AP-Fotolur photo: Republican Elizabeth Dole, seen by Armenian-Americans as a vocal advocate of their cause, celebrates her victory in the U.S. Senate in her North Carolina hometown.
By Emil Danielyan
The influential Armenian-American advocacy groups have welcomed the results of Tuesday’s mid-term legislative elections in the United States, pointing to the reelection of the overwhelming majority of lawmakers furthering their agenda.
More than 90 percent of 125 members of a pro-Armenian bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives retained their seats and several major contenders won in the Senate race.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the largest Armenian grassroots structure in the U.S., said 94 percent of candidates endorsed by it were elected to Congress. "We are extremely pleased that such an overwhelming majority of our supporters won yesterday,” its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"We look forward to working with these friends and the many new members of the 108th Congress on issues ranging from affirming the Armenian Genocide to strengthening Armenia and defending Nagorno Karabakh's right to self-determination within secure borders," Hamparian added.
The ANCA’s rival Armenian Assembly of America, for its part, said the election results mean that the Armenian community in the U.S. will continue to have a “strong voice” on Capitol Hill. "We congratulate our friends in the Armenian Caucus who retained their seats in Congress and thank those who assisted us in the past, but regretfully, will not be serving in Congress next year," said the Assembly’s acting executive director, Bryan Ardouny.
The Armenian Caucus, which has been instrumental in all pro-Armenian bills passed by Congress in recent years, will now have 114 members. Among those reelected are its two co-chairs: Democrat Frank Pallone and Republican Joe Knollenberg. Ardouny said the Assembly hopes that they will attract more lawmakers into the group.
"The core members of the Caucus are particularly important post-election as it is they who will reach out to the newly-elected representatives and urge them to join the Armenian Caucus," he said.
The caucus, dominated by Democrats, was created in 1995 as a driving force behind congressional initiatives, often opposed by the White House, benefiting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The number of its members hit a record-high 125, or roughly a quarter of the entire House, on the eve of the elections.
Eighty of its 114 reelected members come from the five U.S. states with the highest concentration of ethnic Armenians: California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York. California accounts for the largest share of its membership: 32. The caucus also comprises congressmen from remote states like Oregon and Wisconsin where the Armenian population is very scarce.
Only three of the 11 congressmen are leaving the Armenian Caucus because of losing the House battles. Most of them either ran for the Senate or a governorship, or retired from politics. One pro-Armenian representative, Rod Blagojevich, was elected as governor of Illinois.
The Senate race saw the victory of Republican Elizabeth Dole, described by the ANCA as a “long time supporter of Armenian American concerns.” Her husband, former Senator Bob Dole, was one of the most pro-Armenian lawmakers in U.S. history.
Also cheered by the Armenian-American lobbying groups was the reelection of the influential Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell played an important role in making Armenia a major per-capita recipient of American aid and scuttling White House attempts in the 1990s to repeal U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan imposed by Congress in 1992.
Congress agreed to allow President George W. Bush to conditionally suspend the sanctions only after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the ensued U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.
Visiting Armenia and Karabakh last August, Armenian Caucus co-chair Pallone said that despite agreeing to the waiver, many U.S. lawmakers disagree with the Bush administration’s unwavering support of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. “There are many of us in Congress, including myself, who would like to see Nagorno-Karabakh either being an independent state that’s recognized by the United States or be part of Armenia,” he said.
Pallone also said that the amount of U.S. aid to Armenia will likely remain unchanged at $94 million in the next financial year, despite the administration’s proposal to cut it by 20 percent.