BY SEVAN KOLEJIAN
When it comes to the U.S. Congress, the Armenian American community—a constituency as politically diverse as any in America—has been, by and large a steady backer of Democrats, since the days of FDR and the New Deal.
That’s not to say that the Armenian community doesn’t have its full share of Republicans. It does, and they are active, and effective, and eloquent, just like their Democratic brothers and sisters.
On one election day after another, however, Armenian American voters have cast their ballots, time and again, for a Pallone or a Pelosi, a Sherman or a Schiff, a Bonior or a Kennedy, a Coelho or an O’Neill. The list goes on. And for good cause. These powerful leaders and Democrats generally, by any measure, have been the overwhelming majority of active champions and reliable foot-soldiers on Armenian issues, from Armenian Genocide recognition and support for Artsakh to aid to Armenia and the full range of other community priorities. Republicans have been very helpful, often decisively so, but any honest observer would agree that the Armenian Lobby on Capitol Hill is primarily driven by the Democrats, a fact that has been widely recognized and steadily rewarded at the ballot box.
Here, it gets more interesting.
Against this backdrop of Armenian community appreciation for Democratic Congressional leadership, we’ve seen a steady demographic shift, as many Armenian American—like so many other ethnic groups—migrate, from generation to generation, rightward politically on economic and social issues. This pro-Republican shift is clearly evident—as any dinner-table conversation in an Armenian home will prove—but has yet—until very recently—begun to translate into changing voting patterns on Congressional races. The reason is simple, an Armenian American voter, who might otherwise vote his pocket book or social issues for a Republican, ends up voting his identity—keeping faith with his community and cause—by pulling the lever for a Democrat.
All that’s about to change.
The Democrats are about to lose another traditionally solid constituency.
Well, the first prize for this rightward shift goes to President Obama, who ran a campaign of high promises and higher expectations on Armenian issues, only to break every one of his pledges—most notably his commitment to recognize the Armenian Genocide. In so openly and offensively breaking faith with an entire community, on the most sensitive of issues, he destroyed the credibility of all who went to bat for him during his campaign, denying his reelection effort and, more importantly, other Democrats moral standing or credible community allies. He personally—and remarkably quickly—squandered generations of good will fostered by the hard work of Democrats dating back decades.
The damage done by President Obama’s betrayal is compounded by the unwillingness of Congressional Democratic leaders to act on their own long history of promises to the Armenian American community. Today, with a bipartisan majority supporting the Armenian Genocide Resolution and Turkey on the defensive like never before, the House leadership—with a large majority of their own—has failed to act on its golden opportunity to pass this human rights legislation. They’ve got an endless series of excuses, but the fact remains that getting this measure adopted on the floor—a promise that has proven to be a solid vote-getter since the 1970s—is well within their power.
It’s not about what the Democrats have the power to do, it is really about what they want to do. And it does not seem that they want to pass the Armenian Genocide resolution.
That makes them, well, just like the Republicans.
And, if there’s no difference on Armenian issues, the question for Armenian American voters becomes: “What’s holding me back from going Republican?”
As a Democrat myself, I find this sad but painfully true.
The Democrats in the White House and Congress have made their decision. And now Armenian American voters will make theirs.
We’ll see the results on Election Day.
Sevan Kolejian is a Democrat from Gaithersburg, Md.