Two L.A.-Area Congressmen In Heated Debate over Armenian Issues

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Oct. 4, 2012

By Harut Sassounian Publisher, The California Courier

Cong. Howard Berman and Cong. Brad Sherman, both serving on the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, are forced to run against each other in the November 6 elections, because of redistricting.

The two congressmen are both Democrats, Jewish Americans, and both consistently supportive of Armenian issues. Voters of the 30th congressional district have a difficult choice in this hotly contested congressional race!

The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region hosted a public debate at the Ferrahian School’s Avedissian Hall in Encino on Sept. 29, giving the congressmen an opportunity to present their views on Armenian issues to Armenian-Americans voters. ANCA co-chair Nora Hovsepian delivered the welcoming remarks, followed by moderator Zanku Armenian who introduced the two candidates.

The debate got heated right from the start when Cong. Sherman pointed out that while he has been exclusively a member of the Armenian Caucus, Cong. Berman has been a member of both the Turkish and Armenian Caucuses in Congress.

Cong. Berman countered stating: “for nearly three decades of service in the Congress, I have been an ardent, consistent, and outspoken advocate for the Armenian Cause. I worked persistently to achieve US recognition of the Armenian Genocide. As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I led the successful effort to win that recognition at the Committee level.” He went on to affirm that it would be his priority to have the House recognize the Armenian Genocide before its 100th anniversary, and he would personally urge Pres. Obama to keep his pledge on the Genocide. The failure to recognize the Genocide is “a huge moral stain on this great nation’s record,” Cong. Berman stated. He then proudly announced: “I halted the transfer of sensitive arms to Azerbaijan because I grew sick and tired of Azerbaijan’s arms build up and bellicose rhetoric. Just this week, I wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about one of the most disgusting actions any world leader has taken within memory -- I am talking about Pres. Aliyev’s decision to pardon an Azerbaijani axe-murderer who was serving a life sentence for killing an innocent Armenian soldier in his sleep…. I asked Secretary Clinton that first, all of NATO condemns Aliyev’s action, and secondly, that Azerbaijan is suspended from all future NATO-sponsored activities.”

In response to questions from panelists Harut Sassounian, publisher of The California Courier, and Ara Khachatourian, English editor of Asbarez, the congressmen addressed US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, reparations from Turkey, Israel’s refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide, protection of Armenian communities in Syria and Georgia, payment of rent for US air base in Incirlik, Turkey to Armenian owners of that land, return of churches in Turkey to Christian communities, Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan, US aid to Karabagh (Artsakh), Azerbaijan’s and Hungary’s culpability in releasing the Azeri axe-murderer, independence of Artsakh, US trade agreements with Armenia, and Turkish Gulen charter schools in the United States. Below are excerpts from their remarks:

Cong. Berman: “Turkey has to understand that they have to come to terms with their own history. I am Jewish. The notion that in order to avoid hurting sensibilities, we do not acknowledge the historical truth of the Genocide, to me, is a horrible stain on our country.”

Cong. Sherman: “Genocide denial is the last step in genocide; and the first step in the next genocide. That’s why, it is critical that America recognize the first genocide of the 20th century. I will work … as many years as it takes, but hopefully as quickly as possible, to get Congress to recognize the Genocide. … It is time to put pressure on the administration, especially in the next 38 days, to turn to both candidates for president and get a clear statement from them. … We should know what they are going to do next April.”

Cong. Berman criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for having referred to the Armenian Genocide as an “historical debate.” He stated: “No one in the Congress makes the case that the Genocide didn’t happen. They may argue ‘oh, we can’t hurt our relationship with Turkey’ or may be they’re close to some people who are representing Turkey … but nowhere do I hear now, like I used to hear, ‘this is an historical debate.’ … It is very disappointing when the leadership of our country goes back to raising that issue…. This happened. It has to be acknowledged. The Germans acknowledged it, and particularly for somebody who is Jewish, the notion that you can get away with denying this or try to fuzz it up as a historically debatable point, is in a very fundamental sense wrong.”

(to be continued)