Media Criticism Pushes State Dept. To Respond to Armenian Concerns

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Media Criticism Pushes State Dept. To Respond to Armenian Concerns

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

April 6, 2006

As April 24 is drawing near, what Turks apprehensively call "the approaching Armenian Tsunami" is haunting not only the Turkish government but also officials at the State Department.

Various newspapers have unleashed a barrage of attacks on the State Department in recent weeks questioning and even castigating it for not acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and recalling the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans who had dared to utter the words, Armenian Genocide. The news of his recall was first reported by this writer last month.

The following articles and editorials were published in the last two weeks:

-- The Los Angeles Daily News headlined its March 21st article: "Status of U.S. ambassador to Armenia questioned." The paper quoted Cong. Adam Schiff as saying: "I made it clear [to the State Dept.] I thought any action taken against him [Amb. Evans] would merely compound the erroneous policy of the administration."

-- The Los Angeles Times published a lengthy and hard-hitting editorial on March 22, titled: "It was genocide." It said: "the State Dept. has long avoided the word ‘genocide,’ not out of any dispute over history but out of deference to Turkey…. It is time to stop tiptoeing around this issue and to accept settled history…. Punishing an ambassador for speaking honestly about a 90-year-old crime befits a cynical, double-dealing monarchy, not the leader of the free world." The editorial concluded: "One day, the country that was founded as a direct repudiation of its Ottoman past will face its history squarely, as part of a long-overdue maturing process. Some day before then, we hope, the State Dept. will too." The week before this editorial was published, this writer along with a colleague met with the editorial board of the L.A. Times.

-- The Independent (UK) published on March 23 an article titled: "Row over US ambassador’s Armenia genocide remark." The paper reported: "protests are growing over the possible recall of the US ambassador in Armenia."

-- The Fresno Bee published an editorial on March 24, titled: "Speak the Truth: U.S. ambassador to Armenia in hot water over use of ‘genocide.’" The paper’s editors castigated the State Dept. for threatening the career of Amb. Evnas by saying: "Shame on the State Department." The Fresno Bee called on the State Dept., Congress, the administration, as well as the government of Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide: "The facts are plain. The history is clear. Turkey offends the victims’ survivors with its intransigence, but hurts itself most of all when it continues to deny what the entire world knows."

-- The Glendale News Press published a front-page story on March 26, titled: "Officials question the fate of diplomat."

-- The chain of McClatchy newspapers published on March 28 a lengthy article titled: "Genocide comment could cost Ambassador to Armenia his job." It reported that Cong. George Radanovich (Rep. of Calif.) has called the State Dept. requesting a meeting to discuss the fate of Amb. Evans.

-- The Washington Times published an article on March 31, titled: "Recall from Armenia?"

Following this barrage of news reports and commentaries, Daniel Fried, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, addressed the Armenian Assembly’s National Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 27. Here are excerpts from his remarks and responses to questions from the audience:

"The U.S. position on events of 1915 has not changed. We believe that a productive dialogue is the best way to establish a shared understanding of history that honors the victims of these horrific events, murders on a mass scale, killings without justification, deportations. Over 1.5 million people lost their lives, innocent victims. But we want to foster reconciliation and peace based on an understanding of history, not a denial of it. We believe that the tragedy of 1915, the killings, is of enormous human significance and its historical assessment should be determined not on the basis of politics, but introspection among civic leaders and scholars. This process has begun in Turkey where it needs to take place," Fried said. He was interrupted by a member of the audience who shouted: "horse manure!"

Fried then continued: "Sitting here with us is my old friend John Evans, our Ambassador in Yerevan. He is the Ambassador, remains the Ambassador, has… [Applause and cheers]. Like all of us, we all serve at the pleasure of the President. Amb. Evans came from Yerevan for the signing of the Millennium Challenge Account Compact this afternoon, and will be in the meeting this afternoon between Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Oskanian. There has been a great deal of speculation. I don’t discuss personnel issues, but since my friend is sitting here, I thought I would recognize Amb. John Evans [Applause]."

When asked why foreign countries such as Turkey are permitted to dictate America’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Armenia and Cyprus, Fried replied: "Third parties are not permitted to dictate our foreign policy, nor do they dictate our foreign policy. We have a policy which many of you disagree with. I understand. But we have a policy of seeking to encourage Turkey to reflect more seriously about subjects which have been taboo for generations in that country. I said earlier that process has begun in Turkey. You recall that the famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk spoke clearly about this. He is not the only Turk speaking out. As I said, this process has begun as Turkish society modernizes, and as it modernizes, as democracy in Turkey deepens, Turkey will have to go through what many other countries such as the United States have had to go through in our own history, which is looking back at the darker spots in our past. With respect to the United States, those darker spots include things like slavery and racial discrimination, treatment of American Indians, and in my opinion, internment of American citizens of Japanese origin in camps in World War II. Those are painful subjects.

Just as dealing with the history of the mass killings of Armenians is painful for Turkey. And by the way, I say this to my Turkish friends using the same words. We keep one set of books. Now that process has begun in Turkey. It is certainly not going fast enough to satisfy you. It is not going fast enough to satisfy us. But this process has begun and it will, I hope, bring greater understanding to Turks of their own history. We will continue to have a dialogue about this as April 24th approaches. I will not attempt to anticipate what the President will say. I do believe he will issue a statement on April 24th, in fact I can’t believe there won’t be one. And I expect, as we have in the past, to consult with the Armenian Assembly about this and to have a frank set of discussions before and after."

In response to a question about “Turkey exporting its denialist tactics to the U.S.,” Fried said: "The United States government has never denied the events of 1915. We do not support, what was the phrase, “export of denialist literature or positions.” We do support efforts by Turkey to deal with its history more seriously. As I said, this process has begun. It has not ended. Efforts such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [the correct name is: “Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission” or TARC] were serious, and these were efforts in which Turkish as well as Armenian scholars were involved. It produced a serious look at those issues which we have recognized officially. This is not an easy issue. It is not an easy issue for the United States government, and we are not at the end of the road on this issue. We will continue to urge our Turkish friends to face difficult issues of their past seriously, and we will urge Armenia to help the Turks make this possible without ever sacrificing historical truth or your position."

When asked a direct question about the recall of Amb. Evans, Fried provided the usual evasive answer: "We all serve at the pleasure of the President. I won’t discuss personnel issues. Amb. Evans, as I said, is a friend of more than 20 years standing. He’s our Ambassador. He’s right here. He will be in the meetings today at the State Department, as I said. [Applause]."

The above exchange shows that while Dan Fried was trying to be as gracious as possible to his Armenian hosts, he was nevertheless sticking to the administration’s unacceptable policy of substituting euphemisms for the Armenian Genocide. He also continued to avoid making any forthright comments on Amb. Evans, despite persistent media criticisms.

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