenians for Biden organization held an online Zoom event. While promoting the candidacy of Vice President Joseph Biden for president of the United States this November, it put on the record the candidate’s positions on the Armenian Genocide and Artsakh.

Speakers included Mike Carpenter, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Michigan State Rep. Mari Manoogian, Michelle Kwan, Biden for President staff member and two-time Olympic medalist, Greg Mekenian from Biden for President Ethnic Engagement, political advocate Anthony Barsamian and Ambassador Nina Hachigian, Deputy Mayor for International Affairs for the City of Los Angeles. Around 240 people were registered on the call, according to Mekenian, and as some of these included multiple viewers the total number of participants might be as high as 300.

Mekenian provided a general introduction to the presidential race, the Artsakh attacks, and the urgency for voting in the election. Manoogian, only the second Armenian American to serve in Michigan’s House of Representatives, and from a district with several thousand Armenians, noted the outsize influence the US president has on US foreign policy.

She condemned the actions of the current president as follows: “From the time that President Trump entered the White House, seeing President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan of Turkey and his thugs on our American soil, seeing his thugs beat up American citizens who were protesting, seeing the lack of response from the Trump White House, in a very serious way really underscored for me that Donald Trump does not stand for Armenian Americans or our issues. Time and again he has failed to speak up when our Armenian brothers and sisters in Armenia and Artsakh were in peril, and this to me is a really critically important issue.”

Manoogian also spoke about issues on which Biden’s stance, she felt, would benefit Armenian Americans, including implementation of affordable health care and protection of coverage for people with preexisting conditions and the preservation of Medicare and Social Security. She introduced Kwan, and stated afterwards that it is important to have non-Armenians to serve as advocates for Armenian-American issues.

Kwan, who has served as an American public diplomacy envoy, noted the critical role of the Armenian-American community, which she characterized as over 500,000 in number, in the forthcoming elections, especially in key battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Consequently its mobilization is considered very important. Kwan spoke of her own immigrant success story and how Biden and his vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris fight for the American dream.

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Speier, herself an Armenian American, also remarked that Armenians can make an incredible difference in this election, especially in the four aforementioned “battleground” states. She said that while Biden has promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide resolution, President Trump attempted to undermine it from the start, sending Sen. Lindsay Graham to try to put a hold on it and then Sen. David Purdue, before giving up when it became clear it would succeed.

She quoted what Trump said to reporter Bob Woodward about how well he gets along with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, that “For me, it works out good.” She said that it is always about what is in it for Trump, and that she would not be surprised to see in his tax returns that he has taken loans from Erdogan or Turkish oligarchs. She added that it was the president who allowed Turkey to move into Syria, and that his secretary of defense, secretary of state, and national security advisor all have said that Trump’s conduct has created a national security risk.

She contrasted this to Biden’s years of experience in foreign policy. She said Biden would not cozy up to dictators but would protect fledgling democracies like that of Armenia and provide them with the resources they need to thrive. Speier concluded on a general note, declaring: “This really is the most consequential election, not just for us but our grandkids — our children and our children’s children. We are at a point where this country could become an autocracy literally overnight. And frankly that is typically the only way it happens.”

Dr. Michael Carpenter, former assistant secretary of defense in the Obama Administration and managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, provided some key insights on the Armenian Genocide issue and the question of why Armenians should trust the Biden campaign’s promises when the Obama one did not keep its campaign promise of recognition.

He said that he was in the Pentagon at the tail end of the Obama Administration and it was not the Pentagon’s objection that prevented recognition. He said, “I am just going to be very honest with you and tell you that there were people in the administration who were making the case for recognizing the Genocide – Samantha Power was one, and there were others, there were many others — but at the end of the day, the buck stopped with President Obama. I love President Obama. I think he did a lot of enormously wonderful things for our country and took our country forward in so many ways. On this one, however, the decision rests with him.”
Carpenter said that the US should have recognized the Armenian Genocide long, long ago, but, he stated, “I am confident that a Biden administration would take the move on April 24, 2021 to recognize the Genocide and have it be done with. We will deal with whatever Turkish backlash comes up and we will be able to handle this just like the other 32 countries that have recognized the genocide and have had to deal with Turkey’s negative reactions.”

Speier said she concurred with Carpenter’s assessment that Biden would take this action.

In addition to recognizing the Armenian Genocide, which Carpenter said was not only immensely important for rectifying the historical record but also for preventing future ones, Biden would support democracy and the Velvet Revolution in Armenia. He said, “We have this remarkable democratic national awakening in 2018 led by Nikol Pashinyan, which I think the United States under this current administration has completely neglected. We should be supporting this.” He added, “it is as if the State Department is on a different planet. They are not paying attention to this.” A Biden administration, he said, would provide support programs, assistance dollars and technical advisors and work also with the European Union to help Armenian democracy.

A third foreign policy reason for Armenian Americans to support the Biden candidacy, said Carpenter, is that it would support a resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. He observed that the 1994 peace fire was imperfect, allowing sometimes dozens to die annually along the line of contact, while the current administration remains “completely absent.” He asked rhetorically why President Trump, Vice President Pence or Secretary Pompeo were not picking up the phone to tell President Erdogan to stay out of this conflict, and Aliyev as well in no uncertain terms.

Carpenter said that Turkey’s recent international actions in general call for censure for the United States, which has enormous leverage over Turkey if it wants to use it.

He said the US is not invested sufficiently in the mediation efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, as it has only appointed a mid-level bureaucrat as the US representative unlike the other two co-chair countries of France and Russia. He said that a Biden administration would energize this process and use both positive and negative incentives to move forward.

Diplomatic leverage would be used to press Azerbaijan, which has resisted monitors on the line of contact for at least 13 years. Monitors would allow calling out responsibility for incidents. Snipers also must be called back from both sides, he continued. Only Azerbaijan, he said, opposed both these measures.

Finally, the status quo in Karabakh must be changed, as at present demining has not been accomplished (with the current administration having halted the humanitarian demining program there) and there is a lack of investment and development. The US should also provide assistance for things like clean water and sanitation, as it does for other young democracies.

Carpenter did not, however, state what the final international status of Artsakh should be.

Ambassador Hachigian was the last main speaker, and summarized the case for Armenian Americans voting for Biden, both on general issues such as the economy, climate change and the California fires, healthcare and preschool education, as well as on specifically Armenian related topics. She observed that Biden is not personally beholden to Turkey and Russia, unlike Trump who received 13 million dollars from Turkey and 5 million from Azerbaijan for a failed deal. She said that the Biden administration would put real diplomats in positions to reinvigorate the State Department and that he would care about democracy in Armenia and in general.

Several questions were taken from participants after which Mekenian ended the session and called for all to vote.

The Mirror-Spectator has reached out to Armenians in the Trump campaign and is waiting to hear back.

 

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