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U.S.: Armenian-American Group Backs Kerry, Snubs Bush

  • Andrew Tully

http://gdb.rferl.org/C8E3B171-71F3-4A09-8DE0-5F0CF14F8480_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/C8E3B171-71F3-4A09-8DE0-5F0CF14F8480_mw800_mh600.jpg Washington, 4 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Americans of Armenian descent number only about 1 million to 1.5 million of the overall U.S. population of about 280 million people. But Armenian-Americans are politically active, and their political influence is stronger than their size would suggest. One prominent group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has formally endorsed Senator John Kerry's campaign for the presidency against President George W. Bush.

The ANCA says it doesn't simply support Kerry. It opposes Bush, accusing him of not honoring a promise he made when he needed votes during his first campaign for president four years ago.

In February 2000, Bush was fighting hard for support in Michigan, which has a small but politically active Armenian population. He issued a statement saying his administration would recognize that Armenians were the victims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923.
"On the Armenian-American issues, coming from Massachusetts, which has a strong and active Armenian-American community, over the years he's [Kerry] had time to develop strong relationships with that community." -- Chouldjian


Bush eventually won the presidency. But according to Elizabeth Chouldjian, the ANCA's communications director, he backed down on that promise, refusing to endorse the bills that each year come before Congress that would require the U.S. government to recognize the Armenian genocide. And that wasn't all.

"It hasn't so much been his [Bush's] silence in terms of not utilizing the term ["genocide"], but at the same time his administration's opposition to genocide legislation, which makes reference to the Armenian genocide in the framework of honoring the 15th anniversary of the U.S. implementation of the genocide convention." Chouldjian said.

Chouldjian points to that and many other actions by the Bush administration, including a reduction in aid to Armenia, siding with Turkey and Azerbaijan in their disputes with Armenia, and even trying to formally designate Armenia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Kerry, on the other hand, has for decades been active on issues important to Armenian-Americans, Chouldjian said. She points to his sponsorship of legislation on the genocide issue, on improved U.S. trade with Armenia. and on supporting Armenia against Turkey and Azerbaijan.

"On the Armenian-American issues, coming from Massachusetts, which has a strong and active Armenian-American community, over the years he's [Kerry] had time to develop strong relationships with that community. And over his 20 years as senator, he has consistently been supportive of every single Armenian-American initiative that I can point to," Chouldjian said.

Ross Vartian agrees that Kerry is a far more attractive candidate than Bush to Armenian-Americans. Vartian is the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, another nationwide advocacy group. Under its nonprofit legal status, the organization cannot, by law, formally endorse any political candidates. But Vartian said his contacts with Armenian-Americans around the country show that they greatly prefer Kerry to Bush, at least on issues important to Armenian-Americans.

Vartian told RFE/RL that the ANCA's endorsement could be a help to Kerry. "I would say that Armenian-Americans are known to be civically active and politically active," he said. "It is something that we are urged to be by our own community and by our own parents. In terms of a voting bloc, we aren't so numerous in any given location that we're going to tip the balance unless the races are extremely close, but being involved in the political process is part of our tradition."

But Vartian stressed that it will not ensure that every registered Armenian-American voter will support Kerry. He said that like other Americans, voters of Armenian descent fall into three general categories: those who vote strictly in accordance with their party loyalties; those whose votes are based on issues that are important to their own community; and those who vote on more general issues.

Vartian said that because of their activism, Armenian-Americans appear to have disproportionate political influence in that they can persuade some members of Congress to sponsor legislation they support. But he said their ultimate influence on elections remains modest.

"When races are that close, there are probably a hundred different groups who could make that claim and could make that difference," Vartian said. "So, yes, technically, Armenians in Michigan could make the difference in a very close race. But if it's true for Armenians, it's true for about 99 other groups as well. And that's why I believe that when these two major political efforts -- Kerry's and Bush's -- concentrate on states like this, they don't leave out anybody, including the Armenians."
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