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WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) castigated the Bush Administration’s policy of Armenian Genocide denial, today, dramatically pressing U.S. Ambassadorial nominee to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch regarding the Administration’s refusal to properly characterize Ottoman Turkey’s systematic destruction of its Armenian population as a genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The Associated Press, in an article today entitled “Nominee Refuses to Call Killings Genocide,” noted Senator Menendez’s “intense questioning” and the “prosecutorial style” of his inquiries during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing. The AP article, which was also carried by MSNBC and other media outlets, quoted ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian as saying, after the hearing, that, “we were troubled by Ambassador Yovanovitch’s refusal to offer any meaningful rationale for the Administration’s ongoing complicity in Turkey’s denials.”
Sen. Menendez, who had placed two consecutive holds on previous ambassadorial nominee Dick Hoagland for denying the Armenian Genocide, meticulously questioned Yovanovitch by presenting historical State Department documents from the time of the Genocide and comparing those statements with her opening remarks.
“The US government – and certainly I – acknowledges and mourns the mass killings, ethnic cleansing and forced deportations that devastated over one and a half million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire,” said Yovanovich in her opening testimony. Following these remarks, Sen. Menendez presented the nominee with several documents quoting U.S. Ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgethau and Abram Elkus, and other U.S. diplomats who served in the region at the time of the Armenian Genocide and documented the destruction of the Armenian population.
Juxtaposing the eyewitness accounts of these U.S. officials with the definition of the crime as outlined by the U.N. Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, Sen. Menendez asked whether the President’s annual April 24th remarks, Yovanovich’s prepared statements, and her responses regarding U.S. diplomatic reporting matched the U.N. Convention, to which the U.S. is a party. Amb. Yovanovich sidestepped this question, stating instead that it is the President and the State Department who set the policy of defining historic events. In her testimony, she publicly confirmed that “It has been President Bush’s policy, as well as that of previous presidents of both parties, not to use that term.”
Sen. Menendez responded, “It is a shame that career foreign service officers have to be brought before the Committee and find difficulty in acknowledging historical facts, and find difficulty in acknowledging the realities of what has been internationally recognized.” He went on to state, “And it is amazing to me that we can talk about millions, a million and a half human beings who were slaughtered, we can talk about those who were raped, we can talk about those who were forcibly pushed out of their country, and we can have presidential acknowledgements of that, but then we cannot call it what it is. It is a ridiculous dance that the Administration is doing on the use of the term genocide. It is an attempt to suggest that we don’t want to strain our relationships with Turkey… I believe acknowledging historical facts as they are is a principal that is easily understood both at home and abroad. So while the Administration believes that this policy benefits us vis-a-vis our relationship with Turkey, I think they should also recognize that it hurts our relationship elsewhere and it tarnishes the United States’ history of being a place where truth is spoken to power, and acknowledgment of our failures of the past make us stronger, not weaker; recognizing the evils of the past do not trap us, but they set us free.”
“We join with Armenian Americans across the nation in thanking Senator Menendez for his courage and determination in holding the Bush Administration accountable for its deeply flawed policy of enabling Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Today’s Senate hearing with Ambassador Yovanovitch, much like yesterday’s testimony before a U.S. House panel by Assistant Secretary Fried, confirms the sad reality that our government has allowed a foreign nation to impose a ‘gag-rule’ on America’s right to speak truthfully about the Armenian Genocide.”
“We look forward to carefully reviewing Ambassador Yovanovitch’s responses to the written questions that will be posed by Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to get a fuller understanding of her ability to effectively represent U.S. interests and American values as our Ambassador to Yerevan,” added Hamparian.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) who chaired the confirmation hearing concurred with Sen. Menendez, noting that “there is no question in my mind, that facts speak for themselves, and what happened was genocide… In Armenia we need an ambassador… who understands the historical facts, and has the historical facts correctly stated.” Sen. Cardin also questioned Amb. Yovanovitch on the recent elections in Armenia and urged the Ambassadorial nominee to Austria to help secure Austria’s support for Turkey’s membership in the European Union.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released a statement to coincide with Amb. Yavanovitch’s confirmation hearing, noting her outrage at the firing of former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans for speaking truthfully about the Genocide. “It is bad enough that Armenians everywhere have to endure a U.S. President who refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide despite earlier promises to the contrary. But Armenians were also recently forced to witness the dismissal of a career U.S. diplomat, Ambassador John Evans, who expressed his personal view that it is long past time that the United States call one of the greatest events of deliberate mass murder in the 20th century by its rightful name — genocide… I could not agree with Ambassador Evans more.”
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has submitted a set of questions for the record in which he reaffirmed the importance of recognizing the killing of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 as genocide.