Washington briefing: Senator Kennedy’s leadership on Armenian issues recalled

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday August 28, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy.

Washington - Armenian-Americans this week remembered the longstanding leadership and support of Senator Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.). Senator Kennedy died on August 26 after months of battling with cancer. He was 77 years old.

Throughout more than four decades in the U.S. Congress, Senator Kennedy actively supported Armenian-American concerns, including U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide and independent Armenia's security and development, the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts recalled in a press statement.

These efforts included securing the Senate Judiciary Committee's passage in 1989 of an Armenian Genocide resolution; Senator Kennedy worked together with, among others, Vice President Joe Biden, who at the time was a senator and chairperson of the committee.

Senator Kennedy championed the 1991 passage of a resolution that condemned Azerbaijan's anti-Armenian pogroms that resulted in the expulsion of more than 300,000 Armenians and was followed by Azerbaijan's aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh.

In later years, Senator Kennedy played a key role in the passage and maintenance of U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan, known as Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, as well as the 1994 passage of the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, which came in response to Turkey's closure of its border with Armenia. [The same year, he hosted a reception for the president of Armenia at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.]

Speaking on April 21, 1999, at the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide held on Capitol Hill, Senator Kennedy argued that "if people here in the United States had paid attention to the Genocide in the early part of this century, we would not have had, perhaps, the tragedies in World War II" and later genocidal campaigns in former Yugoslavia and Africa.

During the April 24, 2000, commemoration at Trinity Church in Boston, Senator Kennedy stressed that while "the persecution of the Armenian people and the atrocities committed against them will never be forgotten . . . the continuing leadership of the Armenian people throughout the world today, and the birth of the Armenian republic provide an example to us all of what the human spirit at its best can achieve."

In a June 5, 2006, letter, signed together with Senator John Kerry (D.-Mass.), Senator Kennedy raised concerns with the Bush administration's early recall of Ambassador John M. Evans from Armenia over the ambassador's comments on the Armenian Genocide; the letter demanded an explanation for the move.

A member of America's most prominent political family, Edward Kennedy will be remembered as a strong and effective champion of liberal values. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama came at pivotal moment in a tough primary race.

Senator Kennedy will be buried beside his brothers at the Arlington National Cemetery on August 29.

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