Governor Asks Reagan, Bush to Plead Armenia Case With Gorbachev

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian, the nation’s highest ranking elected official of Armenian descent, asked President Reagan and President-elect George Bush on Saturday to strongly urge Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to “take whatever steps are necessary” to end the bloody violence against Armenians in Azerbaijan.

Deukmejian sent letters to Reagan and Bush urging them to place the anti-Armenian violence on the agenda of their “luncheon summit” with Gorbachev on Wednesday in New York.

And the governor, addressing a dinner of the Armenian Assembly of America at the Beverly Wilshire, indirectly urged Gorbachev to protect Armenians in the southern Soviet republic, adding: “Unless strong and immediate action is taken, there is a grave risk that another Armenian genocide may occur . . . We must not let that happen. Our people have suffered enough.”

Deukmejian, an outwardly calm, even stiff person by nature, often undergoes a personality change when addressing Armenian causes, demonstrating passion and inspiring his audience, particularly if it is composed of fellow Armenian-Americans. He was interrupted several times with applause Saturday night by a sell-out crowd of 800 that pumped more than $200,000 into the Armenian Assembly’s “George Deukmejian Fund for Public Service,” established last year to help young Armenian-Americans begin a career in government.


By lending his support to the fund drive, the governor is reciprocating for the help he has received from Armenian-Americans since the start of his political career. The Armenian community provided the crucial seed money for his underdog first gubernatorial campaign in 1982 and, over the years, has furnished an estimated 20% of his political contributions.

Los Angeles attorney Karl M. Samuelian, the governor’s chief fund-raiser, said that whenever he organizes a big political dinner for Deukmejian he starts off with $300,000 in Armenian-American donations “in my hip pocket, time after time--money that no other candidate can get.”

Samuelian, noting that Deukmejian now is trying to decide whether to seek a third term in 1990, said the governor’s Armenian-American supporters “have too much respect for him to try to pressure him into running, but they’ll encourage him. If he doesn’t run, the Armenian people will be very disappointed. And he knows that.”

Large Population


California has the largest population of Armenians--an estimated 250,000--outside of the Soviet Union. They are primarily concentrated in Los Angeles County, especially in the Hollywood and Glendale areas, but several thousand also live around Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley.

San Clemente attorney Ken Khachigian, a top Deukmejian political adviser who emceed Saturday night’s banquet, said people have told him of seeing Deukmejian bumper strips on taxicabs in Yerevan, the Soviet Armenian capital. “He’s known wherever Armenians congregate,” Khachigian said.

Deukmejian, in his speech, indicated that he believes that Bush will be better for Armenian concerns than was Reagan. In the past, Deukmejian has expressed bitter disappointment with Reagan for opposing efforts to create a special day honoring victims of the Armenian genocide and for opposing a congressional resolution commemorating the victims.

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians are said to have died at the hands of Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923. But the government of Turkey has never acknowledged the massacres. And the Reagan Administration, fearing diplomatic repercussions from a valued military ally, has opposed calling special attention to the massacres.


Parents Fled Massacres

Deukmejian, whose parents fled the massacres and came to America, said Bush’s election “bodes well” for Armenian-Americans. He quoted the President-elect as pledging during his campaign that a Bush Administration “certainly” would “never allow political pressures to prevent our denunciation of crimes against humanity and I would join Congress in commemorating the victims of that period.”

Deukmejian also said that if Gorbachev “is truly serious about his new policies of openness,” he should allow the heavily Armenian area of Nagorno-Karabakh to disassociate from Azerbaijan and become part of adjacent Armenia.

In his letter to Reagan--whom he has loyally supported on most issues--the governor began with a hint of resignation that his personal pleadings to him could be futile, as they have been in the past on Armenian causes. “I am writing to you once again,” he wrote.


In his letters to Bush and Reagan, Deukmejian said “Armenians suffered the first genocide in this century, when over 1.5 million innocent people were driven from their homes and massacred. It would be tragic and inexcusable for the Free World to allow history to repeat itself.”

He asked Bush to “communicate (to Gorbachev) the concern I know you feel for the safety of the Armenian population and the need for a prompt and just solution to the underlying territorial dispute which is the cause for this senseless killing.”