BY ARDASHES ARDY KASSAKHIAN
Deja Vu is that eerie feeling a person gets when they think that they have lived through the present situation before. As Congress prepares to vote on House Resolution 296, a bill that would essentially reaffirm the U.S.’s position on the Armenian Genocide, I couldn’t help but feel like we have been down this road before. Some of you may feel the same way because if your memory stretches as far back as mine then you’ve probably are noticed some similarities from 20 years ago.
The year was 2000 and we had all survived the Y2K Armageddon. Kids, if you’re reading this article with your parents, ask them how we all thought the world would end in 2000 because our computers couldn’t’ reset their clocks.
America was facing a key Presidential election on the heels of a White House scandal and…wait for it…an impeachment. The Congressman representing Glendale was heavily involved in this impeachment of the President. And if that doesn’t make your hair stand on end, Armenian-Americans throughout California and around the U.S. were waiting with baited breath for Congress to do the right thing and adopt a resolution (H.R. 596) that would reaffirm the U.S. position on the Armenian Genocide.
If this doesn’t ring any bells, then you either weren’t born yet or have selective memory. The entire nation remembers what happened when President Bill Clinton had an affair with his intern Monica Lewinski. Kids, this was a time before the #MeToo movement so pardon your parents for not being more incensed with a man in a position of power coercing a much younger subordinate into a sexual relationship.
As ugly as the incident was, people weren’t upset about the relationship. It was Clinton’s cover up of the scandal that set the Republicans off and triggered an impeachment hearing with Glendale’s own Congressman, James E. Rogan as one of the House prosecuting managers.
After the unsuccessful impeachment of Bill Clinton, many saw the writing on the wall in California. Many districts were trending Democrat for some time including the seat held by Republican Rogan. That’s when a young State Senator named Adam Schiff stepped up to the plate to challenge Rogan in what would become the most expensive Congressional campaign in the history of the country.
As Rogan was fighting for his political life, the Armenian vote in the Glendale area had finally come into its own. With Rafi Manoukian’s historic election to City Council the year prior and Paul Krekorian’s initial run at the State Assembly, folks were starting to pay attention to the Armenian vote. This set the stage for then-House Speaker and Dennis Hastert to show up at a town hall held at an Armenian banquet hall in Glendale with community leaders to promise us a vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution on the House floor.
The stage was set then just as it is now. The Speaker was ready to send the bill down to the House floor for a vote and Rogan was eager to follow it up with a victory in November. But Speaker Hastert flip-flopped and pulled the bill at the last minute. He had allegedly succumbed to heavy pressure from both the State Department and the Clinton White House. But it wasn’t just political pressure that made Hastert cave.
Since that vote, Americans learned that Hastert was being blackmailed by Turkish intelligence sources who were helping him cover up his child molestation crimes. Sounds wild? It’s not. FBI translator and whistleblower Sibil Edmonds spoke out and revealed that at least one conversation that she translated back then had an official at the Turkish Consulate stating that the price for Dennis Hastert to pull the Genocide bill from a vote was going to cost the agents $500,000.
Hastert eventually retired from Congress and went on to become a lobbyist for Turkey after his career in the House earning $35,000 a month. He was later arrested and sentenced to prison for child molestation. According to some sources, Turkish intelligence knew about his crimes and was blackmailing him during his term as Speaker. Rogan lost his seat. Adam Schiff became our Congressman and the rest is history – until now.
Flash forward to today, and as H.R. 296 is coming up for a vote. All indications are that it should get to the floor. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been here before during her last term as Speaker. Back then she caved under pressure from the State Department and the Bush White House in 2007. But there’s no indication that will happen again.
First of all, Turkey’s standing in the world has dropped significantly in the wake of its invasion of Syria and its support of the terrorist group ISIS. Turkish President Erdogan has also been greatly criticized for being an autocrat in Turkey and he certainly hasn’t helped his case by trying to strike up a friendship with President Donald Trump.
A lot has changed in America in the last two decades but there are a few truisms in Washington, DC that seem to be constant – Never stand on the left side of any escalator on the Metro unless you are walking and never, ever praise Trump. Like two star-crossed autocrats Erdogan praised Trump a few years ago for how Trump was dealing with the media. Trump returned the compliment by calling Erdogan “a hell of a leader” in admiration of Erdogans crackdowns on his opposition in Turkey.
Now take all this, and add to it the impeachment inquiries against Trump spearheaded by a Glendale area Congressman Adam Schiff, toss in an Armenian Genocide Resolution into the mix along with a critical Presidential election year and one can’t help but feel like Yogi Berra. I can’t be the only person shaking my head and thinking this truly feels like “de ja vu all over again.”
But here’s where the similarities end. Because Adam Schiff is not in a swing district and his support is rock solid in the 28th Congressional District. Also, Trump is no Clinton – neither in charisma nor his ability to shut down criticism. Even some of the President’s most ardent supporters are baffled by his handling of the Turkey-Syria situation.
Lastly, the Armenian community today is far more knowledgeable and sophisticated politically to allow the House leadership or anyone else to pull the wool over their eyes. The claim that now would not be the best time to pass a resolution won’t fly anymore. We all understand that this bill would only be a symbolic slap in Turkey’s face calling them out on one of the worst crimes of the 20th century. What comes next in terms of sanctions in aid or weapons sales will really matter. We have learned from the past and we won’t be fooled again.
Perhaps things will be different this time. We will know soon enough. And if the House votes, then the ball will be in the President’s court. Then Trump can perhaps do the right thing and acknowledge the crimes Turkey committed against its Christian Armenian population over a hundred years ago. Who knows? He may even Tweet about it. Then and only then can we shake off that eerie feeling that we have been here before.
Ardashes Kassakhian was the Government Relations and Executive Director of the ANCA-WR from 2002- 2005. He is currently the elected City Clerk in Glendale, Calif. and the great grandson of Genocide survivors. He can be reached at AKassakhian@gmail.com