Emil Sanamyan's articles on Armenian-Americans, Armenia and its neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interview with congressional candidate David Krikorian

In congressional run, David Krikorian is banking on the people
Says he’s “underwhelmed” with Armenian-American support so far
by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Tuesday September 15, 2009

David Krikorian holding the video record of Sibel Edmonds' deposition. The Armenian Reporter photo

WASHINGTON - David Krikorian, who ran a strong third-party/independent campaign in Ohio's 2nd congressional district in 2008, is now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for the 2010 elections. Building on about 60,000 votes he received in 2008, Mr. Krikorian would need to more than double that support base to win in 2010.

Mr. Krikorian is also involved in a legal battle with the incumbent Republican representative Jean Schmidt. Ms. Schmidt filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, claiming that Mr. Krikorian knowingly made false statements when he said during the 2008 campaign that Ms. Schmidt took money from the Turkish government. Ms. Schmidt opposes the Armenian-American agenda and has received strong support from Turkish-American groups. After its initial hearing on September 3, the Elections Commission is set to resume proceedings on October 1.

Mr. Krikorian spoke with our Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan by phone on August 27 about the complaint and the campaign.

The Genocide complaint

Armenian Reporter: From the political perspective, what is the purpose of Rep. Schmidt's complaint against you? It almost seems counterintuitive that an incumbent would do something that brings all this added attention to her challenger.

David Krikorian: I think she vastly underestimated me and if she had to do this all over again, she never would have done it.

And you have to remember who is really pulling the strings. Do you think Jean Schmidt just thought of this one day? Or do you think it was the Turkish lobby that came to her and said, Hey, let's do this!?

When you look at the pattern of what [attorney] Bruce Fein, the Turkish Coalition, and Turkish American Legal Defense Fund are doing across the country [launching legal challenges intended to undermine Armenian Genocide affirmation], it fits that pattern.

To think that [Rep. Schmidt] hatched this plan by herself in my opinion is not accurate. She is just not the brightest bulb on the tree.

And the Turks of course could care less about [Rep. Schmidt]; they are thinking about furthering their agenda in the United States and she is a willing tool for them to use.

AR: And the objective of these legal challenges, you believe, is to intimidate those engaged in the discussion of the Armenian Genocide on the political level?

DK: Of course, as I am sure you are well aware. Everyone used to say, Oh, the Armenian Genocide, it's not a big issue today, it happened so many years ago. . . .

But if you watched the [former FBI Turkish-language translator] Sibel Edmonds' deposition, you could see how far the Turkish lobby was willing to go to prevent a simple resolution concerning what happened under Ottoman rule so long ago.

If it was not directly related to my ancestry, I would probably just think of it as silly. It makes absolutely no sense, this Turkish government opposition. Every time [the resolution is discussed] it gets more and more attention. It is self-defeating and the Turkish government needs to move on.

Turkey may fear demands for reparations, but I have to also say that they should be made to pay for what they did and they should not be allowed to get away with interfering in congressional deliberations, buying off or blackmailing members of Congress.

AR: On the substance of the complaint, what do you expect the commission to do?

DK: My own personal feeling is that none of [the five complaints] against me will be upheld, for a variety of different reasons, including the fact that it is my First Amendment right to say whatever the heck I want to.

What, I can't call [the funds Rep. Schmidt received from Turkish interests], some $29,500, "blood money"? Of course it is "blood money"!

You have got a representative who is taking money from a foreign lobby. Schmidt said in her deposition that she had no idea why she was the largest recipient of money from the Turkish lobby. Just think how stupid that sounds.

She claims she doesn't know if she ever received gifts from the Turkish government and never took a position on the Armenian Genocide resolution. When asked, she couldn't even define what is genocide.

At the end of the day, what the commission needs to determine is if I willfully made false statements. And I strongly feel that I did no such thing. I strongly believe that the Turkish government is behind those contributions and it is my right to feel that way and it is my right to say so.

It is also my right to say that Turkey is responsible for U.S. troops' deaths in Iraq, considering Turkey's opposition to the northern front against Saddam Hussein [and Turkey's subsequent interference in Iraq.]

But what this complaint has exposed is that Schmidt is bought and paid for by the Turkish lobby and people don't like it when their representatives sell out like that.

My goal at the end of this is to make elected officials think twice before taking [Turkish lobby] money. And winning both the case and the election is the best way to do this.

Primary fight

AR: How is the complaint affecting your position vis-à-vis the local Democratic Party? Obviously, winning the primary and the nomination is your most immediate challenge.

DK: I will have a primary challenger [term-limited Ohio State Representative Todd Book] who is a [Democratic] Party insider. I am of course a [Democratic] Party outsider. There are some benefits that he has as a result, and some benefits that I have.

What is to be kept in mind is that ours is a conservative district and a Democrat hasn't won here since 1980. And I don't believe that my primary opponent has any chance whatsoever to win in the general election, and a lot of people feel that way. I have been told that [this election] is just a name-recognition exercise for him and he just wants to run for another office later.

Frankly, some of the Democratic leaders here don't like it that the Armenian Genocide has been made an issue. They don't think it's important. Well, if their grandparents were survivors, you damn well bet they would think it's important.

I am banking on the people, not the party. And for someone to go out and get 18 percent of the vote [in 2008] without any party backing, that is remarkable and the best result for any such candidate in the United States [in 2008 elections]. That means I have the rapport with the people.

Having said that, we do have some support from among Democratic Party insiders.

But at the end of the day, we need to start electing leaders in this country, not just party-trained politicians. As far as I am concerned, my opponent, having been a member of Ohio legislature leadership, shares responsibility for our state's economic problems. How does that qualify him for a promotion?

I am a business owner and entrepreneur and I know how to solve problems. And I will not simply do what the party tells me to do, I will not be anybody's lapdog, and this guy is basically a poodle.

I am coming across as a fighter and I am not going to take any shit from anyone. And I think people in my district want to see someone who is smart and tough that will put their interests ahead of the party's.

In 2008, 55 percent of this district voted against Jean Schmidt, and that means that our district does not want her. She just has to meet the right challenger.

Where is the Armenian support?

AR: Have you received substantial support from Armenian-Americans?

DK: One of the things that decides who wins is how much money you raise. And one of the things that Schmidt has done by getting me involved in this complaint is taking a tremendous amount of my time and focus away from fundraising.

It also caused me to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend myself in the Armenian Genocide case. And frankly speaking, the Armenian-American community is my best asset and they can't be shy about donating to my campaign.

And frankly, they need to start to donate to my campaign, because I have been very underwhelmed with the support that I have received from Armenians around the country. It has been rather ridiculous, with all this money pouring in from the Turks, and Armenians not doing a damn thing.

Where is the support? Where are the checks? It is really disappointing for someone who comes from the community, who is involved in this fight with national and international repercussions, yet every day I go to my mailbox and there are no checks, no online contributions from Armenians.

Frankly, if we lose, the Armenian-American community is partially to blame. What is it going to take these guys to write checks? I have been to the Armenian Assembly of America function - lot of people with a lot of money. Where are they? You can go down the list of top ten people in the Assembly - they haven't given me a thin red dime.

And that needs to be written about.

I know that people are asked for support for a variety of important things. But we keep fighting the same stupid congressional battles, year after year, on aid to Armenia, on ambassadorial appointments, on the Armenian Genocide.

But you know what? We'll continue to fight those battles until we get some of our own Armenian-Americans into the U.S. Congress.

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