Widespread Outrage Over News of U.S. Ambassador Evans’ Recall

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Widespread Outrage Over News of U.S. Ambassador Evans’ Recall

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

March 16, 2006

I reported last week that the State Department had decided to recall Amb. John Evans from Armenia for having acknowledged the Armenian Genocide last year. This callous decision has outraged Armenians worldwide and angered many members of Congress.

By sheer coincidence, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza was in Armenia the day after my column was posted on the Internet. During a press conference in Yerevan, journalists repeatedly asked Bryza and Evans to comment on the recall decision. The two diplomats made a delicate dance around the subject, neither denying nor confirming the news. Since some of their comments were distorted because of mistranslation or inaccurate reporting, here is the transcript of what they actually said in English:

When a journalist asked Bryza in Armenian if Amb. Evans was being "recalled," the Embassy staff mistranslated the question to: "Is it true that Amb. Evans is retiring?" Mr. Bryza answered: "…regarding Amb. Evans, he can certainly comment on his own plans to retire, which I hope are nonexistent, because he is a fantastic ambassador. He, like all of us, serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States. I used to work for the President’s staff; and one thing I learned is that I will not speak about any decision of the President -- it is up to the President to make his decisions. I advise him, but he makes the decisions, including [those] on personnel…."

Amb. Evans then added: "… I want to echo what Mr. Bryza said. We all serve at the pleasure of the President. I hope nobody expects any ambassador to stay forever…the fact of the matter is that I do not know when I will be leaving Armenia and I have not submitted my retirement papers. And I’ll add one other thing and that is: as long as I am the ambassador here, until the day I step on the plane, I will be in charge of this mission." Bryza then added: "Which we hope will be as late as possible."

The news of the Ambassador’s recall was prominently featured on Armenian TV stations that night and subsequently reported by wire services and newspapers in Armenia, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

During State Dept.’s daily news briefings on March 8, 10 and 13, a spokesman was repeatedly asked to confirm the recall of Amb. Evans. Reporters were given evasive answers with a promise "to look into it." Finally, in the afternoon of the March 13, the State Dept. issued the following written response to the journalists’ insistent questions, giving the same evasive answer: “Question: What is the status of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Evans? Was he recalled for statements acknowledging the Armenian ‘genocide’? Answer: U.S. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President. Amb. Evans and his capable team have the full confidence of the administration.”

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) issued a press release on March 8, announcing that its chairman had written a toughly worded letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to address reports that Amb. Evans is being forced from office for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. "The prospect that a U.S. envoy's posting - and possibly his career - has been cut short due to his honest and accurate description of a genocide is profoundly offensive to American values," wrote ANCA’s Chairman Ken Hachikian. "It would also represent a new low in our government's shameful complicity in the Turkish government's campaign of denial … by muzzling and punishing an American diplomat for his speech and his acknowledgement of a genocide," Hachikian wrote.

Cong. Grace Napolitano (Dem. of Calif.) submitted a pointed question to Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried on March 8, while he was testifying before the House International Relations Committee, on whether any restrictions are placed on State Dept. officials concerning their use of the term "genocide" when referring to the Armenian Genocide. She also asked for confirmation on whether Amb. Evans was being recalled because of his remarks on the Armenian Genocide. Dan Fried was asked to respond in writing.

Cong. Frank Pallone (Dem. of New Jersey), the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, wrote to Secretary Rice on March 11, expressing his extreme disappointment over reports of the recall of Amb. Evans. He told her that he is "outraged that the State Dept. is recalling Amb. Evans as retaliation for statements he made in recognition of the Armenian Genocide." He added: "It is simply wrong for the State Dept. to punish Amb. Evans for statements he made that are factually correct."

Secretary Rice has yet to respond to the written questions submitted on Feb. 16 by Cong. Adam Schiff (Dem. of Calif.) during her testimony before the House International Relations Committee. She was asked to assure the Committee that the State Dept. "has not taken – and will not take – any punitive action against Amb. Evans for speaking out about the Armenian Genocide."

Readers worldwide have reacted with anger to the news of Amb. Evans’ recall and indicated their willingness to participate in protest actions in front of U.S. Embassies in various countries as well as the State Dept. in Washington, D.C. Please continue writing to Secretary Rice by e-mailing her at: http://www.state.gov. Click on "contact us" and then click on "send a message to the Secretary of State."

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