By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian government confirmed on Tuesday reports that Armenia has been promptly removed from a list of countries whose male nationals traveling to the United States must register with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said it is “pleased” with Washington’s decision which followed a wave of protests from the influential Armenian-American community.
Armenia’s name unexpectedly appeared in the blacklist published by the U.S. Federal Register last Friday, causing an uproar among U.S. citizens of Armenian descent. The U.S. registration program, introduced after the September 11 terror attacks, until now covered only two dozen Muslim countries considered high risk for terrorists.
Armenian-American leaders and Armenian diplomats in Washington held intensive talks with U.S. officials over the weekend, trying to clarify the matter.
“It became apparent that there had been a misunderstanding and these issues do not in any way relate to Armenian citizens,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Dziunik Aghajanian, said in a statement. “As a result of our discussions, the U.S. administration modified the regulation, and Armenia has been removed from the list.”
“The disbelief in our community was understandable in the face of such news. Now, we are pleased that indeed there is no such policy regarding Armenian nationals in the U.S.,” Aghajanian said.
According to the Washington-based Armenian Assembly of America, Armenia was blacklisted mistakenly. "We are outraged that this mistake was made in the first place. This is a very serious matter and we pledge to seek full remediation of this deleterious action," the Assembly chairman, Peter Vosbikian, said in a statement on Monday.
Another influential advocacy group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), suggested that the move’s reversal resulted, among other things, from its “action alert,” saying that its supporters sent over 10,000 protest letters to the White House in a matter of 24 hours.
“The one thing that struck me about this was the speed with which the Armenian community responded. We've never gotten a 24-hour response like this,” the ANCA executive director, Aram Hamparian, was quoted as telling a California newspaper.
In a separate statement, Hamparian said White House officials assured the ANCA that “this situation needed to be rectified because it ran counter to the spirit of U.S.-Armenia relations.”
Armenia, if it remained on the INS list, would be the only Christian and ex-Soviet state whose citizens have to register with and report their movements to the U.S. immigration authority.
Inclusion in the registration program could be damaging for the international reputation of blacklisted countries. Among them are “rogue states” like Iran, Iraq and North Korea as well as traditional U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The U.S. is seen as questioning their commitment to its worldwide fight against terrorism.
President George W. Bush and other top U.S. officials have repeatedly praised Armenia’s contribution to the anti-terror drive, and America’s 2001 military campaign in Afghanistan in particular.
“Armenia was very forthcoming in offering very needed overflight rights [for U.S. military aircraft] and doing intelligence-sharing with the United States and, generally, everything that the U.S. has asked,” General Joseph Ralston, NATO’s American supreme allied commander in Europe, said during a visit to Yerevan on Tuesday.
Asked by local journalists to comment on the registration controversy, he replied: “I understand the concerns of the citizens of Armenia and will relay those concerns back to the U.S. State Department very quickly.”