WASHINGTON, DC – In the wake of this past Wednesday’s contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for Ambassador to Armenia Designate Richard Hoagland, panel members John Kerry (D-MA), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have each submitted a series of detailed written questions asking the nominee to explain the guidance he has received from the State Department concerning its policy on the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee (ANCA). Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) also sent a letter of inquiry this week concerning the recall of the current U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans following his statements affirming the Armenian Genocide.
During the June 28th nomination hearing, Sen. George Allen (R-VA), Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), and Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) pressed the nominee for an explanation of the State Department’s guidance regarding the use of the word “genocide” to properly characterize this crime against humanity. Senators Allen and Coleman peppered the nominee with numerous questions and expressed frustration as the Ambassador-Designate avoided giving direct answers to any of the questions, resorting to the use of euphemisms.
Ambassador-Designate Hoagland’s June 28th appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee was alongside nominees for the U.S. ambassadorships to Ireland and Switzerland, who were subsequently approved by the Committee and then the full Senate on June 29th. In contrast, the Committee deferred action on confirming the proposed new ambassador to Armenia.
“Seven of the eighteen members of the Foreign Relations Committee – over one third of this influential panel – are already on record raising serious concerns about confirming a new ambassador to Yerevan before receiving a full, open, and official explanation of the circumstances surrounding the recall of our current ambassador, the instructions given to our prospective ambassador, and – more broadly – the exact nature of our government’s policy on the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “In light of the seriousness of these issues – and the lack of responsiveness from the Administration – we were gratified that the Committee has wisely delayed action on the new ambassador to Yerevan until these fundamental questions have been answered.”
In the days leading up to the confirmation hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Democrat Joseph Biden (D-DE) asked Secretary Condoleezza Rice for a thorough explanation of the circumstances of the premature recall of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evans over his public comments affirming the Armenian Genocide. In his June 23rd letter to Secretary Rice, Sen. Biden, a potential 2008 Presidential candidate, stated that he would “not be prepared to move forward with any Senate action that would prematurely end his [Amb. Evans’] tenure in Yerevan” until a series of questions concerning Evans’ dismissal and the State Department’s failure to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide had been answered. Sen. Biden wrote further to Secretary Rice, “Recalling an accomplished American diplomat for speaking truthfully about genocide could feed widespread cynicism about United States’ foreign policy. I hope that you will carefully reconsider the long-term implications of this decision on the United States’ ability to promote freedom and respect for human life.”
Senator Kerry submitted a three-page set of detailed questions to the Ambassador-Designate. Among his inquiries was the following:
During your June 28, 2006 confirmation hearing, you stated the following when responding to a question on the State Department’s policy on the Armenian Genocide: “I simply studied the policy, I studied the background papers on the policy, I know the policy and my responsibility is to support the president.”
1) Please describe, in detail, the source, purpose, content, and conclusions of all “policy” documents, “background papers,” and other materials concerning the Armenian Genocide that you reviewed and provide copies of these materials to the Committee for its review.
Turkey has consistently denied that it committed genocide against Armenians and in fact has jailed several journalists for stating otherwise, as in the case of Hrant Dink, a Turkish publisher who was convicted for simply writing about the Armenian Genocide. And the criminal law penalizing speech on the Armenian Genocide remains on the books in Turkey.
1) What is the Administration’s position on these imprisonments?
2) Do you believe the policy of non-recognition encourages the repressive actions taken by Turkey?
Senator Sarbanes, who spoke at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, followed up today with a set of seven additional questions:
1) How many people died, and during what period, in the Armenian Genocide?
2) What were the causes of these deaths?
3) What actions were taken by U.S. diplomats in Turkey at that time to warn and report on the events?
4) What steps were taken to punish perpetrators of the Armenian genocide?
5) How does the U.S. define “genocide”?
6) Does the United Nations consider the atrocities against Armenians to be a “genocide”?
7) Since the Ottoman Empire is long gone, why does Turkey view discussion of the genocide as a reflection on its own government and people?
Among the questions asked by Senator Chafee was a request that Ambassador-Designate Hoagland explain “the State Department’s policy regarding statements by official US government representatives, such as yourself, about the Armenian Genocide.” The Rhode Island legislator also asked if the nominee had “ever been counseled to not refer to the events of 1915 as the Armenian Genocide.”
Sen. Dodd outlined his concerns in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, stating that he is “interested to learn more about the circumstances that lead to his [Evans] departure,” noting that “an effort, intended to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, clearly constitutes an act of genocide.”
Last week, House Armenian Genocide Resolution lead sponsors George Radanovich (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) joined with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) in urging Secretary Rice to reconsider replacing Amb. Evans, noting that “allowing John Evans to continue as Ambassador to Armenia sends a strong message on the necessity of Turkish recognition, and will be an important step in establishing the U.S. position on the Armenian Genocide.”
Over the past several months, scores of Senate and House Members have directed questions to State Department officials, calling for answers surrounding the controversial firing of Amb. Evans, including 60 Representatives who joined Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) in a letter to Secretary Rice, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) who submitted questions to Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) who submitted questions to Secretary Rice. Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry also asked Secretary Rice for clarification on the Amb. Evans dismissal. The Administration has either failed to provide responses or provided responses, which have been largely perfunctory, citing that Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President, but giving no clear insight into the State Department’s decision to dismiss the career diplomat after 35 years of distinguished service.
The State Department, with the blessing of the White House, fired Amb. Evans in response to his February 2005 statements at Armenian American community functions, during which he properly characterized the Armenian Genocide as “genocide.” Following his statements, Amb. Evans was forced to issue a statement clarifying that his references to the Armenian Genocide were his personal views and did not represent a change in U.S. policy. He subsequently issued a correction to this statement, replacing a reference to the genocide with the word “tragedy.” The American Foreign Service Association, which had decided to honor Amb. Evans with the “Christian A. Herter Award,” recognizing creative thinking and intellectual courage within the Foreign Service, reportedly rescinded the award following pressure from the State Department in the days leading up to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington, DC to meet with President Bush.
Armenian American response to Amb. Evans’ dismissal has been widespread with thousands calling on their legislators to take action and demand answers. In a March 8th letter to Secretary Rice, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian noted that “if, in fact, punitive measures are being taken against Ambassador Evans, this would represent a tragic retreat from our nation’s core values. It would also represent a new low in our government’s shameful complicity in the Turkish government’s campaign of denial. Not only does the State Department continue to be publicly silent as Turkey criminally prosecutes its writers and citizens for speaking about the Armenian Genocide, it appears the State Department is following Turkey’s lead by muzzling and punishing an American diplomat for his speech and his acknowledgement of a genocide that is extensively documented in the State Department’s own archives.”
In Yerevan, a candle-light vigil was held by hundreds of human rights activists during the June 28th Senate confirmation hearing, as part of the “Yellow Ribbon Campaign” protesting the firing the Amb. Evans. On April 24th, tens of thousands had tied yellow ribbons in solidarity with the U.S. Ambassador, who had stood with the Armenian people in honoring the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.