L.A. Times Article on Amb. Evans' Dismissal Raises Important Issues
by Harut Sassounian January, 2007
The Los Angeles Times, in its last Sunday's edition, provided major coverage to a news story of special importance to the Armenian-American community: the callous dismissal by the Bush administration of John Evans, the US Ambassador to Armenia, simply for having uttered the words Armenian Genocide, in public! Readers may recall that the Times also published two powerful editorials, on March 22, 2006 and July 16, 2006, condemning the firing of Amb. Evans. Maura Reynolds' January 7, 2007 insightful article titled, "Genocide question hits home," covered extensively the various twists and turns of this shameful episode, ending with the "hold" placed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on the nomination of Ambassador-designate Richard Hoagland.
Reynolds' lengthy article raises several significant issues: She writes that unnamed U.S. "policymakers" have called Amb. Evans' statement on the Armenian Genocide "a misjudgment that could fuel anti-Western sentiment in Turkey." This is utter nonsense as the overwhelming majority of the Turkish public harbors nothing but contempt for the United States and considers this country as one of Turkey's main enemies, according to several recent opinion polls. Such a negative sentiment has no relationship whatsoever with anything Amb. Evans may have said. Furthermore, why should Amb. Evans' words generate "anti-Western sentiment in Turkey," when already the U.S. House of Representatives has adopted two resolutions in 1975 and 1981 recognizing the Armenian Genocide and Pres. Reagan has issued a presidential proclamation in 1981 explicitly mentioning the Armenian Genocide.
In keeping with her newspaper's policy on the proper qualification of the Armenian Genocide, Reynolds confirms that "historians have long used the term 'genocide' to describe the murderous campaign against the Armenians in Turkey.
Nearly the entire population of Armenians was executed, starved or forced into exile on the orders of the ruling Young Turk Party. Outside Turkey, there is little debate over the facts of the use of the word 'genocide.'"
She goes on to report that because the Turkish government disputes the use of that term, "American officials have used all sorts of others - 'mass killing,' 'massacres,' 'atrocities,' 'annihilation,' - but have stopped short of 'genocide.'" This U.S. position is inconsistent. Sudan also denies that genocide is being committed in Darfur. Yet, that did not stop the U.S. government from qualifying it as genocide!
Reynolds quotes an unnamed "senior State Department official" as saying: "We have never said it wasn't genocide. We just haven't used that word." This statement makes it clear once again that the United States government does not deny the facts of the Armenian Genocide. It simply, and cowardly, shies away from using that term due to political considerations. The U.S. official goes on to say that Turkey should accept the genocide through internal debate, not outside pressure. This is yet another meaningless statement. If the United States, which had no part in the commission of the genocide, is reluctant to call it by its proper name, how can anyone expect the country that committed that crime to do so?
Interestingly, the Associated Press, in a story it carried on Dec. 26, 2006, quoted from a letter by Under Secretary of State Nick Burns to Sen. Menendez, as saying: "Despite some claims to the contrary, neither Ambassador-designate Hoagland nor the administration has ever minimized or denied the fact or the extent of the annihilation and forced exile of as many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire." The comments made by Nick Burns to the AP are very similar to the statement made to the L.A. Times byan unnamed "senior State Department official." This raises two questions: 1) if the unnamed official is indeed Nick Burns, why did he choose to be off the record for the LA. Times, after signing his name to the letter to Sen. Menendez?
and 2) if what the official said is the policy of the U.S. government on this issue, why is it off the record? Reynolds then relates her brief conversation with Amb. Evans. He candidly tells her that his direct reference to the Armenian Genocide "was not a slip of the tongue. I knew it was not the policy of the United States" to use that term. "Ninety years is a long time. At some point you have to call a spade a spade." Amb. Evans is then quoted as saying that by July 2005 "it was absolutely crystal clear" that he would be forced out of his job.
The L.A. Times reporter also describes how the American Foreign Service Association granted him its "constructive dissent" award, and then rescinded it under pressure from the State Department! Reynolds then explains the "hold" placed by Senator Menendez on the nomination of Ambassador-designate Richard Hoagland. With the start of a new session of Congress, Pres. Bush's nomination of Hoagland has expired. Rather than renominating him, the President is likely to submit to the Senate the name of a new nominee, which is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Menendez requested last month in a joint letter to the Bush administration.The new nominee may not face the same level of opposition assuming that he or she does not engage in genocide denial when answering the Senators questions.
The objection to Hoagland was made for three reasons: 1) to send an unequivocal message to the Bush administration that its position on the Armenian Genocide is unacceptable; 2) to indicate the displeasure of the Armenian American community at the dismissal of Amb. Evans, without making the slightest effort to explain to the community the administration's reasons for such a harsh measure; and 3) to let the State Dept. know that Amb. Hoagland could not serve in Armenia, since some of his replies to the Senators' questions bordered on genocide denial.
Those who are either opposed to the Armenian community's efforts to bring about the recognition of the Genocide or are too weak-willed to take on theState Department's unacceptable policy, use two groundless reasons for continuing to support Hoagland's nomination: 1) that the Senate should approve Hoagland's nomination so Armenia can have an American Ambassador. My answer is that Armenia had a perfectly fine U.S. Ambassador (John Evans). If having a U.S. Ambassador in Yerevan was so important, the Bush Administration should not have dismissed him so unjustly; 2) that the Armenian government has already given its consent to accepting Amb. Hoagland, after Senate approval. My answer is that the Armenian government is in no position to reject an American Ambassador.
Armenian officials already expressed discreetly their displeasure at the forcing out of Amb. Evans by delaying for several weeks their preliminary acceptance of Amb. Hoagland and by awarding Amb. Evans an unprecedented presidential medal.
Armenian-Americans, as citizens of this great country, have both the right and obligation to inform the elected officials of their views on any issue.
On a more positive note, Amb. Evans is being honored by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies at a gala banquet in Los Angeles, on March 4. There shouldbe a large turnout at this event in order to express the appreciation of the Armenian community for a high-ranking diplomat who sacrificed his career by defending the truth on the Armenian Genocide, and to send a message to Washington that the community will stand by its true friends and oppose those who go against its interests.