After Hold on Hoagland, State Dept. Should Take Armenians More Seriously

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by Harut Sassounian
September, 2006

The Turks were a little premature two weeks ago when they were boasting that the Armenian lobby failed to stop the nomination of Richard Hoagland, the Ambassador Designate to Armenia, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed him on Sept. 7.

Last week, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) proved the Turks wrong when he placed a hold on Hoagland's confirmation last week, thus blocking the full Senate from approving his nomination.

"I believe that the United States, Armenia, and all who are committed to human rights should support an ambassador to Armenia who recognizes the genocide that took place there more than 90 years ago," Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) said. "If the Bush Administration continues to refuse to acknowledge the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, then there is certainly cause for great alarm, which is why I am placing a hold on this nominee.... I have great concerns that Mr. Hoagland's confirmation would be a step backward. Considering Mr. Hoagland's refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as anything more than horrifying events, I do not feel that his nomination is in the best interest of Armenia and her Diaspora."

On the eve of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's vote, and after Amb. John Evans was ordered to leave Armenia, Jeffrey Bergner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, in a 3-page letter to Sen. Biden, offered several inducements and tricky arguments desperately trying to secure his as well as the other Senators' vote for Hoagland.

Bergner falsely claimed that the American grant of $235 million to Armenia to reduce poverty could be jeopardized if the U.S. did not have "an ambassador in Yerevan." Several Senators parroted this false argument in voting for Hoagland. Bergner also stated that the Armenian Government had not expressed any reservations concerning Hoagland when accepting his nomination last March. He hid from the Senators the fact that the Armenian authorities had delayed giving their agreement for a couple of months, as a sign of protest against the dismissal of Amb. Evans over his use of the term "Armenian Genocide."

In a further effort to appease Sen. Biden, who was instrumental in delaying an earlier Committee vote on Hoagland, Bergner wrote, "the President's annual statement on Armenian Remembrance Day makes clear our recognition of those horrible events of that period, and firmly sets the United States apart from those who would deny or minimize these atrocities."

Bergner then made the incredible claim that "the President's approach appears to be yielding a new readiness in Turkey to reexamine this horrible chapter of Turkey's past with greater moral clarity, building on previous efforts, such as the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission."

Bergner further suggested that if confirmed, Hoagland and Ross Wilson, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, would "work closely together on this issue [genocide recognition]." He wrote that the two envoys "would envision, among other efforts, joint visits to Yerevan and Ankara to bring greater focus on reconciliation, which could lead to a re-opening of the border and enhanced regional integration. Ambassador Wilson and Ambassador-designate Hoagland, if confirmed, will be available to brief Congress on U.S. efforts. We also welcome your suggestion that the State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee maintain a dialogue on helping to forge a common Turkish-Armenian understanding of this period."

Bergner also promised that Amb. Hoagland plans to meet with several Armenian American groups prior to his departure to Yerevan and would "travel back to the United States to meet with the larger community shortly after presenting his credentials in Yerevan, if confirmed."

After falsely insisting for several months that Turkish officials had no contacts whatsoever with the State Department to protest Amb. Evans' acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, Bergner finally admitted that indeed The Livingston Group, a high-powered lobbying firm hired by the Government of Turkey, had contacted three State Department officials within days of Amb. Evans' statement.

Finally, Bergner sent on Sept. 5 to Sen. Biden "revised versions" of Ambassador-designate Hoagland's June 28 responses to Senators John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and Paul Sarbanes. Needless to say, Amb. Hoagland was submitting these more accommodating letters that were more in line with what the Senators wanted to hear. For example, in his June 28 response to Senators Boxer and Sarbanes, Hoagland had specifically mentioned the requirement of "intent" to qualify a mass killing as genocide, implying that such an element was absent in the Armenian case. In the Sept. 5 version of his reply to the same question, he deleted that sentence, thus removing any doubt on whether there was the intent to destroy the Armenians in 1915. Hoagland significantly added to his revised answer to Sen. Boxer that the "historical assessment" of what took place in 1915 should be "consistent with our values and historic truth."

After the hold was placed by Sen. Menendez, State Dept. spokesman Sean McCormack, reflecting the Bush administration's frustration and inability to secure Hoagland's confirmation, claimed that if given a chance in the Senate, the Ambassador-designate would get "the 51 votes required for confirmation." McCormack is not being fair when he selectively asks for a vote on this nominee, while the administration has been blocking for months Armenian Genocide resolutions both in the House and the Senate from coming to a floor vote, knowing full well that they would pass by an overwhelming majority. Sen. Menendez may consider removing his hold on Hoagland, in return for the administration allowing a vote on the two genocide resolutions!

There are several scenarios as to where Hoagland's nomination may end up in the coming weeks. After months and months of waiting for his confirmation, Hoagland may end up withdrawing his name and ask the State Dept. to nominate him to another country. A second possibility is that President Bush may make a recess appointment, naming him ambassador to Armenia, while the Senate is not in session. A third option would be for the State Dept. to come back to the Senate and pressure Sen. Menendez to remove his hold.

The best option for the State Department, Ambassador Hoagland, Sen. Menendez, and the Armenian American community would be to get together and see if there are certain inducements that the State Department would offer on one or more Armenian issues which might convince Sen. Menendez to remove his hold.

The Armenian American community should call Sen. Menendez (202-224-4744) and thank him for placing a hold on Hoagland's nomination.