On July 20, 2011, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Berman-Cicilline Amendment to H. R. 2583, the State Department-Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, urging Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). The measure was adopted by a vote of 43-1, with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) as the lone vote against this overwhelming bipartisan amendment.
"This is a vote of justice against injustice," stated Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church who was present during today's vote. "I hope that this will be the first of many steps towards preserving Armenian Christian heritage in Turkey," said Archbishop Aykazian.
Based on H.Res. 306, which was introduced by Congressmen Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), the Berman-Cicilline Amendment specifically urges "the government of Turkey to honor its obligations under international treaties and human rights law to -
1) "end all forms of religious discrimination;
2) "allow the rightful church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to organize and administer prayer services, religious education, clerical training, appointments, and succession, religious community gatherings, social services, including ministry to the needs of the poor and infirm, and other religious activities;
3) "return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts; and
4) "allow the rightful Christian church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to preserve, reconstruct, and repair, as they see fit, all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties within Turkey."
Speaking to and in support of the Berman-Cicilline Amendment during today's mark-up were Reps. Berman (D-CA), Bilirakis (R-FL), Sherman (D-CA), Burton (R-IN), Connolly (D-VA), Royce (R-CA), Cicilline (D-RI), Duncan (R-SC), Engel (D-NY), Rohrabacher (R-CA), Meeks (D-NY), Ackerman (D-NY), Sm
In a letter sent to all Committee Members, the Assembly along with the Eastern and Western Diocese of the Armenian Church underscored the plight facing the Christian community in Turkey and the urgent need for Congress to act.
"We commend Ranking Member Berman as well as Congressman Royce for today's resounding vote in support of religious freedom in Turkey," stated Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. "We also appreciate the efforts of Congressman Cicilline in spearheading the amendment with Congressman Berman," added Ardouny.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.