Sen. Biden Calls State Dept.'s Stand On Genocide: 'Historical Fiction'
by Harut Sassounian
Two months ago, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 13 to 5 to report to the full Senate the nomination of Richard Hoagland, the Ambassador Designate for Armenia, many Armenian Americans were dismayed that among the 13 was Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware), a staunch supporter of Armenian issues, who had played earlier a key role in challenging the State Department's recall of Amb. John Evans for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.
After reversing his position and supporting Hoagland, Sen. Biden, valuing his long-standing close relationship with the Armenian American community, took the initiative of explaining his vote in a letter to Ken Hachikian, the Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America.
Pledging to work with the ANCA "toward full recognition of the Armenian Genocide," Sen. Biden outlined the reasoning behind his vote on the Hoagland nomination.
He said that he had cast that vote after engaging in a series of exchanges with the State Department. Even though he said he was "not fully satisfied with some of the responses" he received, he felt that his inquiries "have prompted the State Department to take a number of actions that addressed" some of his questions about "the Hoagland nomination and U.S. foreign policy toward Armenia generally."
Sen. Biden stated in his letter that at his urging, the State Department has:
"Revised the language of Ambassador Hoagland's responses to questions for the record that could have been construed to cast doubt on the Armenian Genocide.
"Committed that the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia will meet extensively with representatives of the Armenian American community before and during their tenure in Yerevan.
"Agreed to brief Members of Congress on State Department efforts to promote Turkish recognition of the real history of the Armenian Genocide.
"Agreed to an exchange of visits between the U.S. Ambassadors to Yerevan and Ankara with the goal of ending Turkey's economic blockade of Armenia.
"Provided some additional information - though not as much as I would have hoped - on the materials used to educate State Department employees about the Armenian Genocide.
"Provided some additional information - though, again, not as much as I would have hoped - on Turkish government contacts with the State Department regarding Ambassador Evans comments about the Armenian Genocide."
Sen. Biden said in his letter that in addition to the above 6 considerations or concessions from the State Department, he voted for the nomination of the Ambassador Designate to Armenia because he was "concerned about the possible consequences of leaving" the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan "without an Ambassador for an extended period of time." He said that he was particularly troubled that Armenia may lose the $235 million in U.S. assistance from the Millennium Challenge Account if it did "not demonstrate a firm commitment to democracy in elections next spring."
Despite the above assurances, Sen. Biden made it clear to the State Department and the Turkish government that the real issue on hand goes beyond the dismissal of Amb. Evans and his proposed replacement by Amb. Hoagland. He said that he has not changed his belief that "the Administration's policies toward Armenia are grounded in historical fiction." He also said that he is "firmly committed to changing the Administration's policy on the Armenian Genocide." The Armenian American community should keep hounding both the State Department and the government of Turkey, which are partners in the denial of the crime of genocide -- until they unequivocally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Of course, in the case of the Turkish denialist regime, which has usurped Armenian territories and other assets, the struggle does not end with mere acknowledgment - as Armenians consider the Genocide already recognized -- but with the return of the occupied lands.
The U.S. Senate should maintain its hold on the nomination of Amb. Hoagland until the State Department explains fully and honestly the reason why it dismissed Amb. Evans. The Bush Administration should also reveal the secret communications between Turkish officials and/or its lobbyists to confirm their role in influencing the State Department's decisions in the eventual removal of Amb. Evans.
Only time will tell whether Sen. Biden was hoodwinked by the State Department's ambiguous promises into supporting Amb. Hoagland's nomination.