In Next Elections, Armenian Caucus Can Become Majority in Congress
by Harut Sassounian
In the past eleven years, 163 members of the House of Representatives have joined the bipartisan "Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues." The Caucus addresses the concerns of the Armenian American community and helps improve relations between the United States and Armenia.
With a new concerted effort by Armenian Americans, the Armenian Caucus could easily surpass 218, which would constitute a majority of the 435 House members. The Congressional elections on November 7 provide the perfect opportunity to reach this goal, thus providing the Armenian American community with a powerful political base in Washington, D.C.
Last Saturday, Cong. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the co-chair of the Armenian Caucus, visited Glendale and briefed the Armenian community on several Armenian issues now pending in the U.S. Congress. Earlier this month, Cong. Joe Knollenberg (R- Mich.), the other co-chair of the Caucus, also met with Armenians in Southern California. The co-chairs and the members of the Caucus have played a key role in pushing for the successful consideration by the House of Representatives of various Armenian issues over the years, ranging from foreign aid to Armenian Genocide resolutions.
The Armenian Caucus is currently the second largest ethnic Caucus in the House, after the India Caucus which has 182 members. Given the many tight races in the upcoming elections, congressional candidates are eager to court the support of voters. This is the ideal time to ask the candidates to promise that they would join the Armenian Caucus, should they win a seat in the House. Unless they pledge to join the Caucus, no candidate, whether Republican or Democrat, should receive the votes, campaign contributions or the endorsement of Armenian individuals or organizations. Incumbents who are running for re-election should be asked to join the Armenian Caucus immediately -- before November 7 -- as a pre-condition for endorsement or support in the upcoming elections. Most candidates would eagerly oblige, once they are informed of the existence of the Armenian Caucus and told that their membership in that Caucus is an important consideration in gaining the backing of the Armenian American community. To check if a particular Congressman is a member of the Armenian Caucus or not, Armenian American voters can contact the Armenian National Committee of America or the Armenian Assembly of America. Should the congressional candidate make a pledge to join the Caucus, the above groups should be advised so that they can to follow up with that candidate and secure his or her membership in the Caucus after the election.
A new initiative must be launched to form an Armenian Caucus in the U.S. Senate where an India Caucus exists ever since 2004, but not one for Armenia.
Imagine the political and psychological impact on both the supporters as well as opponents of the Armenian Cause when 218 or more House and 51 or more Senate members join the Armenian Caucus. While this would not be an ironclad majority on every Armenian-related issue, it would provide a tremendous boost to the political clout of the Armenian American community.
It is also important that the Armenian American community keep an eye on the growing strength of "the Congressional Caucus on Turkey and Turkish Americans" which currently has 70 members and "the Azerbaijani Friendship Group" which has 17 House members. Armenian Americans should be aware of the names of the members of the Turkish and Azeri caucuses and make sure not to support their re-election. They should, in fact, vote for candidates running against members of these two caucuses in the November elections. The list of the Turkish and Azeri caucus members could be obtained by contacting the ANCA and the Armenian Assembly.
Having a majority of House and Senate members join the Armenian Caucus by this November would solidify the recent political gains registered by the Armenian American community, particularly after the showdown in the Senate with the Bush administration over the nomination of Richard Hoagland, the nominee for Ambassador to Armenia, following the dismissal of Amb. John Evans for uttering the words Armenian Genocide. The "hold" placed on the confirmation of Amb. Hoagland forced the State Department to have a greater respect for the political clout of the Armenian American community.
After the November elections, should the Armenian Caucus acquire a majority in both the House and the Senate, the Bush administration as well as Turkey and Azerbaijan would think twice before challenging the interests of the Armenian American community in the U.S. Congress.