MARYLAND–As a Maryland Delegate–Cheryl C. Kagan is quite comfortable debating the pros and cons of car booster seats for preschoolers. She is conversant in drunken-driving laws and fluent in the language of Potomac River sediment. But lately–Kagan has been the target of a passionate lobbying campaign on a topic so arcane she is utterly and unapologetically lost: a resolution to commemorate the genocide of 1.5 million Armenia’s between 1915 and 1923–events the Turks describe as an unfortunate consequence of war.
"Who’s right? The Turks or the Armenia’s? I don’t know–and it’s not my job to know," said Kagan–a Montgomery County Democrat who believes that state lawmakers have no place in foreign affairs. "Things like that are for Congress or the State Department to decide–not the General Assembly of Maryland."
Kagan’s opinion is a common one–and its adherents are increasing daily. Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote a letter opposing the Maryland resolution–citing "the risk that legislation like this may undermine progress toward improved Turkish-Armenian relations."
The Turks–meanwhile–dispatched their ambassador and a group of envoys to Annapolis as part of a crusade to persuade lawmakers to vote no on the resolution. Add a profusion of dueling Web sites and a barrage of hundreds of e-mails–unhelpfully in Turkish–some lawmakers are starting to worry that the resolution could spark an international incident.
On the other side is the equally determined Armenian lobby–which has won legislative resolutions recognizing the Armenian killings as genocide from 15 states–including Virginia. As part of a well-organized drive to pass the Maryland resolution–they bused dozens of Armenian Americans to Annapolis. One lawmaker was startled to find eight constituents waiting in his office to talk about Armenia’s tragic past–including a fellow umpire from the Montgomery County Boys Baseball Association.
Last week–as the measure came before the Senate for preliminary review–Sen. Clarence W. Blount (D-Baltimore) assured members that the bill "is not a bogeyman…It doesn’t tell our Army to move against anybody."
Sen. Perry Sfikas (D-Baltimore)–the resolution’s chief sponsor–explained: "In this legislative body–most people don’t know where Asia Minor is–much less Armenia. Now they’re all coming to me and asking–’Perry–what happened?’" Sfikas–a state senator of Greek descent who grew up hearing stories about the Armenian massacre and is determined to have April 24 designated in Maryland as a statewide day of remembrance.
The resolution won preliminary approval in the Senate–by 34 votes against 10. Turkish and Armenian community representatives have been following up with the bill which still needs the approval of the House of Representatives of Maryland.
The bill that was passed in the Maryland Senate claims that between 1915-1923–the Ottoman Empire carried out a genocide of the Armenian people. The bill also deman’s that April 24 be designated a remembrance day for the genocide.
Concerned that a wrong move could ripple thousands of miles east and perhaps foster religious revolt against Turkey’s secular government–Senate sponsors agreed to delete all mention of modern Turkey from the resolution–blaming only the Ottomans for the Genocide. They also decided not to impose Armenian curriculum requiremen’s on Maryland schoolchildren.
The measure also has broad support in the House–where some lawmakers found a taped presentation on the Armenian matter by ABC news anchor Peter Jennings very persuasive. During his visit to Annapolis–Ilkin said he had not seen the piece–which some lawmakers found doubtful. "You can’t tell me if a major network did something about your country–you wouldn’t look at it," said Del. Henry B. Heller (D-Montgomery). "That’s just not believable."
Kagan has compared the Armenian resolution to another unusual bill this session–a measure to designate the calico as the official state cat. "We have so many important issues that we are elected here to help address. Education–transportation–and health care," she said. "When we spend our time on the calico cat or an alleged massacre…we’re wasting time on frivolous matters that will not affect the daily lives of most of our constituents."
The Armenian National Committee of America is encouraging Armenian-Americans to express their outrage due to Delegate Kagan’s hateful remarks and demand an immediate public apology.
Phone: (410) 841-3046 (in Maryland)
(800) 492-7122 ext. 3046 (toll free)
Fax: (410) 841-3850
Mail: The Hon. Cheryl Kagan
Lowe House Office Building–Room 224
84 College Avenue
For more information–sample phone script or a sample letter–log on to www.anca.org.