Monday, April 13, 2009

Rep. Sherman: no progress for U.S. affirmation in near-term

This was first published March 6, 2009 at
Armenian Genocide resolution to be introduced shortly
U.S. affirmation of Genocide will take time, backers say
by Emil Sanamyan

Washington, - Speaking at an Armenian community event in Fresno, Calif., on March 1, Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) said the introduction of a resolution affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide was imminent, the Fresno Bee reported the same day.

Members of Congress warned Armenian-Americans, however, not to take the success of the resolution or presidential affirmation for granted.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) told the Armenian Reporter that he was "not particularly hopeful" that President Barack Obama's message to the Armenian-American community on April 24 this year "will contain the word genocide." Mr. Sherman was one of the lead sponsors of the Genocide resolution in the previous Congress.

Mr. Sherman added that when it comes to affirmation of the Genocide, he expected "no success in the next 60 days," pointing to Turkey's importance to the Obama administration's Middle East priorities. Mr. Sherman spoke to the Reporter after addressing an Armenian Assembly of America advocacy conference in Washington.

Another congressional supporter of affirmation, Rep. Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.), struck a similar note.

On the subject of the Obama administration's approach to the Armenian Genocide, "a lot still remains unclear," he told about 100 community activists at the conference.

Mr. McGovern made the comment after speaking with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to her departure on a tour of Europe and Turkey this week. He added that while he did not know whether the administration would "soft-pedal" on pre-election pledges, he "shared the apprehension" that it might do so.

During last year's presidential campaign, both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton pledged to affirm the Armenian Genocide as president.

"We believe that Barack Obama remains a man of his word, and that this April our president, with the energetic support of our friends in Congress, will finally override Turkey's veto on U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide," a source in Armenian advocacy circles said.

Emphasizing Turkey's importance to the United States, President Obama called Turkey's president and prime minister on February 16 to discuss U.S. priorities for the Middle East. (The State Department's senior Middle East envoy George Mitchell visited Ankara last week.)

While the White House readout of the conversation made no mention of Armenian concerns, Turkish officials claimed that Turkey's opposition to U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide was one of the main issues raised by Turkish leaders.

In a February 27 briefing, prior to Mrs. Clinton's visit to Ankara this week, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasia Dan Fried emphasized the "very rich agenda" shared by the United States and Turkey. Mr. Fried said that in addition to Middle East priorities, Mrs. Clinton's talks would include a discussion of the efforts to "advance peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia's settlement over Nagorno-Karabakh."

In a comment about the latter subject, Mr. Sherman described Karabakh as an "Armenian territory," where any settlement should "make sure that people of Artsakh are self-governing and safe." While Mr. Sherman reiterated his support for U.S. recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, he also acknowledged there was significant opposition to such a move.

Both Mr. Sherman and Mr. McGovern spoke at the Armenian Assembly's 2009 National Advocacy Conference that focused on efforts to win U.S. government affirmation of the Armenian Genocide as well as recent academic research on the subject of the genocide.

Mr. Sherman is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has been a longtime and prominent supporter of Armenian-American concerns. Mr. McGovern is a member of the House Rules Committee and also a strong advocate of Armenian Genocide affirmation.

Other scheduled conference speakers included Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.), Reps. Thaddeus McCotter (R.-Mich.), Gus Bilirakis (R.-Fla.), Reps. Zack Space (D.-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.); Major General Tod Bunting of the Kansas National Guard; Armenian Genocide scholar Hilmar Kaiser; as well as Armenia's Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan and Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Hayk Demoyan.

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