July 20, 2011
For Immediate Release
Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
tel. (202) 775-1918 / (703) 585-8254 cell

HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE PASSES BERMAN-CICILLINE AMENDMENT CALLING ON TURKEY TO RETURN CHRISTIAN CHURCHES

Amendment based on the “Return of Churches” resolution introduced by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Ed Royce (R-CA)

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WASHINGTON, DC – With a vote of 43 to 1, the House Foreign Affairs Committee today overwhelmingly adopted the Berman-Cicilline Amendment, calling on Turkey to return stolen Christian churches and to end its repression of its Christian minority, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“Today’s overwhelming vote represents a powerful victory for religious freedom, and a step toward the rightful return of the thousands of Christian churches and holy sites stolen by Turkey through genocide,” said Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

“Ninety six years after the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians, the Turkish Government has destroyed or confiscated the vast majority of their holy sites and places of worship. The Foreign Affairs Committee today sent a powerful message to Turkey that it must come to terms with this brutal legacy, respect religious freedom of surviving Christian communities, and return the fruits of its crimes.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) was joined by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in offering the amendment to the State Department Authorization bill, based upon language from H.Res.306, the “Return of Churches” resolution spearheaded by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), both senior members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Armenian Americans across the U.S. made thousands of phone calls to their Representatives in support of the measure, following a week of action alerts issued by the Armenian National Committee of America.

Similar calls to action have been issued by Archbishops Moushegh Mardirossian and Oshagan Choloyan, Prelates of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Western and Eastern United States, respectively. His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, Fr. Oshagan Gulgulian, Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan, and Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan were in attendance at the Committee offering their support for the passage of this legislation.

“As spiritual shepherds of the Armenian faithful, proud stewards of our ancient heritage, and devoted servants in the cause of realizing our shared national aspirations, we welcome today’s vote as a principled stand for religious freedom and a just demand for the rightful return of Christian churches throughout the biblical lands of present-day Turkey,” said Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General of the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States.

The Armenian Embassy was represented on a senior level by Mimister Counselor Vardui Asaturian.

The measure has also received broad-based support from the Greek and Assyrian American communities, with the American Hellenic Education and Progressive Association (AHEPA), the American Hellenic Institute, and the American Hellenic Council issuing statements calling their community to action. “This resolution stands in the proud American tradition of championing religious freedom around the world,” stated AHEPA Supreme President Nicholas A. Karacostas. “If adopted, this measure will further reinforce our nation’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also build upon the passage by Congress of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and many other pieces of legislation promoting religious freedom abroad.”

The ANCA Webcast the proceedings live on its website – www.anca.org. Additional coverage of speeches offered by Committee members will be provided in the upcoming days.

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