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Ambassador Evans and the Denial of Armenian Rights

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USA Armenian Life Magazine
Glendale, California
August 17-23, 2007

Ambassador Evans and the Denial of Armenian Rights
By David Boyajian

It cost John Evans his job as US ambassador to Armenia, but acknowledging the Armenian genocide earned him the universal admiration of Armenians.

When the Armenian National Committee of America and the USC Institute of Armenian Studies honored him at West coast events in March, Evans’ presentations were, as expected, well received.

In contrast, his remarks at an Armenian Assembly of America tribute in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May continue to raise serious questions.

He praised the “much maligned” Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) and its controversial 2003 genocide study produced through the NY-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

Evans then read the study’s findings that although the genocide is a fact, “no legal, financial, or territorial claim arising out of [the 1915 genocide] could be made against any individual or state” under the UN’s 1948 Genocide treaty.

The treaty, the study contended, could not apply to a pre-1948 genocide. One wonders, did the American Jewish Committee and Jewish Community Relations Council, who attended Evans’ speech, buy that reasoning? Jews, after all, have been paid billions for their own pre-1948 genocide.

In any case, the ICTJ’s conclusion is disputed by scholars who cite the UN’s 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.

State Department Loyalty

Two years ago I wrote that Ambassador Evans and David L. Phillips, TARC’s moderator and a US State Department consultant, were “gleefully claiming” - ICTJ report in hand – “that Armenians cannot ask for restitution or land from Turkey.”

Why has Evans publicly dismissed the reparations, restitution, and land (“RRL”) issues for two years? Does he consider Armenian claims to be unrealistic?

Or does he simply believe that genocide acknowledgment is a first step toward resolving Armenian RRL claims? If so, then why has he implicitly been disparaging them? Is it because he spent 35 years in the State Department?

Aside from the genocide, admits Evans, “never once” in his posts was he “in serious disagreement with US foreign policy.” For example, he has not publicly criticized the State Department’s obvious de facto support for Turkey’s blockade of Armenia.

Indeed, he opposed Washington’s genocide denial only because it was deceitful and “ceases to command respect.”

Evans recently said Turkey is “a hugely important ally” sitting on “valuable strategic property.” So valuable that Armenian RRL claims could complicate the US strategy of using the Armenian Plateau in eastern Turkey to export Caspian oil and gas?

We sincerely hope that Evans’ affirmation of the genocide is not simply a ploy to facilitate US and NATO penetration of the Caucasus and Caspian.

Phony ICTJ Study

Armenians suspect that someone associated with TARC, perhaps David Phillips, rigged the ICTJ study to showcase the kind of agreement the State Department could live with: Armenians would get an acknowledgement of their genocide, but only on condition that Turkey is let off the hook for RRL.

Indeed, two years before it was completed, I wrote that the report might try to negate Armenian claims to “reparations and territory.” And that’s exactly what happened.

To allay skeptics of the ICTJ study, Evans told his Cambridge audience that somebody “intimately involved” with its “preparation” had “assured” him that it “was not preordained by politics.” Sorry, but we remain skeptical, particularly of the study’s attempt to annul our rights.

During a presentation by David Phillips at Harvard several years ago, I asked him this: Did the State Department create TARC to try to ease Turkish – Armenian tensions and thereby grease the way for US penetration of the Caucasus? In his circuitous answer, Phillips never once said no.

So TARC, and probably the ICTJ report, were setups.

Strange Statements

Evans has justified his stand on the RRL issues by arguing that Yerevan itself has asked only for genocide acknowledgment. However, he knows better than anyone that, blockaded and under other unrelenting pressures, Armenia is hardly in a position to do otherwise.

In an L.A. Times interview (April 24), Evans asserted that Armenia cares about the genocide less than does the diaspora. The truth is actually just the opposite, as proven by a scientific poll in 2003 by the Aslan Group and Arlex International. Why is Evans repeating Turkish propaganda intended to divide Armenians?

And why did he urge his Cambridge audience not to dismiss Turkey’s recent offer to include “third-country” scholars in a new joint study? After all, a third party did conduct the ICTJ study. And third-party studies by the UN (in 1985) and others have all concluded that the Armenian genocide is a fact.

Our Own Fault

Still, let’s not blame Evans for our own shortcomings. Though politically influential, we Armenian Americans have few articulate and inspiring political leaders. Hence, we tend to idealize prominent non-Armenian personalities who say nice things about us.

Moreover, Armenians have kept the RRL issues too far off to the side. As a result, others mistakenly assume that we’d be satisfied with a mere Turkish government press release acknowledging the genocide.

Armenians are realists, of course. They know that the foreseeable future will bring neither sufficient restitution nor land on the Armenian Plateau.

However, Washington is trying to sweet-talk Armenians into permanently signing away their legitimate rights in exchange for an insincere, easily revocable Turkish admission of guilt.

Armenians recently won landmark genocide-related lawsuits against NY Life and French AXA insurance companies. Litigation is currently moving forward against German banks that hold Armenian assets stolen by Turkey during the genocide. It would be foolish, therefore, to relinquish the right to legal action against Turkey itself.

Evans is writing a book on his tenure in Armenia and his daring mutiny against the State Department. Armenians will take a close look at it. In the meantime, let’s take an even closer look at ourselves.