Participants from across the country in Washington, DC as part of the Assembly’s Advocacy Summit

Capitol Hill Commemoration of Genocide Takes Place

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WASHINGTON — The 109th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide took place on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, April 17, at the Capitol Visitors Center, in a bipartisan event in collaboration with the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, featuring special guest Astrid Panosyan-Bouvet, member of the National Assembly of France elected in 2022.

While Members of Congress acknowledged the importance of US recognition of the Armenian Genocide and reflected on the watershed moment in Armenian American history, they emphasized the need for increased humanitarian assistance to the Armenian people of Artsakh and protection of Armenia’s sovereign borders.

Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Adam Schiff (D-CA)

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) recalled Azerbaijan’s “large-scale attack” against Artsakh that caused a mass exodus of more than 100,000 from the region for fear of ethnic cleansing, and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

“Azerbaijan’s hollow promise of a ceasefire and safe return to the area have failed to materialize,” he said. “Instead what we are seeing is that Azerbaijan has unlawfully detained prisoners of war, refused to pull back its forces from Armenia’s territory, threatened new attacks, and made escalating demands on the Armenian people.”

He continued: “To Azerbaijan I say no to surrendering sovereign Armenian lands, that’s why I was proud to introduce the bipartisan Senate resolution last night that would require the Biden Administration to report Azerbaijan’s human rights practices and human rights violations, such as torture, unlawful killings, ethnic cleaning and destruction of Armenian cultural heritage.”

Sen. Edward Markey

He stated that the US must not stay silent on Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing, and that it should refuse Azerbaijan’s demands that Armenia surrender its lands.

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Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) recalled the historic moment when President Biden referred to the Armenian Genocide as indeed “Genocide,” noting that it was due to the dedication and commitment of the Armenian American community.

“It’s a message of citizen participation that you can change the course of events, and together we changed the course of events,” he said, acknowledging his own background as a descendant of a family of refugees from Cuba. Despite the success of Armenian Genocide affirmation, he stated that Azerbaijan’s attacks on Artsakh were “deplorable.”

Astrid Panosyan-Bouvet

Menendez called for the end of the Section 907 waiver to prevent “providing arms to the Azeri government.” He also noted that USAID’s assistance to the displaced Armenian people of Artsakh has been “paltry” and “more must be done.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), who was in Armenia during the attack on Lachin Corridor in September 2023 and subsequent mass displacement of the Armenian people of Artsakh, highlighted the “unacceptable ethnic cleansing” and his frustration that the “world community did not call this out for the outrage that it was and it is.”

Peters, who spearheaded the unanimous passing of the Armenian Protection Act in 2023, continued: “Azerbaijan should not get US assistance,” and that there should be consequences for Azerbaijan’s actions.

“The US stands up for freedom, for liberty, and we stand up against ethnic cleansing, and if people violate those tenets, we will make sure those folks pay a price.”

Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), and Judy Chu (D-CA)

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Armenian Caucus co-chair, said that the only way the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues can protect Armenia is “by having a strong Armenia, not only economically but also militarily,” and to push the State Department to stop waiving Section 907.

“Of course we want to see a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but that may not happen until Azerbaijan knows that Armenia is strong and can repel an attack, and has the allies to repel an attack,” he said, emphasizing that there must be more humanitarian assistance for the Armenian people. “We know that a strong Armenia is the only way to protect the Armenian people.”

Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Young Kim (R-CA), Natalie Matossian, Board Member of the Congressional Armenian Staff Association (CASA) and Peter Chalabyan, Member of CASA.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Armenian Caucus co-chair, reflected on the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide and how “entire families were wiped out in the most brutal and heartbreaking ways,” and that despite overwhelming evidence, “Turkey has engaged in a long and dangerous campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide,” which has proved to be unsuccessful, however “much work remains to be done.”

“These wounds are still open,” continued Rep. Schiff. “They have not yet healed, and in tragic ways they’ve grown larger,” as Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh in 2020, blockaded the Lachin Corridor for 10 months in 2023, and ethnically cleansed Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian population.

“The time for strong statements by the Administration have long passed,” he said stating his support to always stand with the Armenian community. “Condemnation should be followed by real consequences, and crimes against humanity cannot go unanswered.”

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Armenian Caucus co-chair, emphasized that human rights violations are inexcusable and that everyone has a “duty and responsibility” to continue to fight for the Armenian people.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) said that the faith of the Armenian people is what has “carried us through the dark days and better days.” She remembered the momentous day in 2019 “when we ended over 100 years of silence of the Armenian Genocide.”

“It’s up to us and the faith we have in each other, and the faith in justice and in decency, to understand that these are ungodlike actions, and it’s up to us to address them.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), who has traveled to Artsakh and Armenia, pointed out there are “those who want to erase history and claim this genocide never happened, and brush it aside, which is why the fight for Armenian Genocide recognition is crucial.”

She reflected on survivor stories from her constituents that stayed with her throughout her time in Congress, particularly when supporting Armenian Genocide resolutions.

Lorig Charkoudian, Maryland State Delegate, and Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church in Bethesda, MD

“We can’t be complacent [however] because threats facing the Armenian people have been emboldened,” said Chu. “When I had the honor of visiting Artsakh I saw such incredible people in a thriving community, and it makes me heartbroken to think they’ve been driven from [their homes] so that’s why I continue to work with Armenian Caucus colleagues to hold Azerbaijan accountable for this inexcusable aggression.”

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) shared that he grew up with Armenian Americans in his hometown of Fresno, California, and the importance of passing the torch to a new generation of Armenian Americans.

“Your passion, and tenacious and heartfelt efforts paid off,” he said. “More work needs to be done as ethnic cleansing continues to take place in Artsakh, and Azerbaijan and Turkey must be held accountable.”

He concluded by paying tribute and honoring the 1.5 million Armenian martyrs who lost their lives in the Armenian Genocide.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) stated that while genocide denial is the last step of genocide, genocide denial is also the first step in the next genocide “because it inspires tyrants to believe they can get away with it.”

“We are told that Turkey is a strategic ally,” he said. “What kind of relation would [the US] have with today’s Germany if there was a Germany that demanded we forget the Holocaust?”

Talin Yacoubian, Esq. co-chair elect and Board Member of the Armenian Assembly of America

Sherman continued: “We can have a relationship with Turkey when it’s a true democratic country and when it comes to grips with its Ottoman past.”

He noted the repetition of the Armenian Genocide as Azerbaijan ethnically cleansed Armenians in Artsakh, and emphasized that Section 907 should no longer be waived.

“We have to show there are consequences for what happened,” he concluded. “We have to make sure Armenia is safe, and we have to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) shared his prior experience in Baku when he met with Aliyev and reprimanded what he was doing to his people.

“Oil should not cause people to look the other way for his atrocities,” he said. “When [Aliyev] was using food as a weapon, I convened an emergency hearing.”

“We need to raise these issues so the press cannot ignore and trivialize by their lack of coverage what has happened in the past and present,” said Smith. “We pray for the people of Armenia, we stand in solidarity with them, and we need policies that have their back 1000%.”

Sen. Robert Menendez

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said that the US and the international community “needs to stand up and condemn” Azerbaijan.

“We can’t mince words,” she said, citing the need to provide additional humanitarian aid to the displaced Armenians of Artsakh. “We have to call out ethnic cleansing with genocidal intent and put a stop to it with every means we have.”

Titus reflected on the fight she led to get The Library of Congress to change wording to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and looking forward, the importance of placing sanctions on Azerbaijan.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) said that Armenians still face the threat of extermination and “continue to live the consequences of the Armenian Genocide.”

“These conflicts demand our engagement for a peaceful resolution,” he said. “We can draw hope from the survivors, those Armenians who came to my office who I listened to over the years, and I’m here because of those righteous calls.”

He highlighted Armenian Americans who have contributed to the US and “made our country a richer and a better and a more diverse place. He

thanked the Armenian American community for their advocacy and civic engagement because that is “crucial to holding this Congress accountable and inspiring our country to live up to its lofty ideals.”

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) stated that “the truth will always win,” and that it “serves as a reminder to oppressors everywhere that they cannot eliminate the truth.”

He noted that the suffering of the Armenian people has not ended and that the “Armenian people were plunged into bloodshed after Azerbaijan’s attacks.”

“Just as they did after the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian people will rebuild,” concluded Rep. Moulton. “They will tell the truth and they will prosper, and the US and this Congress will stand with them.”

Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Gabe Amo (D-RI), and Thomas Suozzi (D-NY)

Rep. Gabe Amo (D-RI) stated that we there cannot be silence in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s “brutal ethnic cleansing campaign.”

“We must denounce the destabilizing threat that the Azeri government poses,” he said. “I am your ally in our fight to preserve and protect Armenia.”

Amo said that he will make sure military assistance does not “flow in that direction” and that “our support for Armenia is an essential part of our foreign policy.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said that the wounds of the Armenian Genocide “will never heal,” but because of the survivors and their descendants, “their stories will never be forgotten.” He noted that the Armenian diaspora has enhanced the countries it has inhabited, and the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, and “the lessons they teach” will continue on.

Rep. Jamal Bowman (D-NY) emphasized the importance of US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and encouraged the Armenian American community to stay in touch and share in conversations with him so he knows what issues are most important to push forward.

Astrid Panosyan-Bouvet, a member of the French National Assembly and member of the France-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group, elaborated on the strong and positive relationship between France and Armenia and highlighted the latter’s “bold move towards further democratization, rule of law, fight against corruption and anchoring via the West.”

She stated that France was the first major country to recognize the Armenian Genocide 23 years ago, and that France “will not leave Armenia alone.” She cited modernizing the Armenian army and increasing its defense capabilities as steps France has taken to assist Armenia.

Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Dina Titus (D-NV), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and Seth Moulton (D-MA)

Panosyan-Bouvet also highlighted the vulnerable Syunik region of Armenia and the upcoming opening of a French Consulate there, envisioning a “French flag waving right across the Azeri border.”

She requested the US make similar efforts as France has in Armenia, “in the name of the contribution of Armenian Americans to this nation, and in the name of American interests aimed at stability and territorial integrity.”

Panosyan-Bouvet noted that the “strategic partnership between France and Armenia is reinforced” with business and cultural ties that are displayed at the central and executive levels, and in Parliament, which has resulted in the advancement of the “Armenian Cause [that] is now supported by people who have no Armenian roots.”

Talin Yacoubian, co-chair elect and Board Member of the Armenian Assembly of America, thanked the participation of all the speakers and attendees and urged the need to “stop putting weapons in the hands of Azerbaijan,” and put an end to the Section 907 waiver.

“We cannot do it alone, and that’s why we are here today,” she said. “We thank our friends who have helped, and we ask you to do more to help the Armenian population live safely in Armenia, as that safety is very much under the threat of invasion.”

Lorig Charkoudian, Maryland State Delegate, served as master of ceremonies, and remarks were also given by Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA, Natalie Matossian, Board Member of the Congressional Armenian Staff Association (CASA), and Peter Chalabyan, Member of CASA. Others in attendance included former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, former Member of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly Garo Paylan, former Permanent Representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the US Robert Avetisyan, and coalition partner at In Defense of Christians William Roberts. Rev. Sarkis Aktavoukian, pastor of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church in Bethesda, MD, delivered the invocation.

 

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