WASHINGTON, DC – Internal State Department documents, released this week to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reveal that a senior State Department official forced the return to the U.S. of former Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans, prior to U.S. Senate’s approval of his replacement, effectively ensuring that this key foreign post would remain vacant.
The key document released by the Department was an August 8, 2006 “Sensitive-Eyes Only for Amb. Evans” memo from Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried to Ambassador Evans. In the note, the Assistant Secretary acknowledged Ambassador Evans’ willingness to remain in Yerevan until the Senate had confirmed Richard Hoagland, the career Foreign Service officer who had been nominated by President Bush to fill the Yerevan ambassadorial post after the Evans firing.
The relevant section of the cable reads as follows:
“John [Evans], Thank you for your offer to remain in Yerevan in light of the SFRC (Senate Foreign Relations Committee) postponement of its consideration of Dick’s [Richard Hoagland’s] nomination. I appreciate that you are willing to serve the President as needed. However, I think it is best to continue with your previous plan, and for you to depart post by the end of the first week in September.”
Putting a sharp point on his direction, Assistant Secretary Fried closed the note by writing: “Please consider this cable your authorization to depart the mission.”
The Department’s decision, as communicated in the August 8, 2006 Dan Fried memo, was taken amid intense opposition by Armenian Americans and growing scrutiny by members of the U.S. Senate over Hoagland’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. The Fried memo was sent after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s August 1st postponement of its confirmation vote, and prior to the panel’s September 7th consideration of the Hoagland nomination. Forcing Ambassador Evans’ physical return to the U.S. prior to this vote afforded State Department lobbyists the “talking point” that opposing the Hoagland nomination would mean leaving an ambassadorial vacancy in Yerevan.
The Hoagland nomination, facing bipartisan opposition, was ultimately blocked by Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez (D-NJ). The New Jersey legislator placed a hold on his confirmation by the Senate, arguing that a U.S. ambassador who denies the Armenian Genocide cannot be an effective U.S. representative in Armenia.
Also released by the State Department was a detailed document tightly scripting the retractions issued in the name of Ambassador Evans following his February 2005 public comments to Armenian American audiences in which he properly characterized Ottoman Turkey’s campaign to exterminate its Armenian population as a genocide. In a February 26, 2005 memo to Ambassador Evans, drafted by then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Laura Kennedy and approved by Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Beth Jones, titled “Instructions to Ambassador Evans Regarding Personal Statement” – the State Department dictated the exact language to be used in the correction issued in Evans’ name.
Among these were specific “points to use with the Government of Armenia,” including the following guidance, that contrary to Amb. Evans’ public statements:
“. . .the State Department’s Legal Adviser did not offer an official position that the events of 1915 were ‘genocide by definition.’”
Copies of these FOIA files are available upon request.