Panel Approves New Ambassador, Vote in Full Senate is Uncertain

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by Harut Sassounian
September, 2006

After two postponements in the past four months, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally voted 13 to 5, last week, to confirm Richard Hoagland as the next Ambassador to Armenia.

The Turkish Daily News published a boastful report the next day, calling the vote "a blow to the Armenian lobby groups in the United States." It is not yet clear if and when the full Senate would approve Hoagland's nomination. If confirmed, he would replace Amb. John Evans who was dismissed from his post after publicly acknowledging the Armenian Genocide during a visit to California last year.

More than 60 Congressmen and a dozen Senators had written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing their displeasure and questioning the Bush administration's reasons for recalling Amb. Evans. The Armenian American community asked the Senators to delay Amb. Hoagland's confirmation until the State Dept. provided a clear and public explanation for Amb. Evans's dismissal.

During a heated 40-minute session on Sept. 7, nine members of the Foreign Relations Committee took the floor, five of them opposing Hoagland's nomination and four others supporting him. In a clear indication of the administration's pressure on the Republican-dominated Committee, several absent Senators voted for Hoagland by proxy.

Just days before the Committee's vote, the State Dept. had conveniently ordered Amb. Evans to leave Armenia, thus forcing the Senators to act on Hoagland's nomination under the pretext that Armenia is too important to beleft without a U.S. ambassador. Several Committee members used that argument when voting for Hoagland. The State Department's ploy worked -- for the time being!

Of course, if the Bush administration truly cared about having an envoy in Armenia, it would not have fired Amb. Evans in the first place. Furthermore, it would not have compounded its error by ordering him to leave the country without waiting to see if the full Senate would confirm his successor. If Armenia is deprived of the services of a U.S. ambassador, the State Department should only blame itself for creating such an undesirable vacuum.

It is interesting that all of the Senators from both parties who spoke in Committee, including those who voted for Hoagland, confirmed the facts of the Armenian Genocide and many of them chided the administration for its policyof not using the word genocide to describe the mass killings of 1915.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) said: "The administration's policy [on the Armenian Genocide] is not only wrong -- it is factually inconsistent with history."

Unlike disagreeing with policy, this almost calls for disagreeing with history! He reminded the Senators that Pres. Bush, as a candidate, had pledged to recognize the Armenian Genocide. He urged the administration to recognize history. He said that he would vote for Hoagland reluctantly in order not to deprive Armenia of an ambassador.

Sen. George Allen (R-Virginia) said that the administration must acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. He said, "I disagreed very much with Amb. Hoagland's refusal to use the term Armenian Genocide, but he is not responsible for the administration's policy."He said that he was voting for the nominee becausehe believed that Armenia should have an ambassador.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) said that this is a time to make a stand on genocide recognition. She read excerpts from a recent Los Angeles Times editorial that had severely criticized the Bush administration for avoidingthe use of the term Armenian Genocide. She reminded the Senators of the pledge George Bush had made as a presidential candidate to recognize the Armenian Genocide. She said that Amb. Evans was recalled for simply telling the truth! She also stated that she could not support Hoagland "until he is allowed to call the first genocide of the 20th century by its rightful name."

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) said that, as someone of the Jewish faith, he grew up with the concept of "Never Forget." He said, "I use an analogy. I can't conceive of an Ambassador to Israel being effective if he cannot talk about the Holocaust. Bring back Amb. Evans, change the policy." He concluded, "I am just not in a position to cast an affirmative vote for this nominee."

Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) pointed to his long-time opposition to the administration's policy on the Armenian Genocide. He said that there would not have been such a situation if Amb. Evans was not recalled and if the administration had recognized the Armenian Genocide. He said he was going to vote "no" on Hoagland.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) called for the Senators took take a stand. He said that this was an important issue, and he would vote no.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) stated, "The Turkish government itself makes an enormous mistake to get hung up in current day support for something the Ottoman Empire did that I don't think they support, I don't think they honor.

For us to allow an ambassador to be recalled because he utters the word "genocide" is to kowtow, is to cave in, to those who change history. We're not going to allow revisionism. We are not going to allow people to push the United States of America around and say what you can and can't say about what's happening with respect to history. We honor history and we honor the truth," he said. "My vote no is not against Amb. Hoagland personally, it is against the policy of this administration."

It is still possible that any one Senator could block his nomination by placing a "hold" on it in the full Senate. It is also possible that Pres. Bush would make recess appointment, while the Senate is out of session, thus circumventing the requirement of Senate confirmation.

The Turkish newspaper's declaration that the Armenian lobby was defeated is both inaccurate and premature. In fact, the Armenian Cause has gained considerably from the three hearings held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which dealt extensively with the Armenian Genocide issue in the past four months. Throughout these lengthy discussions, not a single Senator ever questioned the historical facts, thus further embarrassing the denialists in Ankara and hastening the day when the U.S. government would officially reaffirm the Armenian Genocide. Independently of the eventual outcome of Hoagland's nomination, the Armenian Cause was the clear beneficiary of these discussions which received widespread coverage in the U.S. and international media.

Mrs. Evans Speaks Out for the First Time!

Over the weekend, a newspaper in Armenia "168 Hours" -- published a lengthy interview with Mrs. Evans, prior to her departure from Armenia. Contrary to Amb. Evans's reluctance to discuss his recall, Mrs. Evans readily admitted that her husband was "being recalled for telling the truth regarding the events of 1915." She told the reporter: "It is sad that he is being punished for speaking the truth,"and that she considered "the punishment to be unduly harsh for what he said. My husband told the truth in the United States, to American citizens, in an academic setting. These were very difficult times for me, but when you realize that you are right, that helps you hold your head high."

Mrs. Evans also commented on the "Constructive Dissent" award bestowed by the American Foreign Service Association upon her husband last year and later withdrawn under pressure from the State Dept. She said the important thing is that her husband's colleagues had nominated him for that award. Being nominated for that award by colleagues who respected him is much more important to me than its subsequent withdrawal, she said.

Mrs. Evans also stated that she and her husband were very touched when thousands of Armenians, in his honor, tied yellow ribbons to ropes at the Genocide Memorial Monument in Yerevan on April 24. "My husband thanked the young people who were wearing yellow ribbons," she said. "We were truly touched by that action."