RICHMOND–Va.–In the final days of its 2000 legislative session–the Virginia General Assembly adopted a resolution that marks April 24 as "Virginia Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide" and condemns the campaign to deny this crime against humanity–reported the Armenian National Committee of Virginia. The General Assembly’s decision to pass HJ298 ultimately defeated the well-financed–orchestrated efforts of the Turkish government and its tobacco and defense industry allies–who hoped to block commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
The ANC-VA worked closely with Delegates Eric Cantor (R-Richmond)–Jay Katzen (R)–and Johnny Joannou in initiating HJ 298 in preparation for the 85th Anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Virginia. The resolution properly characterizes as "genocide" the campaign by Turkey to annihilate the Armenia’s and draws attention to ongoing revisionist efforts to deny and distort the historical facts of the Genocide.
"The tragic events of the Armenian Genocide were certainly a sad moment in history–not just for the Armenian people but all of the world," said Del. Cantor. "By passing this legislation–we hope to teach the lesson of genocide to all Virginians–especially our children. My hope is that we will learn about the mistakes of the past and remain vigilant against the recurrence of a systematic annihilation of any people." Championing the resolution through the hurdles in the Senate were Richard Saslaw (D-Springfield)–Warren Barry (D-Fairfax)–and Nick Rerras (R-Norfolk).
"We commend the General Assembly for guarding itself against foreign interference and passing legislation that honors the victims of the Armenian Genocide and its survivors–many of whom found safe haven in the Commonwealth for themselves and generations that followed," stated ANC-VA spokesperson Lucy Keshishian. "By adopting this legislation–the General Assembly joins a long list of Virginia governors and state officials who–over the course of the past 25 years–have commemorated the Genocide and have recommitted Virginians to combating intolerance of all forms."
After passing unanimously in the Virginia House of Delegates on February 10–HJ298 ignited an intense lobbying campaign by Turkey to defeat the measure in the Virginia Senate. As a result–the Senate Rules Committee held an unprecedented two hearings on the matter before a packed hearing room. Under intense pressure from Turkey’s attacks–the panel produced a watered-down version of the resolution on March 6–which excluded the word "genocide." A small group of Senators–led by Emily Couric (D-Charlottesville)–opposed even this weakened version on the Senate floor and called for the defeat of any legislation dealing with what she claimed to be false allegations against Turkey. However–the full Senate–following the lead of Senators Saslaw–Barry–and Rerras–rejected the amended version of the legislation approved by the Rules Committee–and in the end–passed the stronger House of Delegates’ version in its original form.
In the weeks leading up to the resolution’s passage–the Turkish government employed its powerful lobbying team to silence Virginia’s commemoration efforts. This sophisticated campaign included direct pressure from the Turkish Embassy in Washington–DC; large volumes of e-mails to Senators from individuals in Turkey; heavy-handed pressure from tobacco and defense industry lobbyists; and paid spokesmen from a variety of Turkish groups that included a discredited lawyer who had previously made a name for himself as an advocate for the Sudanese dictatorship as well as a self-proclaimed Armenian–Edward Tashji–Public Affairs Director for the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA)–who alleged that the Armenian Genocide was a myth.
In a March 7 article in the Fairfax Journal–Daniel Seligson reported the following: "[Sen.] Barry said that . . . a number of senators were pressured by the Turkish Embassy in Washington not to adopt a strongly worded resolution. . . . [T]he Turkish government threatened a boycott against Virginia-grown tobacco products ‘including internationally popular Marlboro cigarettes’ if the resolution were adopted."
Philip Morris–maker of Marlboro cigarettes–operates a cigarette processing plant in Richmond–which is one of the world’s largest. In addition–Turkey’s newly hired $1.8 million lobbying team–comprised of former Congressmen Bob Livingston–Gerald Solomon–and Stephen Solarz–also actively lobbied against the measure and even sent a representative to deliver testimony against the resolution.
Outraged by the Turkish government’s heavy-handed campaign to erase history–Virginians of Armenian and Greek descent from throughout the state joined together to educate legislators about the genocide and the role of commemoration in preventing future atrocities. Also–Genocide scholars including Virginia Commonwealth University professor Dr. Herbert Hirsch and Dr. Roger Smith of the College of William and Mary appeared before the Senate Rules Committee hearings. The ANC-VA efforts were supported by Mike Erkiletian and Moorad Mooradian of the Armenian National Institute (ANI); the Zoryan Institute; the Armenian Martyrs Day Committee of Virginia; the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA); Steve Calos–President of the Richmond Chapter of American Hellenic Institute (AHI); the Virginia Council of Churches; and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
As per the language of the resolution–copies of this legislation will now be provided to Governor James Gilmore–to Virginia’s Congressional delegation–and to the ANC-VA.