“Today is a celebration of independence, but we cannot forget history. And only by closing this dark chapter in human history [the Armenian Genocide] can we rightfully honor its victims. Let me be perfectly clear. . . there is no other word for it, there is no euphemism, there is no avoiding it, there are no excuses.” — Senator Robert Menendez
LOS ANGELES—Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, celebrated Armenia’s Independence Day and reaffirmed his commitment to the national and democratic aspirations of the Armenian people at events with Armenian American community leaders in Southern California on September 21, 2013. Chairman Menendez was joined at Independence Day celebrations by local, regional and national representatives of the Armenian National Committee of America, which has supported the Senator’s principled leadership for more than two decades.
“Chairman Menendez is a true champion of human rights, democracy and justice, who, in the best American tradition, works tirelessly to ensure that our government’s policies live up to our ideals as a people,” remarked ANCA National Board member Raffi Hamparian. “As a proud fellow son of New Jersey, who also had the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill during Senator Menendez’s tenure in the U.S. House, I know first-hand how very much he has done – sometimes in the public arena, other times quietly and out of the spotlight – to advance the national and democratic aspirations of the Armenian people,” Hamparian added.
In moving remarks, warmly welcomed by the capacity crowd at the Glendale Youth Center and also by ANCA supporters gathered at the home of Vahe and Aida Yeghiazarian, Senator Menendez recalled the heroic efforts that launched and sustained the first Republic of Armenia and joined with Armenians worldwide in marking the 22nd anniversary of Armenia’s reborn independence. He reaffirmed his commitment to Armenia’s independence, stressing his support for her security, democratic development, and sustainable, broad-based economic growth.
In keeping with his principled record, dating back to his service in the U.S. House of Representatives, the New Jersey legislator spoke in favor of a peaceful and democratic resolution of Nagorno Karabakh and against Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. He shared his high regard for the Armenian American community’s longstanding tradition of democratic engagement and the ANCA’s leadership in that regard. Senator Menendez singled out for special praise the Armenian Youth Federation and its pioneering Youth Corps program to host summer camps in Armenia, educate young people, perform community service, and strengthen diaspora and homeland connections. Chairman Menendez warmly welcomed the presence of Ani Tchaghlasian, James Sahagian, and other New Jersey Armenian community leaders on hand for his events in Los Angeles.
Senator Menendez has been a longstanding supporter of Armenian American issues and an outspoken advocate for U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide since his years in the House of Representatives. Notably, he placed a “hold” on the nomination of Dick Hoagland, President George W. Bush’s nominee as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, after Hoagland denied the Armenian Genocide during his Senate confirmation process. He also successfully blocked the nomination of U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza due to his shortcomings as a senior diplomat dealing with the Caucasus.
As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Menendez leads the consideration of foreign policy legislation and is responsible for holding confirmation hearings for ambassadorial and other high-level diplomatic positions in the Department of State. The Committee has debated landmark treaties and legislation, ranging from the Alaska purchase in 1867 to the establishment of United Nations in 1945.
During his remarks at a community gathering and a leadership reception, Senator Menendez addressed a broad range of issues of concern to Armenian Americans, including, notably, his high regard for the Armenian American community. At the Glendale Youth Center event, he said: “We are Americans first, and Armenians have proven time and time again their great love of America, their strong, deep faith and abiding sense of what our country is all about. But that does not mean that an Armenian, or for that fact, any other citizen of the United States with deep roots or heritage, should forget their heritage or should not be able to raise their voice, as citizens of the United States, about what they believe should be the policy of the U.S. So I want to thank the ANCA for their tremendous advocacy – all of the time – on these critical issues in Washington DC.”
In celebrating the 22nd anniversary of Armenia’s renewed independence, he recalled the heroism of the first Armenian Republic: “We remember those four days in 1918 when volunteers and refugees united to defend their nation from the Turkish army that was cleansing the Armenians. . . Outgunned and outnumbered but extraordinarily courageous and united, as they are today, to establish a democratic Republic of Armenia in which the vision of a homeland would be their hope for over a century of exile and Soviet domination.”
Noting the history of the 1918 Republic’s founding during the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, Senator Menendez stated that: “Even in the midst of this celebration when we remember that foundation of independence and then the ultimate creation of the modern Armenian state in 1991, we also remember one of the darkest events in human history: the Genocide of 1915, and we are still talking about it today. We will not, and I believe we cannot, ever forget. We remember the victims by not only those who lost their lives, but in recognition of how they died, and how history remembers their deaths.” He added: “To me, quite simply, genocide is genocide. I have for 21 years in my time in the House and the House International Relations Committee, and in the Senate, since I came eight years ago, and now as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I continue to support a resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide and to use the lessons of what clearly was an atrocity of historic proportions, to prevent future crimes against humanity. If we do not remember the past, we are destined to repeat it.”
“The time has come, and it is actually passed time, for the United States to join the European Union and 19 other nations that have formally recognized the actions carried out by the former Ottoman Empire, from 1915-1923 as, in fact, genocide. . . Only by closing this dark chapter in human history can we rightly honor its victims.” “We, the people, remember the Armenians. The world, remembers. Ninety-eight years later, the children, the grand-children, and the great-grand-children of the survivors. . . we, remember,” he declared, noting that modern-day Turkey should “give back the churches that were taken, and have in many cases been destroyed, to the Patriarchate.”
Speaking to the challenges facing Armenia today, he said: “We look forward to a day when we can be assured that the Armenian homeland will survive and it will thrive… as an independent state. . . that can fulfill the hopes and dreams and aspirations of its citizens,” adding: “We need greater engagement and more opportunities for the Armenian people.” He stressed that: “We value our relationship with Armenia, one that is based on a deep and abiding respect and common interest. Together, we have worked to reduce poverty, expand trade and investment, promote good governance and the ongoing work of non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, and broaden access to healthcare.”