Armenian-American organizations condemn erasure of Armenians in MENA checkbox by Biden Administration, calling move “grave attack on the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans”

March 28, 2024

Contact: Sarkis Balkhian,, 818-863-2353

Dr. Sophia Armen,, 818-625-6284

March 28, 2024 UNITED STATES— Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region (ANCA-WR), Armenian-American Action Network (AAAN), Pan Armenian Council Western USA (PAC-WUSA), and dozens of frontline and direct constituency Armenian organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Armenian-Americans nationwide condemn the version of the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) checkbox released today by the Biden Administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While we applaud the inclusion of a MENA checkbox after decades of historical exclusion, the erasure of Armenians in MENA represents a significant violation of Armenian-American civil rights and a grave and historic injustice that has generational consequences for the Armenian-American community. Today, hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents are denied accurate representation on the U.S. Census and its resultant funding and services.  

This move indicates the Census Bureau has ignored the calls of the Armenian-American community. The Armenian-American Census Coalition, anchored by ANCA-WR, Armenian-American Action Network, and Pan Armenian Council, united Armenian-led, Armenian-based, and Armenian-constituency-based organizations across the political spectrum in the call for Armenian classification in the MENA draft as a transnational indigenous MENA community that comprises one of the largest groups numerically in the category. Furthermore, in response to the Federal Registrar Notice of 2023, in a historic move, over 10% of all MENA public comments submitted called for the inclusion of Armenians in the Census in the new MENA draft. This was the largest number of comments of any specific ethnic group in MENA. Instead of requiring the rigorous testing and research the Census Bureau must do to develop the categories to actually improve the count of all communities, these standards rely on a flawed 2015 Census Bureau National Content Test (NCT) and ignore overwhelming stakeholder input and community comments resulting in the exclusion of Armenian Americans. This announcement indicates that public comment and the voices of thousands of Americans were not considered. The Census Bureau acted independently without input from U.S. Armenian residents, scholars, elected officials, and community members across this country. Furthermore, today’s announcement glaringly reveals the Armenian community outreach necessary for the Census Bureau to create a transparent, scholarly-backed, and data-based Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) checkbox never occurred. This happened despite the nation’s leading experts and stakeholders consistently demanding the engagement of Armenian voices. 

We maintain that over the past decade, the federal government has failed to engage Armenian organizations, scholars, and elected leaders in any step of the formation of the MENA checkbox. By not being invited to the table, the Census has produced an incomplete, inaccurate, and exclusionary MENA designation that will undercount, separate, deny funding and resources to, and fail to represent, hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents of Armenian descent. The Biden Administration and Census Bureau have failed to do their due diligence throughout the creation of the version of the category that was announced today. 

This move will have a centuries-long systemic impact. Lack of representation on the U.S. Census continues to have dire consequences for Armenian-American issues, needs, and priorities. The exclusion of Armenians from accurate federal Census classification means that millions of dollars of funding and resources are denied to Armenians each year as data drives policy SPD 15 excludes Armenian communities, so Armenians do not receive equitable protection of their voting rights. Armenian-American small businesses are the backbone of our communities. Still, business owners suffer from various cultural, linguistic, political, and spatial barriers, yet are not visible in the data. Meanwhile, Armenians are not protected by the Small Business Act. Armenian Americans continue to face hate crimes, marginalization, and discrimination. Still, they cannot fully address such realities because of a lack of classification, nor can governments and scholars demonstrate gaps in equality of opportunity. Centrally, Census classification determines federal, state, and local dollars, and lack of Census representation means Armenians are being marginalized across every level of U.S. society. The invisibilizing of Armenian communities in U.S. policy is an alarming trend that must be course-corrected immediately.

The Federal Government has cited the 2015 NCT for much of what it announced today with regard to MENA. Unlike all of the major MENA subgroups, the Armenian-American community and its dozens of representative organizations that do census outreach were not engaged but instead generally ignored in the community outreach efforts of the NCT. Furthermore, even in the NCT, the results fail to hold water as Emraitis responded with 6% identifying as MENA and yet were included despite testing at a lower rate for MENA than communities like Armenians. Only 26% of those who identified as “Middle Eastern” and 31% of those who identified as “North African” actually checked the MENA checkbox on the NCT. An objective examination of the results of the NCT demonstrates its deep flaws with regard to the MENA category. As the coalition has maintained, the NCT had an inherent testing bias, which reflected the groups who saw themselves listed on the box. Armenians were never given that change. 

In this NCT, the code 012, for the first time, was also randomly assigned to Armenians instead of the longstanding ancestry code that historically has placed Armenians in MENA coding and is more in line with U.N. statistical classification. In the NCT, the Census Bureau racialized Armenians as non-MENA by its own arbitrary decision instead of using the ancestry code in MENA, again revealing inherent bias in the structure and methodology of the test creation itself. The Census Bureau must justify why arbitrary and seemingly preferential treatment was given to some communities over others and address the lack of transparency and consistency in its efforts, outreach, consultation of scholars, and methodology. 

In response to the news, ANCA-WR Executive Director Sarkis Balkhian stated, “The failure to engage Armenian-Americans in the MENA checkbox process is an affront to the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans of Armenian descent. Armenian Americans have effectively mobilized to ensure their voice is heard in the revision process and, for years, executed culturally relevant outreach efforts for the U.S. Census. Today, the Biden Administration and the Census Bureau failed Armenian-Americans! We reject this erasure and demand that this action is immediately rectified.” Dr. Sophia Armen, a scholar of Middle Eastern-American Studies and Executive Director of AAAN, furthered that this move “indicates the Census Bureau and the Biden Administration has chosen politics over the needs of a large, historic, and vital community in the U.S. The failure to engage Armenian voices, including Armenian experts of the MENA region, is a massive error and miscalculation that will affect the everyday working Armenian family for generations to come. With these standards, what the government is saying to us as Armenians is, “You do not matter’ and that is deeply concerning.” 

Furthermore, on the eve of Armenian Genocide Remembrance and Armenian-American Heritage Month, with this announcement, the Biden administration and Census Bureau have seemingly stepped into genocide denialism, perpetuating the ideological myth at the foundation of the Armenian Genocide: that Armenians are not indigenous to this region which justified their erasure and the refusal to acknowledge Armenians fully as a transnational community with ties that cross borders and modern-nation states. By the Census’ own numbers, Armenian-Americans specifically continue to be part of their MENA definitions yet now will have their Armenian identity erased, and Armenian data rendered even more inaccurate, undercounted, and invisible than before. This announcement today particularly has grave consequences for Americans of Armenian heritage, notably from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Western Armenia, and will directly impact the future survival of the Armenian diaspora and its cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage over generations, both in the region and in the United States. 

The exclusion of Armenians as a transnational MENA community in the Census Bureau’s decision is a grave attack on the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans of Armenian heritage. We will not stand for our exclusion and will act to safeguard our community from erasure, discrimination, and invisibility. 

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Sarkis Balkhian
Email / Tel: 818-863-2353
Armenian National Committee of America - Western Region
104 N. Belmont St. Suite 200, Glendale CA 91206 | | @anca_wr