July 22, 2008
WASHINGTON - Senator Barack Obama has received written responses to the four written questions he submitted to U.S. Ambassador Designate Marie Yovanovitch as part of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's ongoing review of her nomination to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
"We remain troubled by Ambassador Yovanovitch's evasive answers, her outright non-responses, and her refusal, in her replies to Senator Obama and other Senators, to offer anything approaching a reasonable or factually supportable explanation of the reasons behind Administration's misguided policy on the Armenian Genocide," said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. "This being said, it appears as though Ambassador Yovanovitch and her colleagues have learned from the disastrous Hoagland experience and are coming to understand that the U.S. Senate will not accept 's and the Armenian American community will never allow - an Ambassador to Armenia who denies the Armenian Genocide."
Ambassador Yovanovitch appeared as a witness before the Committee on June 19th. During this appearance, she faced a series of pointed questions from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) regarding the Bush Administration's policy to mischaracterize the Armenian Genocide. Afterwards, as many as eight Senators, including Senator Menendez, submitted a series of written inquiries to the nominee.
If confirmed, I will continue the tradition of participating in the official memorial event held in Yerevan every April. I will refer to this great historic catastrophe as the "Medz Yeghern," the term often used within Armenia to refer to that dark chapter of history. If confirmed, I would make it a priority to promote understanding and reconciliation between the people and governments of Armenia and Turkey. It is important for the US to do everything that it can to encourage dialogue between Armenia and Turkey, and to encourage Turkey in particular to examine the terrible events of that time openly. This was a tragedy that we and the world must never forget, so that it is never repeated," said Yovanovitch in her response to Obama.
Concerned that Senators had not been given enough time to review Yovanovitch's responses, with many submitted less than 24 hours before the impending Committee vote, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called for a delay in Senate consideration, until Senators had a clearer picture of the nominee's position. A Committee decision on this posting is expected in mid-July.
The ANCA has thanked Senator Boxer for providing Senators, the Armenian American community, and all citizens who care about ending genocide with the opportunity to meaningfully review the responses of a public servant nominated to fill a diplomatic posting that has been the center of national attention since the Administration's firing of Ambassador John Evans over his truthful remarks on the Armenian Genocide.
"We compromise our standing as a nation when we require that our Foreign Service officers either lie or conceal the truth in the conduct of our foreign affairs. This exercise of euphemisms and evasion in relation to the Armenian Genocide, which everyone knows is the result of Turkish government pressure, undermines our credibility," added Hamparian. "Our diplomats should be sent abroad with a clear message: speak the truth and America will stand with you."
President Bush nominated Amb. Marie L. Yovanovitch in March of this year to serve as America's next Ambassador to Armenia. The ANCA has spoken to Committee members about the value of carefully questioning Amb. Yovanovitch on the many issues she will 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.
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.
Ambassador-Designate's Responses to Obama's Questions on Genocide PolicyQuestion for the Record Submitted to
Ambassador-Designate Marie Yovanovitch by Senator Barack Obama
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
June 20, 2008
Barack Obama: Nearly 2 million Armenians were deported during the Armenian Genocide, which was carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, and approximately 1.5 of those deported were killed. It is imperative that we recognize the horrific acts carried out against the Armenian people as genocide. The occurrence of the Armenian genocide is a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming collection of historical evidence. I was deeply disturbed two years ago when the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia was fired after he used the term "genocide" to describe the mass slaughter of Armenians. I called for Secretary Rice to closely examine what I believe is an untenable position taken by the U. S. government. I ask that you respond to the following questions:
B.O.:How do you characterize the events surrounding the Armenian genocide?
Marie Yovanovich: The U. S. Government acknowledges and mourns the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportation that devastated over one and a half million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The United States recognizes these events as one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, the "Medz Yeghern," or Great Calamity, as many Armenians refer to it. That is why every April the President honors the victims and expresses American solidarity with the Armenian people on Remembrance Day. As the child of refugees ? at a different time and place ? I do feel strongly about the great suffering experienced by the Armenian people both at that time and today as they remember this dark chapter in their history. I too mourn the loss of so many innocent lives and fully respect that the Armenian-American community and the Armenian people want their pain and loss to be acknowledged.
B.O.: If confirmed, what actions will you take to remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide?
M.Y.: If confirmed, I will continue the tradition of participating in the official memorial event held in Yerevan every April. I will refer to this great historic catastrophe as the "Medz Yeghern," the tern often used within Armenia to refer to that dark chapter of history. If confirmed, I also would make it a priority to promote understanding and reconciliation between the peoples and governments of Armenia and Turkey. It is important for the U.S. to do everything that it can to encourage dialogue between Armenia and Turkey, and to encourage Turkey in particular to examine the terrible events of that time openly. This was a tragedy that we and the world must never forget, so that it is never repeated.
B.O.: What steps is the State Department taking to encourage greater study and recognition of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey?
M.Y.: The U.S. Embassy in Ankara is committed to working with the Government of Turkey on ways in which the atrocities of 1915 can be studied. As a recent example, the Administration is currently laying the groundwork for an International Visitor Program that would bring archivists from the Turkish State Archives to the U.S. to look at the ways in which we do historical research. As a confidence building measure, the USG has contacted Armenian archivists to participate in the program, in the hope that, upon return, the archivists from both countries could work together on a joint program that would study the issue.
In addition, our Embassies take every opportunity in meetings with the Government of Armenia and turkey, and with civil society leaders from both countries, to encourage improved dialogue between them. Since 2006, the USG has provided over $700,000 in support of initiatives to increase people-to-people connection between Armenia and Turkey, including research projects, conferences, documentary production, and exchange and partnership programs with the goal of increasing cross-border dialogue and cooperation. These programs are focused on bringing together Armenian and Turkish NGOs, think tanks researchers, academics and business leaders at the grass roots level by creating opportunities for them to work together on common projects that will benefit both countries.
B.O.: How will you work with your counterparts in Ankara to decriminalize discussion of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey? Is the Department satisfied with recent medications to Article 301 of Turkey's Criminal Code that allowed individuals such as Hrant Dink to be prosecuted for speaking about the Genocide? Why or why not?
M.Y.: The Administration has made clear to the Turkish authorities on many occasions that such prosecutions violate free expression, run counter to Turkey's aspiration to join the European Union, and undercut Turkey's strategic significance as an example of a secular democracy that can inspire reform throughout the broader Middle East and Central Asia. The scope for free expression in Turkey, including on the Armenian issue, has expanded significantly in recent years, but clearly there is much more to be done. In May 2008, Turkey amended Article 301 of its Penal code, under which individuals have been prosecuted for insulting Turkishness.? While the Administration would have preferred to have seen the repeal of Article 301, the amendments reduce the maximum possible sentence from three to two years and, most importantly, require the Minister of Justice to determine whether to accept the case for prosecution. The Minister's role should help to reduce significantly the number of cases brought by zealous prosecutors. The Administration has encouraged the Turkish authorities to continue this progress and to end legal action against citizens for expressing their views.