By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
An unprecedented U.S. presidential campaign came to an end with the unexpected victory of Donald Trump!
Since the November 8 elections, there has been endless speculation by self-styled Armenian analysts about the President-elect’s business ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey, wrongly concluding that he would side with Armenia’s enemies! Since Trump has made no comments on Armenian issues, no one can really know what his position is likely to be....
Beyond Trump’s sweeping campaign promises to “drain the swamp in Washington,” and “make America great again,” no one can predict what he might do on domestic or foreign policy fronts. In addition, there is no guarantee that he will stick to the positions he assumed during the campaign. In recent months, and particularly since the election, Trump has moderated his views on a number of major issues, such as banning all Muslims from entering the United States, building a wall along the Mexican border, deporting 11 million illegal aliens, and repealing Obamacare. As Pres. Obama explained during his Nov. 14 press conference, Trump is a pragmatist, not an ideologue with fixed opinions.
Consequently, rather than speculating about what Trump may do as President, let’s follow Hillary Clinton’s wise advice to keep “an open mind” and give Donald Trump “a chance to lead!”
Since the President-elect has not yet taken a concrete position on Armenian issues, now is the time for Armenian-Americans to ask friendly Republican members of Congress to convey the community’s vital concerns to Trump and his team. It would be much more difficult to make such contacts once the President is inaugurated in January and has given his marching orders to the new Cabinet. Meanwhile, Turkish and Azeri officials are busy establishing their own contacts with Trump’s transition team and Congress through their high powered lobbyists in Washington! Furthermore, while many heads of state, including those of Armenia and Azerbaijan, have sent congratulatory messages to the President-elect, Turkish President Erdogan personally telephoned Trump, urging closer ties between their countries!
Already there are warning signs that two of Trump’s closest aides, who may be appointed to top positions in the new administration, are rabid Turkophiles:
1) Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has repeatedly declared his admiration for Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, viewing him as a hero;
2) Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn wrote an article in The Hill last week, calling on the U.S. government “to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective.”
While Armenian-American ties with the President-elect are practically non-existent, the community has fortunately cultivated excellent relations with many reelected members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, who can adopt bills and pass resolutions on issues of importance to Armenia and Armenians.
Over 90% of the Congressional candidates endorsed by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) were elected on November 8. In the House of Representatives, 117 out of the 122 candidates endorsed by ANCA won their election bids, including Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, Armenian-American Democrats from California. Regrettably, Cong. Robert Dold (Republican-Illinois), Co-Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, was not reelected; and candidate Danny Tarkanian (Republican-Nevada) lost his bid for the House.
In the U.S. Senate, 7 of the 11 candidates endorsed by ANCA won their election bids on Nov. 8. Armenian Caucus member Cong. Chris Van Hollen (Democrat-Maryland) was elected to the Senate after defeating Turkish Caucus member Cong. Donna Edwards in the Maryland Primary. Unfortunately, Sen. Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois), a staunch supporter of Armenian issues, was not reelected.
Significantly, while 11 members of the Congressional Armenian Caucus did not return to the House due to failure to win, retirement, resignation or seeking other office, the Turkish Caucus suffered a greater loss, with 19 of its members not returning to the House, including Co-Chair Ed Whitfield (Republican-Kentucky) who resigned earlier this year due to an ethics probe.
The substantial electoral success, enjoyed by Congressional friends of the Armenian community, bodes well for the pursuit of Armenian issues in the new Congress. Given that the Republican Party will be controlling both Houses of Congress and the White House, it is incumbent upon Republican Armenians to win over more members of the majority party, while Democrat Armenians can build on their long-established ties with the minority party. After all, the Armenian Cause, as a nonpartisan issue, should be supported by both parties!