WASHINGTON, DC – Armenian Americans nationwide were justifiably shocked to see reports on Tuesday, September 12th on top U.S. news sites spotlighting Armenia as one of seven countries, including Burundi, Egypt, Kuwait, Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia, in which U.S. Embassies issued security alerts after the tragic attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya just a day earlier.
The raising of alarms in Armenia, an overwhelmingly Christian-populated nation, in response to a wave of anger in the Muslim world over offenses against the Prophet Mohammed made no apparent sense, either to Armenians or observers worldwide. Armenia has no modern history of religiously-oriented violence or anti-American demonstrations, and no ties to any of the groups leading protests in the Arab countries in which U.S. embassies have been targeted.
Since the story first broke, seeking answers and accountability, the ANCA reached out to the U.S. State Department and the AP reporter who wrote the initial article on this subject.
The ANCA was informed by Department of State sources, later confirmed publicly by State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, that on the night of September 11th, after the Benghazi attacks, the State Department “sent a message to every diplomatic mission in the world asking them to again review security and take the necessary measures. Some of you will have seen that there were increased emergency warnings or security warnings that were also issued to Americans in some 50-plus missions around the world since that went out.”
On September 12th, the U.S. Embassy in Armenia was among the first seven countries to send emergency messages to Americans travelling and residing in their respective countries. The Armenia alert called on U.S. citizens to “remain vigilant, ” in light of recent anti-American violence following recent events in Egypt and Libya. It noted, however, that “the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has no specific information to indicate that these events will affect security in Yerevan.”
The Zambia alert, like Armenia, indicated no specific threat reports. Burundi was even less specific. Egypt, Kuwait, Sudan and Tunisia referenced reports of times and places of possible demonstrations.
These emergency alerts were emailed out to U.S. citizens in their respective countries, were posted on Embassy websites, and on a central State Department alert site maintained by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The AP reporter, Matthew Lee, who broke the story, saw the list of the seven initial alerts and ran with it. He could have made the distinction that Armenia, Zambia and Burundi had no specific threat listed in their notes, while the other four did. However, he stands by his reporting that the U.S. Embassies in these seven countries acted first, perhaps believing that their specific situations were serious enough to merit posting an Emergency Alert to American citizens. He confirmed that list had been expanded to some 50 countries since then.
A number of pressing questions remain unanswered.
Why was the U.S. Embassy in Armenia, a Christian country with no record of Islamic protests, among the first countries to send out an emergency alert to U.S. citizens? Neighboring U.S. embassies in Azerbaijan and Georgia have yet to post any type of warnings either on their websites or in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security page. An alert was finally posted on the U.S. Embassy of Turkey on September 15th, regarding credible reports of demonstrations, with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security site posting it a day after.
The ANCA will continue to press for honest answers and governmental accountability regarding this highly sensitive matter for all Armenians.