Sen. Biden Against Senate Approval of New Ambassador until State Department Responds to Questions on Amb. Evans Recall

June 28, 2006

U.S. Amb. to Armenia Designate Richard HoaglandWASHINGTON, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee members George Allen (R-VA) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) bombarded U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Designate Richard Hoagland with questions about official U.S. complicity in Turkey’s campaign of Genocide denial, questioning him, during his confirmation hearing, regarding his ability to effectively represent the United States in Armenia without properly recognizing the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Sen. Geroge Allen chaired the Confirmation hearingIn the days leading up to today’s hearing, the Committee’s Ranking Democrat, Joseph Biden (D-DE), in a strongly worded letter, demanded that the Secretary of State answers questions concerning the recall of the current U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, before he could support the confirmation of his replacement.

At the hearing, Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), joined with Senators Coleman and Allen in sharply criticizing the Administration’s refusal to speak truthfully on the Armenian Genocide. Senator Boxer, who was unable to attend the hearing, submitted written questions to Amb. Hoagland.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)The hearing was marked by repeated calls upon Amb. Hoagland to clarify the State Department’s policy on the Armenian Genocide. If approved, he will replace the current U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans, who – amid great controversy – has been recalled over his truthful description of the Armenian Genocide in February of 2005.

“We appreciate the leadership of Senators Allen, Coleman and Sarbanes in pressing hard for a detailed explanation of the U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide – and commend Senator Biden for his principled demand that the Senate receive clear answers on this issue from the State Department before moving ahead with the nomination of a new envoy to Yerevan,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “We were deeply disappointed that, in response to these legitimate inquiries, Ambassador-designate Hoagland – apparently at the direction of his superiors in the State Department – limited his responses to a series of unresponsive evasions and euphemisms intended to obscure – not explain – the U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide.”

“We have said from the start – and believe even more firmly today – that the U.S. Senate cannot, in good conscience, approve the nomination of a new ambassador to Armenia until the circumstances of the current envoy’s controversial firing – including a thorough description of the U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide – are fully, officially and openly explained to Congress and the American people,” said Hachikian.

Dodging the Armenian Genocide

Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)In his opening remarks, Senator Allen, who chaired the confirmation hearing, made specific reference to the Bush Administration’s decision to recall U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evans for referring to the deportation and death of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as a clear instance of “genocide.” “Some have expressed concern that Ambassador Evans has been relieved of his duties as a result of references to the Armenian Genocide,” stated Sen. Allen. “I do not know this to be true, but will say that many of my colleagues and I refer to the tragic events of 1915 as genocide and have strongly encouraged the President to do so as well. I hope that in the future the Administration will recognize this terrible event for what it was – genocide.”

The Virginia Senator – and potential 2008 Presidential candidate – then went on to question Amb. Hoagland about the instructions he has received about discussing the Armenian Genocide, as well as the instructions he intends to issue to his Embassy staff on this matter. In response, Amb. Hoagland stated that, “the President has said, this is a tragedy for all humanity and one that the world must never forget.” He went on to note that he had not received “any kind of written instruction about this. 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.”

Amb. Hoagland noted on a number of occasions during the hearing that, as a Foreign Service officer who has dealt with the Caucasus, he has visited the memorial to victims in Armenia in Yerevan, and would do so again, should he be confirmed. He added, however, that he was against “getting stuck in the past” and wanted to focus on “living in the future.”

Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman noted that, “you can’t look to the future if you deny your past.” Sen. Coleman was relentless but respectful in his questioning, stating that, “the State Department has put you in a difficult position. It is almost absurd for you to sit here and you can’t utter the word ‘genocide.’ The President’s statement that he utters every year is a description of genocide. One of the things I was proud about the State Department is when we talk about the Genocide in Sudan – it’s genocide what’s happening in Darfur.”

Senator Coleman raised the 2000 statement by then Governor George Bush that, “Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign that defies comprehension,” asking Amb. Hoagland, “do you agree or disagree with that statement.” Amb. Hoagland avoided directly answering the question, noting instead: “I fully agree that events occurred in 1915 and following were of historic proportion. As I said, they were documented, they were horrifying. As we heard from Senator Sarbanes earlier on – ‘hundreds of valleys devastated,’ ‘no family untouched’. It was historic, it was a tragedy.”

When asked by Senator Coleman why he thought the State Department barred the use of the term “Armenian Genocide,” Amb. Hoagland dodged the question, stating: “I am very much encouraged by the fact that there are senior officials in Yerevan and Ankara and elsewhere who do like to bring closure to that period of history. They are looking for new ways of doing it. There are talks of commissions – the truth and reconciliation commission concept is being explored in quiet conversations. If we could I would very much like to meet with senior officials in Ankara and Baku because I think that could be helpful – it would help me understand better how to play a role of reconciliatory and a peacemaking role.”

In his comments, Senator Coleman stressed the theme that a U.S. Ambassador to Armenia who does not recognize the Armenian Genocide lacks credibility. He noted that, “I am of the Jewish faith. I cannot imagine an Ambassador to Israel being effective without talking about the Holocaust. I am not sure how we can continue to have Ambassadors to Armenia who can be effective, unless they give recognition to the Genocide.”

Senator Sarbanes, in his opening remarks, expressed “regret that we were called to hold this hearing today, in part to replace a career Ambassador prior to the completion of a three year tour of duty. We would not be in this situation, if the Administration would simply acknowledge a plain historical truth that 91 years ago, the world witnessed the first Genocide of the 21st century – the Armenian Genocide.” Sen. Sarbanes spoke eloquently about the U.S. Foreign service officers who witnessed the Armenian Genocide in 1915, and whose observations remain a permanent part of the U.S. archives.

Senator Barbara Boxer, who was not able to attend the hearing, submitted remarks and detailed written questions to Amb. Hoagland. Noting Amb. Evans’ statement in February 2005, properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide as “genocide,” Sen. Boxer stated, “I agree with Ambassador Evans’ statement. Not only should we not play word games with a matter as serious as genocide, we should also not play political games with issues of genocide.” The Senator went on to express concern “that the controversy surrounding Ambassador Evans will needlessly harm U.S.-Armenian relations. I understand that there are protests in front of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan today over the recall of Ambassador of Evans. How would you respond to this concern?”

Sen. Boxer’s reference was to a candle-light vigil held today in Yerevan by hundreds of human rights activists during the 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.

Regional Integration and Military Aid Parity:

In response to questions on the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia and the proposed Kars, Tbilisi, Baku railroad, Amb. Hoagland was adamant about the Administration’s decision not to fund any project that would hinder regional integration and cooperation. When asked about efforts to maintain military aid parity to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Amb. Hoagland would not commit to equal allocations of military aid to both countries. Sen. Allen reminded the nominee that the Senate plays a central role in ensuring military aid parity and that he would continue to work hard to ensure the aid balance is maintained.

Sen. Biden Asks Secretary Rice for Answers on Amb. Evans Recall

Just days before the Senate confirmation hearing, Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Democrat Joe Biden (D-DE) expressed concern to Secretary Condoleezza Rice regarding the circumstances surrounding the recall of Amb. Evans, noting that he is “not prepared to move forward on Senate action” on his replacement, until several key questions are answered.

In his June 23rd letter to Secretary Rice, Sen. Biden noted that “to punish an American official for correctly describing any historical event raise serious questions about the United States’ commitment to the values of transparency and honesty.” The letter went on to note that, “in this instance, the allegation that the Department would retaliate against an official whose only apparent offense was discussing an act of genocide with American citizens also damages our country’s reputation for upholding human rights and democratic values.” Senator Biden posed four questions to the State Department, including one which asks: “If it is in fact the policy of the United States not to characterize the systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, please explain why these events do not meet any of the five definitions in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” The State Department response, written by Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs Jeffrey Bergner, effectively avoided providing a meaningful response to Senator Biden’s questions.

Sen. Allen Calls on Ambassador-Designate to Respect Armenians

In his closing comments, Senator Allen urged Ambassador-designate Hoagland “to be respectful to Armenian Americans and also to Armenians, recognizing their heritage, their history, their sensitivities.”

The Scripps-Howard News Service, today, ran a story, “Ambassador-to-be dodges Armenian genocide question,” about Amb. Hoagland’s confirmation hearing. The first line of the story reads: “America’s next ambassador to Armenia is a verbal gymnast. He has to be, to keep his job.”

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.


For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
Email / Tel: (202) 775-1918 / (703) 585-8254 cell
Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 775-1918 * Fax. (202) 775-5648 *
Your generosity empowers our advocacy, inspires our work, and sustains our momentum.