John Evans

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John Marshall Evans

US Ambassador to Armenia
Term of Appointment: 08/11/2004 to 9/2006

Defied US State Department policy of not using the word "genocide" in reference to the Armenians in WWI and was fired for this stand.

Contents

Biography

John Evans was confirmed by the Senate on June 25, 2004 and was sworn-in as the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia on August 11, 2004. He presented his credentials to President Kocharian on September 4, 2004.

A native of Williamsburg, Virginia, Mr. Evans studied Russian history at Yale (B.A., 1970) and Columbia, where he began a Ph.D. before joining the Foreign Service. In the first part of his career, he served in Tehran (1972-74), in Prague (1975-78), in the Executive Secretariat and Office of the Secretary of State (1978-80), in Moscow (1981-83), at the U.S. Mission to NATO (1983-86), and as Deputy Director of the Soviet Desk (1986-89). His role in coordinating the American response to the Armenian earthquake of 1988 earned him a medal and statement of appreciation from the Armenian government of that time.

Having won a Cox Fellowship, Mr. Evans set about studying Ottoman history at the Kennan Institute; however, the tumultuous events of 1989 resulted in his being recalled to serve as deputy chief of delegation to four post-1989 experts’ meetings of the CSCE (in Bonn on Economic Cooperation, in Valletta on Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, in Copenhagen on the Human Dimension, and in Krakow on Preservation of the Cultural Heritage). Mr. Evans went on to serve as Deputy Chief of Mission in Prague (1991-94), and as Consul General in St. Petersburg (1994-97). He was then chosen to lead the OSCE Mission to Moldova, an international mediation and peace-keeping mission, during the Danish, Polish and Norwegian OSCE chairmanships (1997-99).

On his return to Washington in 1999, Mr. Evans assumed direction of the State Department’s Office of Analysis for Russia and Eurasia, winning a Meritorious Honor Award and the CIA Director’s Exceptional Performance Award. From May 2002 until his appointment to Yerevan, he directed the Office of Russian Affairs.

Ambassador Evans speaks Russian, French, Czech and some Farsi, and is studying Eastern Armenian. He is married to Donna Evans, former President of the World Affairs Council of Washington, and has a married daughter, Jennifer, who lives in New York. The Evanses collect folk art representations of Adam and Eve.

Released on October 25, 2004

Armenian Genocide Statements

U.S. Official Affirms Armenian Genocide
Friday 25, February 2005
By Emil Danielyan

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans has publicly referred to the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as `genocide,' signaling a significant shift in the U.S. government's position on the highly sensitive issue.

In separate statements issued late on Thursday, the two leading Armenian-American lobbying groups said Evans recognized the genocide during his ongoing series of meetings with representatives of the influential Armenian community in the United States.

A statement by one of those organizations, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), quoted the ambassador as declaring at a meeting in California: "I will today call it the Armenian Genocide ¦ I think we, the U.S. government, owe you, our fellow citizens a more frank and honest way of discussing this problem.'

`The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century. I pledge to you, we are going to do a better job at addressing this issue,' he added to rapturous applause from the Armenian audience, according to the ANCA.

"We welcome the Ambassador's honest approach to Armenian history," a local ANCA leader, Roxanne Makasdjian, was quoted as saying.

Evans's use of the word `genocide,' which is bound to anger Turkey, was also announced and welcomed by the chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, Anthony Barsamian. `In his public commentaries, Ambassador Evans repeatedly employed the words "Armenian Genocide" to properly characterize the attempted annihilation of our people by Ottoman Turkey,' he said in a speech in Los Angeles.

Barsamian was addressing more than 270 community leaders that gathered to pay tribute to countries that attempted to stop or recognized the genocide.

Evans thus became the first U.S. official since former President Ronald Reagan to publicly describe the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenia as a genocide. Reagan did so in an April 1981 statement on the genocide committed in Cambodia in the 1970s.

It is not clear if Evans's remarks represent a change in the position of the U.S. government that has avoided using the term for fear of antagonizing Turkey, a key U.S. ally. The U.S. envoy said, according to the ANCA statement, that he studied the subject in detail and consulted with a State Department lawyer before going on record.

In his annual addresses to the Armenian-American community, President George W. Bush has stopped short of calling the events of 1915-1918 a genocide, while using phrases like `one of the great tragedies of history' and `annihilation of approximately 1.5 million Armenians.'

Bush, according to Barsamian, `set forth the textbook definition of genocide without using the word.' `Ambassador Evans completed the thought,' added the Assembly chief.

Assembly leaders appear to link the apparent change in Washington's rhetoric to a study by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a New York-based human rights organization, which concluded in February 2003 that the Armenian massacres meet the definition of genocide set by a 1948 UN convention.

The ICTJ study was commissioned by the now defunct Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) which was tacitly backed by the Assembly but strongly criticized by the ANCA. In an April 2003 statement, Bush praised TARC and its `recent and significant achievements.'

(Photolur photo: John Evans.)

Article (C) Copyright 2005 RFE/RL. Used with permission.

Clarification of statements

EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
MARSHALL BAGHRAMIAN STREET 18
YEREVAN, ARMENIA
TELEPHONE (+374 1) 52 78 71; 52 16 11; 52 46 61
FAX (+374 1) 52 08 00
E-MAIL: USINFO@USA.AM
http://www.usa.am
NEWS RELEASE

February 28, 2005

U.S. Ambassador: Regarding comments made in the United States

I would like to clarify U.S. policy. Misunderstandings make have arisen as a result of comments made by me during recent informal meetings with Armenian-American groups in the United States regarding the characterization of the Armenian tragedy in Ottoman Turkey and the future status of Nagorno Karabakh.

Although I told my audiences that the United States policy on the Armenian Genocide has not changed, I used the term “genocide” speaking in what I characterized as my personal capacity. This was inappropriate.

The President’s annual statement on Armenian Remembrance Day articulates U.S. policy on this matter. My government acknowledges the tragedy that befell the Armenian community in Anatolia during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. We have been actively encouraging scholarly, civil society and diplomatic discussion of the forced killing and exile of Armenians in 1915. We have also encouraged economic and political dialogue between the governments of Armenia and Turkey in order to help all parties come to terms with these horrific events.

In addition, my comments on the status of Nagorno Karabakh may have also created misunderstanding on U.S. policy. The U.S. government supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and holds that the future status of Nagorno Karabakh is a matter of negotiation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The United States remains committed to finding a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through the Minsk group process. We are encouraged by the continuing talks between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan under the auspice of the Minsk group co-chairs.

I deeply regret any misunderstanding caused by my comments.

Sincerely,

John M. Evans
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia

Clarification of Clarification

As a postscript - the clarification by the Ambassador was "corrected" after complaints by the Turkish govt. that the term genocide continued to be used as a matter of fact.


March 1 , 2005
CORRECTED VERSION
U.S. Ambassador: Regarding comments made in the United States

I would like to clarify U.S. policy. Misunderstandings may have arisen as a result of comments made by me during recent informal meetings with Armenian-American groups in the United States regarding the characterization of the Armenian tragedy in Ottoman Turkey and the future status of Nagorno Karabakh.

Although I told my audiences that the United States policy on the Armenian tragedy has not changed, I used the term “genocide” speaking in what I characterized as my personal capacity. This was inappropriate.

The President’s annual statement on Armenian Remembrance Day articulates U.S. policy on this matter. My government acknowledges the tragedy that befell the Armenian community in Anatolia during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. We have been actively encouraging scholarly, civil society and diplomatic discussion of the forced killing and exile of Armenians in 1915. We have also encouraged economic and political dialogue between the governments of Armenia and Turkey in order to help all parties come to terms with these horrific events.

In addition, my comments on the status of Nagorno Karabakh may have also created misunderstanding on U.S. policy. The U.S. government supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and holds that the future status of Nagorno Karabakh is a matter of negotiation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The United States remains committed to finding a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through the Minsk group process. We are encouraged by the continuing talks between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan under the auspice of the Minsk group co-chairs.

I deeply regret any misunderstanding caused by my comments.

Sincerely,

John M. Evans
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia

Loss of Constructive Dissent award

Foreign Service Agency Wrongly Withdraws Award from Amb. Evans

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

The American Foreign Service Association took the very unusual step this week of rescinding the prestigious "Constructive Dissent" award that it had decided to bestow upon U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, during a special ceremony that was to be held at the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room of the State Department on June 17.

The AFSA is the professional association of the United States Foreign Service. It represents 26,000 active and retired Foreign Service employees of the Department of State and Agency for International Development. The Secretary of State usually attends the group's annual award ceremony. Last February, during his tour of various Armenian communities in the United States, Amb. Evans publicly referred to the extermination of the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. "I will today call it the Armenian Genocide," the U.S. Ambassador said. "I informed myself in depth about it. I think we, the US government, owe you, our fellow citizens, a more frank and honest way of discussing this problem. Today, as someone who has studied it, ...there is no doubt in my mind what happened.... I think it is unbecoming of us, as Americans, to play word games here. I believe in calling things by their name." Referring to "the first Genocide of the 20th century," Amb. Evans said, "I pledge to you, we are going to do a better job at addressing this issue."

Amb. Evans knew that his frank comments ran counter to the official line of recent U.S. administrations that have avoided using the term genocide to characterize the mass killings of Armenians.

After complaints from Turkish officials to the U.S. government, Amb. Evans was forced by his superiors to issue "a clarification," stating that he used the term "genocide" in his personal capacity -- and he now found that to be "inappropriate." To make matters worse, Amb. Evans was then forced to correct his clarification," replacing the word "genocide" with "Armenian tragedy."

Since Amb. Evans had dared to challenge the position of his own superiors, he was nominated for the AFSA's coveted "Constructive Dissent" award. The AFSA's web site explains that this award "publicly recognizes individuals who have demonstrated the intellectual courage to challenge the system from within, to question the status quo and take a stand, no matter the sensitivity of the issue or the consequences of their actions." The AFSA states: "The purpose of the Dissent Awards is to encourage Foreign Service career employees to speak out frankly and honestly." It also states that the Constructive Dissent Awards "offer an opportunity to publicly recognize and honor the courageous and thoughtful actions of our colleagues, over and above their responsibilities."

Last week, Haygagan Jamanag, a newspaper published in Yerevan, reported that Amb. Evans was the winner of this year's "Constructive Dissent" award. Since the name of the honoree was not yet officially announced, I contacted the AFSA in Washington, D.C., and was told that Amb. Evans was indeed the winner of this prestigious award. I was also told that he was selected because of his stand on the Armenian Genocide.

As this column was about to go to print, I received an unexpected call from an AFSA official in Washington, informing me that the Award Committee had just met and decided to reverse itself and "withdraw the award" from Amb. Evans. When I asked why, the answer was "no comment."

We can safely speculate that the same cast of characters at the upper echelons of the Bush Administration, who had earlier forced Amb. Evans to withdraw his remarks on the Armenian Genocide, had now succeeded in forcing the AFSA to rescind this award.

Incredibly, what they were taking away from Amb. Evans was not just any award. It was an award for dissenting from the Bush administration's immoral position on the Armenian Genocide. It was an award for simply telling the truth! Amb. Evans was basically repeating what Pres. Ronald Reagan had said back in 1981 in his Presidential Proclamation, acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. It would seem that Bush administration officials are not afraid to go after an Ambassador, but they would not dare to take on Pres. Reagan who committed the same sin of telling the truth! It is a telling sign of our decadent times that an individual has to be given an award for having "the courage" to tell the truth -- and worse yet, have that award unfairly taken away from him.

All those who side with truth and justice, should complain to the AFSA (berger@afsa.org) for its withdrawal of Amb. Evans' award and ask that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ( http://contact-us.state.gov ) have it reinstated promptly.

Recall of Ambassador

Stories of the recall of Ambassador Evans for his statement began to spread widely in early March, 2006. Despite numerous requests for information and clarification from reporters, congressmen and the public, the State Department has remained silent on this issue, and inside sources confirm that the recall is indeed in process. A number of articles and editorials appeared in newspapers from Los Angeles to London, and a Yellow Ribbon Campaign was organized from Yerevan to break this silence about the Genocide by nations afraid to publicly use the term genocide out of fear of Turkey.

Details of Recall

Armenian National Committee of America
PRESS RELEASE

STATE DEPARTMENT FILES REVEAL NEW DETAILS OF EVANS RECALL

Senior Official Demanded Early Return of Evans Leading to Vacancy in Key Ambassadorial Post 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.

Mkhitar Gosh Medal

Kocharian Honors U.S. Envoy
By Emil Danielyan

President Robert Kocharian handed on Wednesday a prestigious state award to John Evans during a farewell meeting with the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Armenia.

Kocharian said, according to his office, that he decided to award the Mkhitar Gosh Medal to Evans in recognition of the latter’s “remarkable contribution to the development and strengthening of Armenian-American friendly relations.” The bilateral ties have made “serious progress” and yielded “tangible results” during the retiring diplomat’s two-year service in Armenia, the presidential press service quoted him as saying.

Evans was cited as agreeing with Kocharian and singling out the U.S. government’s decision earlier this year to provide $235.6 million worth of economic assistance to Armenia under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. He is apparently the first U.S. government official awarded by the Armenian government.

The award appears to be a thinly veiled gesture of gratitude for Evans’s public description of the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. “The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century,” the envoy had declared during a series of meetings in early 2005 with Armenian-American activists in California.

The bombshell remarks contradicted a long-running U.S. government policy of avoiding the use of the word genocide with regard to the Armenian massacres. They are believed to have been instrumental in the Bush administration’s decision, officially announced in May, to replace Evans with another career diplomat. The normal diplomatic term for U.S. ambassadors abroad is three years.

In an interview with RFE/RL last week, Evans refused to comment on the controversy triggered by his recall, saying that it is an internal U.S. affair. He indicated that he might speak up about it in a future book.

NYT Letter to the Editor

A Fearless Fighter, Gone
Published in the New York Times: January 26, 2007

To the Editor:

Re Editor Who Spoke for Turkey's Ethnic Armenians Is Slain (news article, Jan. 20):

Hrant Dink, whom I met in Yerevan, Armenia, in 2005, was a fearless fighter for truth and human dignity. His assassination strikes a heavy blow against Turks, Armenians and all who strive for proper acknowledgment of the 1915 Armenian genocide and for reconciliation between the two nations.

His death should be a wake-up call: the last stage of genocide is denial.

John M. Evans
Sag Harbor, N.Y., Jan. 20, 2007

The writer was the United States ambassador to Armenia, 2004-6.

ANCA Banquet

Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region

104 North Belmont Street, Suite 200 Glendale, California 91206 Phone: 818.500.1918 Fax: 818.246.7353 E-mail: ancawr@anca.org Web: www.anca.org

PRESS RELEASE

March 14, 2007

Contact: Haig Hovsepian Tel: (818) 500-1918


FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ARMENIA JOHN EVANS ADDRESSES ANC BANQUET


-- Evans Calls for Passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution

San Francisco, CA - Ambassador John Evans, the most recent U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, called upon the U.S. Congress to pass the Armenian Genocide resolution. Evans addressed a capacity crowd of over 400 guests gathered in San Francisco for the Bay Area Armenian National Committee's annual Hai Tahd Evening banquet on March 10, 2007.

Members of the Armenian National Committee of America - Western Region (ANCA-WR) also joined the Bay Area ANC to honor Ambassador John Evans. Evans was prematurely recalled from his post and dismissed because of remarks he made while visiting California in 2005 regarding his open acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. His remarks were furiously protested at the time by the Government of Turkey which pressured the U.S. State Department to dismiss Amb. Evans from his post in Armenia.

In his speech at the ANC banquet, Ambassador Evans discussed the book he will be writing about the Genocide issue and explained how he came to embrace the importance of the issue of addressing U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide, stating "I do believe that in the long run, my stance in support of recognition, will be vindicated, if not this Spring, then at least by this Congress." He continued later to state "The Armenian Genocide should be recognized as such by this Congress." Evans also highlighted the importance of genocide recognition efforts by the community. ".those of you who've devoted hours of your days, years of your lives, fighting for recognition for what happened to your forebears. I stand here tonight in admiration of all of you. I salute you tonight, and I also thank you for your efforts on my behalf, when it seemed to you as if I was being done an injustice."

Prior to Ambassador Evans' remarks, the program featured remarks from Bay Area ANC Chairwoman Roxanne Makasjian who highlighted the many important milestones achieved by the Bay Area ANC in the past year and the importance of maintaining community activism. She also highlighted the need for the community to remain steadfast in the face of Turkey's disingenuous efforts to position themselves as seeking reconciliation with the U.S. State Department's help. "We cannot pursue "reconciliation" without recognition," stated Makasjian. "How genuine can the government's gestures at dialogue and reconciliation be when it started re-trial proceedings against Hrant Dink, three weeks after he was dead."

Also addressing the audience was ANCA-WR Board member Steve Dadaian and ANCA Communications Director Elizabeth Chouldjian who introduced the Ambassador and the significance of his role as both Ambassador to Armenia and the Genocide recognition issue.

In the remarks made by the ANCA-WR's Steve Dadaian, he discussed the importance of passing the Armenian Genocide Resolution in Congress, especially this year because of the current evolution of the genocide issue and the political landscape. Dadaian also elaborated upon the immense opportunities that exist today in advancing the community's issues. "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog - and this dog's got a lot of fight in it," stated Dadaian in reference to the power of grassroots activism and the community. Dadaian applauded the Bay Area ANC on its local work and sited as an example how the Bay Area ANC has secured 15 of 17 possible Representatives as cosponsors of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in Congress.

Elizabeth Chouldjian, ANCA Communications Director introduced Ambassador John Evans. In her opening remarks she described the ANCA's key role in defending Amb. Evans' courage to speak openly about the Armenian Genocide. "Our message to the State Department is clear -- come clean on the firing of Ambassador Evans, withdraw the Hoagland nomination, and end the shameless pandering to the Turkish Government," stated Chouldjian. "And if the State Department doesn't have the guts to stand by one of its own, to honor the man who tried to bring dignity and morality to American foreign policy, then the ANC and Armenian American community will."

Andrew Kzirian, Executive Director of the ANCA-WR and Haig Hovsepian, Community Relations Director of the ANCA-WR also traveled to San Francisco to join fellow ANC activists and colleagues in honoring Evans and to help continue building the ANCA-WR's grassroots network.

The Armenian National Committee of America is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.


PHOTO CAPTION: ANCA-WR Executive Director, Andrew Kzirian joins Ambassador John Evans at the Saturday evening reception in San Francisco. (Photo by Raffi Momjian)

Interview with John Evans

The diplomat who cracked An interview with former U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Evans, who lost his job after referring to the Armenian genocide as “genocide.” By Matt Welch April 24, 2007

John Marshall Evans, a career U.S. diplomat with extensive experience in Central and Eastern Europe, was sworn in as ambassador to Armenia in August 2004. In February 2005, Evans made a trip to California, the capital state of the Armenian diaspora. At three different meetings with Armenian-American groups, when asked about Washington's lack of official recognition of the 1915-23 Armenian genocide as a "genocide," Evans said some variation of the following: "I will today call it the Armenian Genocide."

Since this deviated from State Department guidelines, Evans was eventually asked to resign. Now the mild-mannered foreign service veteran is preparing a book about his "intellectual journey" that led him "rock the boat" of U.S. policy.

I caught up with Evans this March, a few days after he gave the keynote speech explaining his dissent to the second annual banquet for USC's Institute of Armenian Studies. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

To start with, when did it become unusual, your preparation for this job? When you said that basically you wanted to read up on this controversial historical thing before assuming the ambassadorship, one does that before one goes to a foreign posting, anyway; at what point did that process become different than your usual diplomatic posting, in terms of fact-gathering, and conclusions that you might come up with? [...]

[M]y nomination for Yerevan was announced in the first half of May 2004. I was confirmed in late June, I can give you the exact dates. And then I had a window of a couple weeks in which I went into a kind of monastic retreat and read everything I possibly could about Armenia.

Now, I had the advantage that [...] [in] 1989, that year I had received a Cox Fellowship, and was spending a year reading Ottoman history at the Wilson Center in Washington, at the Kennan Institute. And so I read a lot of history. So I wasn't coming to the issue of Armenian history with a totally blank slate; I'd read mostly mainstream books -- Lord Kinross and various others who have written about Ottoman history. [...]

I read as much as I could before I went out to Yerevan. I read [former U.S. ambassador Henry] Morgenthau's story, which had a profound impact on me, and [...] I proceeded [to Yerevan], but not before having a discussion with my immediate boss about the issue of the genocide, and how it was treated in State Department materials. I felt that it was not being adequately addressed, but at that point I had no sense that we couldn't do a better job basically in the same lines that we were already using. I had not abandoned the policy, but I felt we could do a much better job with that policy, and in particular using the things that had been said by President Bush and President Clinton.

So I went out there and I became increasingly frustrated when I returned to that subject, at the fact that it was considered taboo. And it was; I couldn't really get it onto the agenda for at least a discussion. [...]

Let me also just say that I never departed from the U.S. policy line in Armenia. The question, if you look at public opinion polls in Armenia, what you see is that although the question of recognition of the genocide is on the minds of people, it's sort of the ninth or tenth issue behind social stability, having a job, worrying about their retirement, you know, worrying about Nagorno-Karabakh. And then you get down to the single digits, the people who put the recognition of the genocide at the top of their lists. Single digits.

So in a way it's much bigger for the diaspora?

That's right. That's correct. And I did not ever -- I rarely got a question about it when serving as U.S. ambassador to Armenia, and I never used the word 'genocide' in answering any question there. Almost never; I can't remember a time when a local journalist asked me about it.

By the time of my trip out here in February in 2005 I'd been in place for about six months, and I'd done more reading. I was more upset than ever about both the issue and the policy, and about the prospect that this is just going to be a situation that was going to continue ad infinitum. I mean, Turkish interests, and U.S. interests in Turkey; a country with 72 million, a member of NATO of long standing, with valuable strategic property in the Middle East, secular, Muslim, in a time when we're contending with forces in the Muslim world that have produced this fundamentalist ideology and terrorism. Turkey is a hugely important ally, and little landlocked Armenia, population 3 million at best, is never going weigh in those scales in such a way as to even make a showing.

And yet, the facts of the matter, the facts of the historical matter, and the legal definition of genocide as basically codified in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which we ratified, does count for something in my view. I felt that something had to be done to rock the boat, and to open up some space around this taboo subject, which in the State Department was routinely referred to as "the G-word." Which to me is sort of reminiscent of potty training. [...]

I never in 35 years had encountered a U.S. policy that I could not at least live with. Certainly not one in my own area of responsibility.

I wonder how much of that is the fact that you had the good fortune, mind you, to spend most of your life basically working in what in retrospect can seem like the most virtuous of American endeavors, which is --

Winning the Cold War

Winning the Cold War in Central Europe in particular. You know, it's a lot different having done that than if you had to deal with Saudi Arabia, ever, you know, or other parts of the world where we have a much more realpolitik type of appraoch.

Well you bring to mind another point that I made Sunday night, and that is since 1989, American diplomats have spent a lot of their time encouraging the growth of civil society. [...] Civil society does matter, and when civil society, taken together -- that is, historians, journalists, public people who've thought about issues -- when the vast majority of them perceive that there was a genocide of Armenians in 1915, and we are withholding that in our declared policy, it sets up a very difficult situation: You can't call it cognitive dissonance, exactly, but as I expressed it the other night, when a policy is perceived as not conforming to the broadly accepted truth, the policy becomes less supportable, and may not be supportable.

I came to the point where I felt this strongly, that it couldn't be -- it was not -- sustainable. That this flew in the face of the facts as we know them from people I hugely respect, starting with Henry Morgenthau, and our past diplomatic colleagues. [...] The truth as we know it from very good sources had diverged to an unsustainable degree. [...]

But was it reasonable for you to imagine that your rocking the boat wouldn't get you fired? [...]

Clearly when I was here in February 2005, I knew that by mentioning this word, I could get myself in trouble. I didn't know precisely what the degree of that trouble would be, but I knew that it could range from a slap on the wrist to being immediately canned. And as it turned out it was something between those extremes: I got more than a mere slap on the wrist, I wasn't immediately canned. I basically was eased out after about 18 months, although I had more time on my clock. [...] I was basically asked to go ahead and retire. [...]

How would you characterize the reaction of your superiors or even just your colleagues when you said "Hey, this is a policy that I'm beginning to believe is untenable, we need to shift it this way"? And when I ask you how would you characterize it, is it your impression that they, too believed that this is a historically settled issue, it's just one that is inconvenient to talk about?

Nobody ever used those terms, and I never had that kind of a conversation. [...]

The problem for me was not that we were having an argument about it, the problem for me was we couldn't talk about it. I couldn't even get it on the agenda. And I couldn't take the policy positions that had been devised for dealing with this, I couldn't get them properly deployed, because nobody wanted to even touch it. I kept running into this sort of impossible Maginot Line, or just obstacle to even getting the issue onto the table, and that's where I decided to do an end run.

So it was less that people were saying, you know, "Stop knocking on this door"; it was more of just like, "Oh, I gotta go fill up my water glass now"?

Well, it was sort of "Now's not the time." But there never -- given the realities -- there never would be a good time to face this issue, if one does the traditional calculations of well, Turkey is 72 million, Armenia is 3 million, it was 92 years and counting, and so on and so forth. This is a formula for it to go on for 500 years.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oew-welch24apr24,0,2351310.story?coll=la-promo-opinion


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