WASHINGTON–Vice-President Al Gore’s official announcement Tuesday naming Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his vice-presidential running-mate–only a week after Texas Governor George W. Bush’s pick of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as the Republican vice-presidential candidate–provides Armenian American voters with important insights into the types of priorities and foreign policy approaches of the two candidates should they win the presidency this November.
Both Cheney and Lieberman have records on a number of Armenian American issues–ranging from the Armenian Genocide to Nagorno Karabakh to the Section 907 restrictions on US aid to Azerbaijan. Both have cast votes on these issues and spoken out – often forcefully – on US policy toward Armenia–the Caucasus–and the Caspian region.
"The vice-presidential selections by both George W. Bush and Al Gore raise a number of questions about how they intend to direct our nation’s foreign policy on issues of immediate and vital importance to Armenian Americans," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "To make an informed choice on election day–Armenian American voters will need answers to these questions–answers that the candidates can provide by completing the ANCA Presidential Questionnaire–located at www.anca.org."
The Democratic Candidate: Joseph Lieberman
Two-term Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has–over the past decade–cast three critical votes on the Senate floor against the Armenian American community–even as he has frequently spoken out in support of issues of concern to Armenian American voters. The first vote–less than two years after being elected in 1988–was against Senator Bob Dole’s Armenian Genocide resolution (S.J.212). In February of that year–he voted to kill this measure despite the Connecticut Armenian community’s extensive efforts to educate him on the Armenian Genocide and Lieberman’s own insistence that American foreign policy be founded on moral principles.
Subsequently–however–in 1992–1994–1995–and 1996–he joined his colleagues on the Senate floor in honoring the victims of the Armenian Genocide–describing the event as one the 20th century’s "greatest tragedies: the death of over 1.5 million Armenia’s and their exile from their homeland." In his 1996 commen’s–he spoke against efforts to deny the Genocide and explained the importance of yearly Congressional observances:
"We mark this date in history because it is so important that we remember. We must remember the Armenian Genocide and other abuses of state authority against ethnic minorities. We must remember all of the victims of crimes against humanity. Our memory–our vigilance–is essential to ensuring that these acts do not happen again–to Armenia’s or any other group."
Lieberman was an early and vocal supporter of the Section 907 restrictions on US aid to Azerbaijan. In speeches in the 1990s–the Senator was vocal in his support for the newly independent Republic of Armenia–and his opposition to Azeri attacks against Nagorno Karabakh. He initiated and co-signed several letters to President George Bush–Secretary of State James Baker and later Secretary of State Warren Christopher condemning Azeri aggression–supporting restrictions on US relations with Azerbaijan–and expressing concern about the Turkish blockade of Armenia.
In a statement on the Senate floor on July 24–1990–Sen. Lieberman advocated the reunification of Nagorno Karabakh with Armenia–stating–"What can America do to help Armenia? First–we should impress upon Soviet officials that it is vital that the blockade of Nagorno Karabakh be lifted indefinitely. We should urge that Nagorno-Karabakh should be eventually returned to the Armenian Republic. Until their eventual reunification–we should insist that the physical barriers be removed to enable Armenia and Karabakh to cooperate economically and culturally."
In a sharp break from the positive rhetorical record he established following his 1990 vote against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide–Lieberman cast his second critical vote against the Armenian American community in 1995 when he voted against an amendment introduced by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) to reduce US assistance to Turkey by over 50%– because of that country’s continued blockade of Armenia and ongoing human rights abuses.
The third vote–in June of 1999–was against an amendment by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.)–to maintain restrictions on US assistance to Azerbaijan as mandated in Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. In casting this vote–Lieberman broke with the majority of Senate Democrats who support keeping these restrictions in place.
In October of last year–Lieberman joined thirteen of his Senate colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation introduced by Sen. Abraham condemning the violent attack in the Armenian Parliament that claimed the lives of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan–Parliament Chairman Karen Demirchian and several other members of the Armenian Government and urged that Congress "cherish the strong friendship between Armenia and the United States."
The Republican Candidate: Dick Cheney
After serving as President Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff in November 1975–Dick Cheney was elected to the House of Representatives from the state of Wyoming in 1978–and served for six terms. During that time–Cheney voted against resolutions commemorating the Armenian Genocide both in 1985 and 1987. In 1995–Cheney joined the Halliburton Company–an oil and energy services corporation–and after his appointment as Chairman of the Board in 1996–worked extensively with the government of Azerbaijan on oil exploration ventures.
Since that time–he has been a vocal advocate of efforts to repeal restrictions on US aid to Azerbaijan despite that country’s ongoing blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. In his keynote speech at a US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC) conference on February 18–1997–Cheney stated–"I must also say that I believe that our current policy prohibiting US assistance to Azerbaijan is seriously misguided. In my experience–this kind of unilateral sanction–based primarily on US domestic political considerations–is unwise. Such a policy limits US influence in any given situation–and in this case–it reduces rather than enhances the prospects for ultimately resolving a very complex and important set of regional issues."
In 1997–Cheney–who serves as a member of the USACC "Honorary Council of Advisors," was awarded their "Freedom Support" award–for his "outstanding services to this organization [USACC] as well as contribution toward promoting peace–democracy–freedom and economic development in Azerbaijan and a closer cooperation between the United States and Azerbaijan."