WASHINGTON, DC — In the midst of mounting Senate scrutiny and the prospect of a “hold” on Marie Yovanovitch’s nomination to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, the State Department, today, cleared the way for her approval by retreating from statements calling into question the historical record of the Ottoman Empire’s destruction of its Armenian population, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The Department of State letter – sent in response to sustained pressure from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – was issued only hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote on her nomination. The Committee confirmed the nomination by voice vote, with Senator Boxer going on record against the nomination, citing the Administration’s reluctance to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide. The full Senate will likely consider her nomination prior to their August recess.
“Today’s State Department letter, although clearly falling short of America’s moral responsibility and national interest in recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide, did mark a step in the direction of distancing U.S. policy from the dictates of the Turkish government,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “While we, of course, remain troubled by the President’s refusal to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide – as reflected in Ambassador Yovanovitch’s responses – we were gratified to see that, as a result of pressure from Senators Biden, Boxer, and Menendez, the Department of State has retreated from its most offensive and factually unsupportable assertions calling into question the historical fact of Ottoman Turkey’s destruction of its Armenian population.”
Last month, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) delayed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of the confirmation of Ambassador Yovanovitch in response to the State Department’s late responses to the eight sets of written questions submitted to her by members of the panel. In the days leading up to today’s vote, Senators Biden, Boxer and Menendez approached the State Department for further clarification of the nominee’s statements. Facing strong pressure and the prospect of a Senate “hold,” Matthew Reynolds, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, wrote to Chairman Biden to formally affirm that: “the Administration recognizes that the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations of over one and a half million Armenians were conducted by the Ottoman Empire.” The full text of the letter is provided below.
During the Committee meeting, Chairman Biden, and Senators Boxer, Menendez, and Ben Cardin (D-MD) spoke forcefully about the necessity for proper U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, stating that while the State Department’s letter represented progress, the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide remains a moral imperative and will bolster U.S. credibility in stopping 21st Century genocides. Excerpts from comments by Senators during the meeting are provided below.
On March 28, 2008, President Bush nominated Amb. Marie L. Yovanovitch to serve as America’s next Ambassador to Armenia. The ANCA spoke to Committee members about the value of carefully questioning Amb. Yovanovitch on the many issues she would face as the U.S. envoy in Yerevan, among them the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades of Armenia, and the need for a balanced U.S. role in helping forge a democratic and peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. These efforts have been supported by extensive on-line outreach and a national postcard campaign to key Senate Foreign Relations Committee members.
During her June 19th confirmation hearing, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) sharply criticized the Bush Administration’s policy of Armenian Genocide denial, dramatically pressing the Ambassadorial nominee regarding the Administration’s refusal to properly characterize Ottoman Turkey’s systematic destruction of its Armenian population as a genocide.
President Bush’s previous nominee as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Richard Hoagland, was subject to two legislative holds by Sen. Menendez and was ultimately withdrawn by the Administration, following the nominee’s statements denying the Armenian Genocide. The ANCA led the Armenian American community campaign opposing Hoagland’s nomination, stating that a genocide denier could not serve as a credible and effective U.S. spokesperson in Armenia. The last U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans, was fired by the State Department for properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide as ‘genocide.’
TEXT OF STATE DEPARTMENT LETTER TO SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE
United States Department of State
Washington DC, 20520
July 29, 2008
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing in response to your concerns regarding responses to questions for the record submitted by you and Senator Menendez regarding the nomination of Marie Yovanovitch as Ambassador to Armenia.
Regarding your Question #1, Ms. Yovanovitch mentions an International Visitors Program under consideration that would bring archivists from Turkey and Armenia to the United States for professional training. Our goal is to help archivists protect the evidence of the past so that future generations will have the documentation of the mass killings and deportations of Armenians committed by Ottoman soldiers and other Ottoman officials in 1915. Our goal is not to open a debate on whether the Ottomans committed these horrendous acts; it is to help preserve the documentation that supports the truth of those events.
Regarding Ms. Yovanovitch’s response to Senator Menendez’s Question #8, the Administration recognizes that the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations of over one and a half million Armenians were conducted by the Ottoman Empire. We indeed hold Ottoman officials responsible for those crimes.
In her testimony, Ms. Yovanovitch tried to convey her deep empathy with the profound suffering of the Armenian people and in no way sought to cast any doubt on historical facts.
We hope this information is helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance on this or any other matter.
Matthew A. Reynolds
Acting Assistant Secretary
Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE): “I want to point out that you – Senator Boxer and Senator Menendez – without your sustained push on this, I don’t think the Administration would have come as far as they have. They have come a long, long, long way since I read that last response, and I wrote to them in response to what I believed to be not clear answers to your questions. And that is a milestone. I promise you that will be reported in Ankara; that will be reported in Armenia. . . I also want to thank, quite frankly, the American Armenian community. This is a very hard thing for them. […] The maturation of the community is something that is remarkable because this is still not resolved in a way probably all of us want to see resolved.” […]
“Recognition by the United States of the Armenian Genocide is not the final goal. The real goal is the recognition of Turkey – of the Turkish Government – of the Armenian Genocide and the establishment of a common Turkish-Armenian understanding of the events and tragedy that took place. [. . .] When Senator Kerry, Hagel and I were in Turkey, we all said in one form or another, ‘Hey look, when are you going to get real on this.’ And it’s clear, they have internal difficulty. They all know what happened and they’re trying to figure out how to deal with this. And the government is under siege from the courts and all these other things going on there. But I think we have to play an affirmative role in moving this along.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA): “As we work to build our standing in the world, I think there are a few issues on which we should never waiver. I believe we as a country have to be clear on the Armenian Genocide and I believe we have a continuing problem on our hands, particularly as we address the modern day genocide plaguing the Darfur region.” […]
“As you know, Mr. Chairman, there is no need for further study or historical research. The facts are clear. Beginning in 1915, more than 1.5 million Armenians were marched to their deaths in the desert, murdered in concentration camps, and forced to endure unimaginable acts of brutality at the end of the Ottoman Empire. Since that time, the deliberate massacre of the Armenians has been painstakingly documented by untold numbers of scholars, including Nobel Prize recipient Eli Wiesel who published a petition in the New York Times with other Holocaust scholars affirming “the incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide” […]
“I appreciate that Ambassador Yovanovitch has clarified that by proposing to bring Turkish and Armenians scholars to the United States, the State Department is not seeking to ‘open a debate on whether the Ottomans committed these horrendous acts,’ but that it is seeking to ‘help preserve the documentation that supports the truth of those events.’ There is so much running away from using the word genocide – it’s unbelievable.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ): “My concern, Mr. Chairman, has to do with the oath that the Ambassador takes – and I have a copy here. It says ‘I do solemnly swear to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. . .’ It doesn’t say ‘I take an oath to the President of the United States. . .’ It says ‘I take an oath to the Constitution of the United States.’ That Constitution includes this body. If we cannot have a nominee [of whom we can ask] what is their opinion, when called before this Committee, about the facts on the ground, a set of circumstances, then we are undermining the very essence of our ability to deduce and obtain what are the facts so that we can ultimately pursue the right policy.”
“I said at the time that it is a ridiculous game that this Administration asks our Ambassadors to play over the use of the word ‘genocide.’ And I was concerned about some the responses that Amb. Yovanovitch wrote to some of our written questions, which suggest that some Armenian Americans and some Americans suggest that the facts that took place at that period of time were genocide. That would suggest that others may not believe it so. The problem with that is that every credible objective historian, not just Armenian historians – but a broad range of historians including the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the Institute of Holocaust and Genocide, the Institute of the Study of Genocide, all recognize these facts of that period of time as ‘genocide.’ And so it is indeed amazing to me, Mr. Chairman, that our Ambassador to Armenia, every April, attended the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide – commemoration of an event that the Administration doesn’t even officially recognize.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD): “I agree with Senator Menendez and Senator Boxer that the Administration’s position on this, is not helping Turkey and it is not helping the U.S. Turkey would do best [inaudible] what happened and it is important that we use the right term of genocide [. . .] I think it is important for Armenia to have a confirmed Ambassador. I think it is in our interest to have an Ambassador – particularly one who is experienced, who is a career diplomat – who could help in regard to these matters.”