Mark Kirk selected as Armenian caucus co-chair

Illinois representative to take over from fellow Republican Joe Knollenberg

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Thursday December 18, 2008

Rep. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) who has been selected as co-chair of the House Caucus on Armenian Issues.

Washington - Rep. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) will take over from Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.) as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, the offices of the two members and fellow co-chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) reported on December 17.

After eight years as caucus co-chair and 16 years as a representative from suburban Detroit, Mr. Knollenberg, 75, is leaving Congress, having lost his re-election bid last month.

The Armenian caucus will be entering the 111th Congress next month with 140 members, at which point 16 members will have left the House of Representatives due to retirement, winning elections for higher office, or having lost re-election bids.

Mr. Kirk's track record

Mr. Kirk represents Illinois' tenth district, which consists of Chicago's northern suburbs. He is a senior member of the key House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which works to set foreign-aid levels.

"After 20 years of working with the Armenian-American community to advance the U.S.-Armenia issues, I am honored and excited to serve alongside Congressman Pallone as co-chair of the Caucus on Armenian Issues," Mr. Kirk said in a statement.

"The Caucus on Armenian Issues is well-known for its work to strengthen the U.S.-Armenia relationship and recognize the Armenian Genocide. I look forward to working with Congressman Pallone and all members of the Caucus to advance the U.S.-Armenia relationship in the 111th Congress."

Mr. Knollenberg called Mr. Kirk "a highly talented leader with a record of success."  And Mr. Pallone, recalling his cooperation with Mr. Knollenberg, said he expected to continue "to work in a bipartisan fashion with Mark Kirk."

"In the 111th Congress, the Caucus will continue to advocate for peace and stability in Nagorno Karabakh, recognition of the Armenian Genocide and Armenia's economic integration in the Caucasus," Mr. Pallone said.

Throughout his years in the House of Representatives, Mr. Kirk has supported congressional efforts to affirm the Armenian genocide and provide adequate levels of U.S. aid to Armenia.

First elected in 2000, Mr. Kirk replaced retiring Rep. John Porter (R.-Ill.) who co-chaired the Armenian caucus until being replaced by Mr. Knollenberg; Mr. Kirk began his professional career serving on Mr. Porter's staff between 1984 and 1990.

Mr. Kirk's career has included stints at the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (1990), the State Department Bureau of Inter-American Affairs (1992-93), the law firm of Baker & McKenzie (1993-95), and as counsel to the U.S. House International Relations Committee (1995-99).

As a Naval Reserve intelligence officer since 1989, Mr. Kirk served tours of duty during U.S. military operations in Kuwait, Iraq, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia.

According to congressional records, together with Mr. Knollenberg and other Armenian caucus members, Mr. Kirk is a member of the bi-cameral Silk Road Caucus established in 2001 to focus on U.S. policies in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Mr. Kirk also served as Albanian caucus co-chair and currently co-chairs the congressional Iran Working Group, which earlier this year held hearings that focused on Iran's ethnic minorities.    

In a Dear Colleague letter last August, Mr. Kirk criticized the Turkish government for restricting U.S. access into the Black Sea when the United States sought to provide aid to Georgia amid its conflict with Russia.

Born in 1959, Mr. Kirk earned his bachelor's from Cornell, a master's degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Georgetown. Rep. Kirk and his wife, Kimberly, live in Highland Park, Illinois.

Honoring Mr. Knollenberg

Mr. Knollenberg hosted a "thank you" event for his supporters on December 15 in Pontiac, Michigan, in his district.  Among the 350 attendees were Reverend Father Diran Papazian of the local Armenian Church, Pam Coultis on behalf of Detroit business­person Edgar Hagopian, Paul Kulhanjian, and Ross Vartian.

Mr. Vartian, who is the executive director of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC), said that the Armenian-American community owed a debt of gratitude to Rep. Knollenberg for his unwavering support of Armenian-American issues throughout his tenure in Congress, in his capacities as Armenia Caucus Co-chair, member of the Appropriations Committee, and leading member of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. 

"The people of Armenia and Karabakh had no better friend in the House of Representatives than Mr. Knollenberg," said Mr. Vartian.

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Reporter closing

The Cafesjian Foundation has taken a difficult decision to close The Armenian Reporter. We regret that we are forced to take this decision after more than eight years of publishing. We thank our readers and all individuals who have contributed to the Reporter. Kathleen Cafesjian Baradaran Chair, Cafesjian Family Foundation





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