Posted by Jeff from d53-106-196.try.wideopenwest.com (188.8.131.52) on Thursday, December 19, 2002 at 2:23AM :
After protest, Armenia is off list to register
By Michael Doyle -- Bee Washington Bureau
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Wednesday, December 18, 2002
WASHINGTON -- A tight-lipped Bush administration has abruptly reversed course and dropped Armenia from the list of countries whose visiting nationals must register with federal officials.
Facing a barrage of protests from Armenian Americans as well as from the Armenian government, the administration repudiated a Justice Department plan targeting visiting Armenians. Armenia will thus be dropped from the list of 21 countries facing registration requirements.
"Armenia is not one of the countries," Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez said Tuesday morning, adding that "we continue to review the national security concerns."
The rapid about-face, though offered without explanation, pleased the Armenian Americans who lobbied heavily against the original registration decision in a hastily arranged but very successful protest effort.
Much of the protest -- conducted via phone, fax and e-mail -- emanated from California, home to approximately 700,000 of the 1.5 million Armenian Americans in the United States, according to the Armenian National Committee of America.
The committee prepared an Internet link that sent about 12,000 protest faxes to the White House. The effort began Saturday morning.
By Monday morning, more than 10,000 faxes had already been sent, said Ardashes Kassakhian, director of government relations for the committee's Western regional offices.
Kassakhian estimates that in the end, at least 50 percent of the faxes originated in California.
"The California Armenian American community was very instrumental in voicing their concern regarding this issue," Kassakhian said. "They mobilized very quickly. It was a tremendous response."
And members of the community don't doubt that their vocal opposition helped the administration change its mind.
"I think just the outcry from the community was so great that I'm sure it politically made the administration backtrack," said Barlow Der Mugrdechian, lecturer in Armenian Studies at California State University, Fresno.
Fresno resident Hygo Ohannessian, chairwoman of Fresno's Armenian National Committee chapter, added that she and her compatriots felt "betrayed and outraged" by the initial decision to lump Armenia together with other countries such as Iraq and Iran -- which have been branded as terrorist nations by the United States.
"You don't know how glad I am that the Armenian community responded quickly on this, because now the Bush administration knows Armenians will react to anything negative being said or done towards Armenia," Ohannessian said.
Mugrdechian stressed the importance of determining how the original listing of Armenia got made.
Likewise, Peter Abajian, Western director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said Tuesday that the community is seeking a White House meeting in hopes of answering questions about how Armenians were initially included.
Answers, so far, have been elusive.
Staff members for the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues convened Tuesday afternoon to investigate what happened and why. A staffer for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said Justice Department officials suggested that it might simply have been Armenia's turn, as all countries eventually will face the registration requirements.
Radanovich and other Central Valley lawmakers are particularly motivated to find answers, considering that generally accepted estimates indicate the San Joaquin Valley is home to about 50,000 Armenian Americans.
Martinez, as well as a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, repeatedly declined to explain how or why such a dramatic policy reversal could happen within less than a day. Instead, the spokesmen kept reiterating that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the only countries named in a Justice Department press release.
Press releases, though, lack legal standing. And on Monday morning, the official Federal Register declared that visiting males aged 16 and over from Armenia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must present themselves for photographing and fingerprinting.
The Justice Department cited unspecified "intelligence information available to the Attorney General" in making its determination.
Similar conclusions led to the addition of countries such as Iran and Iraq to those facing registration requirements.
After being pressed, Martinez said Tuesday a follow-up Federal Register notice would declare Armenia had been taken off the registration list.
"It was clearly an error for Armenia to be included," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said Tuesday. "But after it was brought to the attention of the right people, it was corrected."
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