By Ara Jabagchourian
The executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, Ross Vartian, and the regional director of the Los Angles chapter of the Armenian Assembly, Peter Abajian, converged to Fresno on April 28-29 to bring attention to our community the activities of this productive organization.
The Armenian Assembly is a 25 year old pro-Armenian lobby group located in Washington D.C. who besides wheeling some powerful political influence on Capitol Hill, also coordinates several other projects ranging from ANI (the complete documentation of the Armenian Genocide) to the Armenian Assembly Summer Internship program. The Armenian Assembly is also very active in assisting non-governmental organizations in Armenian get started and placing them in contact with their western counterpart for some funding.
Mr. Vartian was kind enough to give a talk in one of the Armenian Studies courses taught by Professor Barlow Der Mugrdrechian. His talk provided the students not only of what the program does in general, but also the real grappling that is done in the trenches in Washington and the relationship the Assembly has with the governments of Armenia and Karabagh. Vartian made the point explicitly clear, when engaging with the policy decisions of Armenian and Karabagh the Armenian Assembly, “Will not interfere with the internal affairs of either societyÉwhich establishes a comfort level,” in the relation with both governments. Another reason that Vartian stressed this organizational policy was that the citizens of both regions have to live with the consequences of their decisions, but we as American citizens do not. Thus, we as American citizens should not interfere with their internal affairs, but support their decisions.
In the past year, the Armenian Assembly has won several victories, as Mr. Vartian explained to a well-attuned audience at a talk held in the Alice Peters Auditorium Monday evening. In the Foreign Aid Bill, congress mandated $85 million dollars (this year they are pushing for $150 million) that has to be spent in Armenia. This makes Armenia, on a per capita basis (FY 96), the second highest recipient of American foreign aid in the world. Also in the Foreign Aid Bill, the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act states that if a nation is a recipient of foreign aid from the United States and blockades a nation which prevents U.S. assistance to reach another nation, then they lose U.S. assistance. This obviously was targeted toward Turkey’s atrocious blockade of Armenia. It is up to the Clinton administration to enforce this newly established law. A third component to the Foreign Aid Bill is that economic assistance was cut back from Turkey because of their aggression against the Kurds, its actions to Cypress, and the blockade of Armenia. There was also a provision to strip direct U.S. assistance away from Azerbaijan because of their blockade on Armenia. The Assembly achieves all of these victories, “not as beggarsÉbut in the point-of-view of U.S. national interest.” They convince congress that Armenia’s future is in U.S. policy interest.
It would be easy to write forever about the past achievements of the Armenian Assembly, but it is time to look forward. All of the work done by this institution, like anything, needs funding to operate. I had the chance to experience first hand the operations of the Assembly this past summer. The staff at the Assembly knows no time clocks. They work very diligently and have never heard of the word “quit”. All in all, the Assembly will provide the most bang for your buck when it comes to Armenian issues in Washington. For information, write to or call:
Armenian Assembly of America
122 C St., N.W., Suite 350
Washington D.C. 20001