We hear a lot of noise from the pro-Israel and Cuban-American lobbies, vaunted on Capitol Hill and in the media. Rarely do we hear about another highly influential force — the Armenian-American lobby. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once referred to the Armenian-American lobby as one of the three most influential foreign-ethnic lobbies in the U.S.
The lobby boasts impressive accomplishments. It brings in $90 million of U.S. aid to Armenia on an annual basis, regularly blocks aid to close U.S. and Israeli ally-Azerbaijan, stalls arms deals with U.S. ally and NATO member-Turkey (a much larger and more important regional power), and pushes each year – over the objections of Ankara – a Congressional resolution recognizing Armenian genocide.
The Armenian Congressional Caucus claims 88 members of Congress, which means that the Armenian-American lobby can count on these elected officials not just for their votes, but to push for the Armenian agenda on the House and Senate floors.
Like other significant lobbying forces, the Armenian-American lobby is not made up of a single group, but of a network of organizations, acting in concert. These groups include the Armenian American Political Action Committee, the Armenian National Committee of America and The Armenian Assembly of America. They are bolstered by a network of local and state organizations, which are also heavily involved in the political process — many times oddly in the realm of U.S. foreign policy, a place in which they have no expertise or business.
Armenia’s interests are not in line with those of the U.S. Disturbingly, the Armenian-American lobby has successfully provided cover for Armenia’s strategic relationships with Iran and Russia, countries that no one could mistake as allies of the United States.
In 2010, Wikileaks, the leaked archive of U.S. diplomatic traffic, brought to light that Armenia had sold Iran rockets and machine guns used to kill American military personnel in Iraq. Then Deputy Secretary of State, John D. Negroponte, wrote a strongly worded letter to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, expressing “deep concerns about Armenia’s transfer of arms to Iran which resulted in the death and injury of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.” The letter goes on to say that “In 2007 some of these weapons were recovered from two Shia militant attacks in which a U.S. soldier was killed and six others were injured in Iraq.”
“Notwithstanding the close relationship between our countries,” the letter states, “neither the Administration nor the U.S. Congress can overlook this case.”
Yet Armenian friends in Congress seem to have done just that, continuing to do Armenia’s bidding in Congress and providing the country significant financial aid.
The established Armenian-American community seems to take Armenia’s relationship with Iran as a given. A September 2014 story in Asbarez, the Los Angeles-based Armenian-American newspaper of record, cites anonymous sources as claiming Armenia’s foe, Azerbaijan, allowed Israeli spy drones to fly into Iranian air space to conduct a reconnaissance mission. The paper states disapprovingly that this revelation implicates “Baku’s involvement in the spying mission. “ The report goes on to call out the Azerbaijan’s government for its “hostility against the Islamic Republic.”
One would think that an Armenian-American newspaper would applaud efforts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, the paper condemns Azerbaijan for aiding an alleged espionage effort against Tehran.
Armenia’s ties to the Islamic Republic go well beyond military sales. ArmeniaNow, an Armenian online news agency published in English and Armenian, quotes Armenia-Iran Trade Palace chair, Levon Aharonyan, as saying his group is planning to open “an Iranian center in Armenia which will serve as a trade passage zone where goods will be exported to other countries from Armenia.”
Aharonyan reportedly said that, “It will be a center where goods from Iran will arrive in Armenia ‘semi-fabricated’, here they will be finalized and labeled as ‘made in Armenia’ and be exported. It is essential for us to enter Russian and CIS market through Armenia.” Clearly, Armenia is no ally of the U.S. in the effort to halt Iran’s menacing nuclear program.
Supporters of Armenia in Congress have thus far gotten a free pass. These Members of Congress have unabashedly accepted campaign contributions from the lobby, and have looked the other way while Armenia aids and abets Iran, and Armenia’s American friends provide political support for Armenian-Iranian ties. It’s high time that these Members of Congress are called out for it.