BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Despite record Democratic losses in the elections, Armenian-Americans succeeded in helping elect their congressional friends on both side of the aisle. Moreover, the newly-elected conservative Congress is expected to be less tolerant of Turkey’s flirtations with Iran and quarrels with Israel.
Indeed, Armenian-American voters made a big difference in several key races. More than 95% of the 152 House members from both parties endorsed by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) were re-elected, including the two Armenian-American members of Congress, Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA). Meanwhile, several major opponents of the Armenian Genocide resolution were defeated, including Cong. Michael McMahon (Dem.-NY), a staunch supporter of Turkey. He lost to Michael Grimm, a Republican, after a concerted effort by the Armenian and Greek communities in New York.
Five of the six Senatorial candidates endorsed by the ANCA were victorious — Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Cong. Mark Kirk (R-IL), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues who successfully ran for the Senate. Other important victories were scored by Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) and Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA), both strongly supported by the Armenian-American community.
Although many incumbents lost their seats, 95% of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues and over 90% of cosponsors of the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide were re-elected.
Overall, Armenian-Americans fared well in these elections, mostly because they voted on the basis of the individual record of each member of Congress rather than his or her party affiliation. Otherwise, more of their supporters would have lost and more of their opponents would have won.
How will these elections impact Armenian issues? We must remember that the term of the current members of Congress runs until January 2011, at which time those elected on Nov. 2 will take their seats. Whatever unfinished business Congress had before the election remains on its agenda until January when all pending nominations, resolutions and bills have to be reintroduced.
The first order of business for both Houses of the current Congress is passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution. In the Senate, this bill has yet to be taken up by the Foreign Relations Committee, while awaiting consideration by the full House, ever since its adoption last March by the Committee on Foreign Affairs. As the Democrats lost their majority in the House, this is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Dem.-CA) last chance to redeem herself by keeping her own promise on passing this resolution before she steps down as Speaker in January. If no action is taken by then, the Genocide resolution would have to be resubmitted to the House. Even though the next Speaker, Cong. John Boehner (Rep.-Ohio), has opposed the resolution in the past, he may well change his views given the Republicans’ utter displeasure with Turkey’s anti-western policies.
Also of interest to the Armenian-American community are the nominations of Matthew Bryza as US Ambassador to Azerbaijan — vacant since September 2009, and Francis Ricciardone as US Ambassador to Turkey — vacant since July 2010.
Bryza’s nomination has been blocked by a double “hold” from Senators Barbara Boxer (Dem.- CA) and Robert Menendez (Dem.-N.J.). It is highly unlikely that they would lift their hold during “the lame duck” session. The wisest choice for Pres. Obama at this time would be to submit a new nominee to the Senate, thus speeding up the appointment of an Ambassador to Azerbaijan. However, if Pres. Obama insists on resubmitting Bryza’s name in January, he could be delaying the posting of a US Ambassador in Azerbaijan for many months.
Ricciardone, on the other hand, has a better chance of becoming Ambassador to Turkey, as Sen. Sam Brownback (Rep.-Kansas), who had placed a hold on his nomination, has just been elected Governor of Kansas. If Sen. Brownback relinquishes his Senate seat before January, and no other Senator places a hold on Ricciardone, he could be confirmed before the new year. Otherwise, Pres. Obama could either re-submit his name or nominate a new candidate in January, when the newly elected Congress convenes for its first session. However, if another Senator places a hold on Ricciardone, Turkey would then be deprived of a US Ambassador for several more months.
Regardless of Ricciardone’s fate, it is anticipated that Turkey would have a rough sailing in the new Congress, because most of the recently-elected Republicans are not too pleased with Ankara’s Islamist regime and its pro-Iranian and anti-Israeli policies.