Kerry: Good for America, Good for Armenia, and Good for the World

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Harut Sassounian Commentary 2004 October

The difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush is so stark that even some life-long Republicans have difficulty supporting their party's nominee. They are switching sides and voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives!

After the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, the whole world rallied around the Bush Administration and supported America's war on terror. The neo-cons, taking advantage of the president's inexperience and inattention, exploited the terrorist attacks to pursue their long-standing agenda in the Middle East. Letting terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden get away, they went after Saddam Hussein. They concocted stories about Iraq's non-existent links to Al Qaida, and its equally non-existent weapons of mass destruction. They mismanaged the occupation of Iraq and squandered all the goodwill generated after the 9/11 attacks. They galvanized the wrath of the world and isolated America. In the process of trying to eliminate terror, they created more terrorists.

At home, the Bush Administration showed total disrespect for civil liberties by passing highly intrusive laws that were repeatedly abused.

Innocent American citizens and foreigners alike were detained for long periods and held in isolation without access to their lawyers. While funding simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, the Bush Administration was fixated on cutting taxes for big corporations and the wealthy, causing massive federal budget deficits and a spiraling national debt to be paid by generations to come. As a result, health care, education and many other necessary social services could not receive adequate funding.

Through combination of blunders at home and abroad, the Bush Administration lost the trust of the American public as well as the respect of the international community.

Turning to Armenian issues, Pres. Bush repeatedly broke his written promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Even worse, the Bush Administration went out of its way to block a congressional resolution that included only a passing reference to the Armenian Genocide. Pres. Bush waived section 907, lifting the restriction on US aid to the government of Azerbaijan. He proposed to give to Azerbaijan four times more military assistance than to Armenia, violating a brokered agreement with Congress and endangering the safety of Armenia and Karabagh. He also sought to reduce foreign aid to Armenia.

Senator Kerry, on the other hand, has had a long track record of supporting Armenian causes for over 20 years. He has forcefully and repeatedly advocated the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Back in 1990, he voted for the Genocide Resolution sponsored by Sen. Bob Dole. Long before becoming a presidential candidate, he issued statements on April 24 during the annual commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. He and his Vice Presidential nominee, Sen. John Edwards, are co-sponsors of the Genocide Resolution currently pending in the Senate. Sen. Kerry supported Armenia's independence in 1991, and backed increased aid and expanded trade with Armenia. He led several initiatives to lift the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia. In 1992, he was the lead sponsor of legislation (Section 907) that restricted U.S. aid to the government of Azerbaijan, until it lifts its blockade of Armenia and Karabagh. In 1996, he supported the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act that called for cutting U.S. aid to Turkey unless it lifted its blockade of Armenia.

This year alone, Sen. Kerry has issued 5 statements on Armenian issues. In January, he joined other Senators in asking Pres. Bush to press the visiting Prime Minister of Turkey to lift his country's blockade of Armenia. On April 22, he issued a statement that unequivocally supports the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, while Pres. Bush's statement was full of euphemisms and evasive language, calling the Genocide merely a "horrible tragedy" and a "terrible event." On June 21, Sen. Kerry issued a letter recognizing the independence of Armenia on May 28, 1918. On August 28, he congratulated the attendees of an Armenian festival and told them: "I want to assure you that, as President, I will continue to fight against the denial of the Armenian Genocide." He flat out pledged: "My administration will recognize April 24, 2005 as the 90th Anniversary of this atrocity."

Finally, on Sept. 23, he issued a statement marking the anniversary of Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union. He said: "Time and again, Armenians have demonstrated the ability of the human spirit to triumph over adversity and even to persist in the face of genocide."

These are some of the reasons why practically all Armenian-Americans individuals and organizations nationwide, including the three Armenian political parties (ADLP, ARF, and SDHP), are supporting John Kerry.

The burning question on everyone's mind is whether Kerry would keep his word after the election. Armenian-Americans have good reason to be skeptical, as they have been misled by Pres. Bush and several of his predecessors.

I believe that as President, Kerry would be much more supportive of Armenian issues for the following reasons: His long-standing personal friendship with many Armenian-Americans in his home state of Massachusetts; his 20-year-long solid record in the Senate on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide; his strong statements on this issue during the presidential campaign; and finally, his top aides, who would assume leading positions in a Kerry administration, have privately and publicly confirmed that that Kerry as President would recognize the Armenian Genocide. Earlier this month, Amb. Richard Holbrooke, a senior foreign policy advisor to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, told a gathering of the 50 leaders of America's ethnic communities: Sen. Kerry's "friendship for Armenia goes back a long way. It's well established. He understands the issues. He's taken a very strong stance on Nagorno-Karabagh, on aid, on recognition of the Genocide, and ending the blockade of Armenia. There is a clear cut difference between the two candidates."

It is also significant that the Democratic National Committee has been running full-page ads in several Armenian-American newspapers, stating:

"Democrats will recognize the Armenian Genocide; support permanent, normal trade relations status with Armenia; and oppose the illegal blockades by Turkey and Azerbaijan."

Another indication that Kerry's support on Armenian issues should be taken seriously is the reaction from the Turkish side. Seasoned diplomat Ilter Turkmen, the former Foreign Minister of Turkey, recently said: "If Kerry is elected President, it would be much more difficult [for Turkey] to neutralize Armenian Genocide resolutions." In recent weeks, Turkish newspapers have published several articles and letters from Turkish-American leaders expressing their fear that Kerry, as President, would recognize the Armenian Genocide. Azeris also seem to be concerned. A member of Azerbaijan's Parliament, Mayis Safarli, made insulting remarks about Sen. Kerry on the floor of the parliament earlier this month, falsely accusing the Senator of saying that Azerbaijan "should be thrown under a bus." Claiming that Sen. Kerry is under the influence of "the Armenian lobby," Safarli described him as "someone from whose face one can tell that he himself has been under the wheels of a bus and now can't think straight."

Finally, there are those in the Armenian community who are resigned to the notion that no U.S. President would ever dare to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide for fear of upsetting the Turks. Such individuals are sadly mistaken. They are probably not aware that one distinguished U.S. President, more than two decades ago, did recognize the Armenian Genocide.

On April 22, 1981, Pres. Ronald Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation #4838 in which he stated: "Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it - and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples - the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten." After Pres. Reagan said those words, there was hardly any reaction from the Turks. Neither political nor commercial relations were disrupted between the two countries. No one even talks about that proclamation nowadays. Therefore, it would not be an alarming development, should Kerry speak about the Armenian Genocide after his election. We should also remember that the House of Representatives has gone on record on four separate occasions recognizing the Armenian Genocide (1975, 1984, 1996, 2004). Besides, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide would not be harmful to Turkey. In fact, some sensible Turks recently have urged their government to take the initiative in making such an acknowledgment. They point out that this would be in Turkey's best interest, as it would eliminate one of the major impediments to its membership in the European Union, and prove its readiness to join the ranks of civilized nations.

Given the Bush Administration's abysmal record on domestic, international and Armenian issues, it would be unwise to have this President and his team (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Wolfowitz) remain in power for another four years.

Cong. Frank Pallone (Dem.-N.J.), the respectable Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, recently made the following accurate assessment: Bush has "presided over the most anti-Armenian administration in modern history."

It would be in the interest of all Armenian-Americans, particularly those in the critical states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, and New Hampshire, to vote for John Kerry. Every vote counts. The race is so close that, as in the 2000 elections, even a few hundred votes could decide who will be the next president of the United States.

Help get Kerry elected President. Your vote will make a difference for America, for Armenia, and for the rest of the world!