Friday, August 1, 2008

Briefly: Lantos passes; Sherman vs. Rice; Clinton's Turkish delegate; Saakashvili's Patarkatsishvili dead

This was first published in February 16, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Armenian-Americans mourn loss of Rep. Tom Lantos

Rep. Tom Lantos (D.-Calif.), 80, died on February 11 due to complications from cancer, his office reported.

A member of Congress for 28 years, Mr. Lantos was chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which last October overcame unprecedented opposition from the Turkish government, the Bush Administration, and influential figures in the Democratic Party and passed a resolution that affirms the Armenian Genocide.

Mr. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, voted for the measure and then, amid threats by Turkey to retaliate against U.S. interests, went on national television to defend its passage as “a significant step in restoring the moral authority of U.S. foreign policy.”

“U.S. foreign policy was strong when it was based on a sound foundation of a moral authority,” Mr. Lantos told the PBS Newshour on October 11. “It’s Abu Ghraib and similar episodes which have diminished our standing globally. And the international community is not critical of the fact that the United States calls a genocide a genocide.”

“Congressman Lantos played a pivotal role in securing the Committee passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution last year,” said Ross Vartian, executive director
of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee. “His principled stance and eloquent arguments in favor of this – the only right policy – have earned him the respect of the Armenian American community. We mourn his passing and hope his principled stand will inspire other American foreign policy leaders.”

The chair of the Armenian National Committee of America, Ken Hachikian, and the Armenian Assembly of America’s executive director Bryan Ardouny praised Mr. Lantos’s leadership and offered condolences on behalf of their respective organizations.

Last month, Mr. Lantos announced plans to retire from Congress later this year. On February 12, following his death, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a proclamation to hold a special election on June 3 to fill Mr. Lantos’s congressional seat. Former California State Senator and Armenian-American Jackie Speier is heavily favored to win that election.

Rep. Sherman questions Secretary of State about proposed Armenia aid cut

In congressional testimony on February 13, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the Bush Administration-proposed budget for the next fiscal year and was questioned on the proposed cut in U.S. assistance to Armenia.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned the administration’s proposal to cut Armenia’s aid allocation from $58.5 million appropriated by Congress last year to $24 million in fiscal 2009. (See this page in the February 9 Armenian Reporter.)

In response, Dr. Rice appeared to justify the cut by pointing to assistance the United States is providing Armenia under the performance-based Millennium Challenge Account.

Mr. Sherman also recalled the administration’s opposition to the Genocide resolution. “It adds insult to injury that the Bush Administration would seek to dramatically cut funding for Armenia, while stifling efforts to recognize the historic tragedy of the Armenian Genocide,” Rep. Sherman said, according to his office. “I will make every effort to ensure that Congress restores full funding for Armenia.”

In testimony the same day, Dr. Rice promised to heed the call by leaders of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and re-appoint a “special energy coordinator who could especially spend time on the Central Asian and Caspian region.” The State Department had a designated envoy focusing solely on Caspian energy between 1998 and 2004.

Reports: Anti-Armenian activist is Sen. Clinton’s delegate to DNC convention

Mehmet Celebi, a Chicago-based Turkish-American businessperson who is on record as promoting Genocide denial and Armeniabashing, is a major donor for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) and has been selected as one of her delegates to the Democratic National Convention, according to the Senator’s campaign web site. In addition to large personal contributions, Mr. Celebi has helped the campaign raise more than $100,000.

On February 11, the New York Post picked up reports by the National Review and other online political blogs that have pointed to Mr. Celebi’s involvement in the Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, a 2006 Turkish film with highly anti-American and anti-Semitic content.

Ms. Clinton’s campaign did not return the Post’s request for comment, but shortly after the publications appeared, the web site of Mr. Celebi’s company, BMH Worldwide Entertainment, went off-line.

In February 2007 the Turkish Daily News noted Mr. Celebi’s cooperation with the Turkish leadership. He reportedly told the newspaper, “Prominent figures of
the [Armenian] diaspora pay Hollywood to make genocide movies…. We should also be relying on such methods and commission movies explaining Turkey’s side of the story.”

Ms. Clinton is currently in a tight race for Democratic presidential nomination with Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.), whose campaign has gained momentum after winning elections in five states as well as the District of Columbia since Super Tuesday.

Billionaire Georgian government opponent dies in exile

Arkady (Badri) Patarkatsishvili, 52, a Georgian billionaire who last year promised to use his fortune to oust President Mikhail Saakashvili, died on February 14 at his home in Britain. Local police said the death came after a sudden heart attack and that they had no evidence of foul play.

One Georgian opposition politician called the death an “indirect murder,” reported the same day. The Georgian government has charged Mr. Patarkatsishvili with an attempted coup d’etat.

The businessperson, who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s, went to Georgia after facing charges of embezzlement there. About a year ago, he fell out with Mr. Saakashvili, whom he had previously supported, and has since left Georgia, reportedly fearing for his life.

Mr. Saakashvili was re-elected in a contentious election last month and continues to face opposition protests.

At a February 6 hearing of the U.S. Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza admitted that the Georgia’s most recent “election was not an example or a model to be followed elsewhere in the world,” but urged the opposition to forget about trying to overturn its results and instead focus on upcoming parliamentary elections.

In a sign of continued U.S. support for Mr. Saakashvili, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 13 passed a resolution urging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to invite Georgia, along with Ukraine, for membership talks in the organization.

Mr. Saakashvili is also expected to pay an official visit to Washington next month.

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