US Ambassador Asked to Clarify Comments on Genocide & Karabagh

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US Ambassador Asked to Clarify Comments on Genocide & Karabagh


By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier


The U.S. Ambassador to Armenia issued “a clarification” on Monday regarding the statements he had made on the Armenian Genocide and Karabagh during his meetings two weeks ago with the Armenian American community.


Given the euphemisms used by successive U.S. administrations to sidestep the use of the term “Armenian Genocide,” it was refreshing for Armenian Americans to hear a U.S. official who properly and repeatedly referred to the Armenian Genocide, as genocide.


Amb. Evans made his candid remarks during private as well as public meetings with the community in various U.S. cities. He was reported to have said during a public gathering at the University of California at Berkeley, “I will today call it the Armenian Genocide.” Stating that he had studied extensively the facts of the Genocide, the U.S. Ambassador said, “I informed myself in depth about it. I think we, the US government, owe you, our fellow citizens, a more frank and honest way of discussing this problem. Today, as someone who has studied it… there’s no doubt in my mind what happened…. I think it is unbecoming of us, as Americans, to play word games here. I believe in calling things by their name.” He did point out, however, that the official policy of the U.S. government on this issue had still not changed. Calling the Armenian Genocide “the first genocide of the 20th century,” he said, “I pledge to you, we are going to do a better job at addressing this issue.” Amb. Evans also disclosed that he had consulted with a legal advisor at the State Department who had confirmed that the events of 1915 were “genocide by definition.”


In response to a question on Karabagh, Amb. Evans was quoted as saying: “everybody realizes that Karabagh can’t be given back to Azerbaijan. That would be a disastrous step.”


In my opinion, Amb. Evans did not say anything new or earth shattering. Back in 1981, someone in a much higher position than a mere ambassador, the President of the United States -- Ronald Reagan -- issued a presidential proclamation in which he specifically referred to “the genocide of the Armenians.” The U.S. House of Representatives twice (in 1975 and 1984) adopted resolutions commemorating the Armenian Genocide. Based on these precedents, the Ambassador’s remarks should not have been controversial at all.


The Ambassador’s comments on Karabagh were also factual and sensible. He is absolutely correct that Armenians would never willingly give Karabagh back to Azerbaijan. They spilled their blood to liberate that precious piece of historic Armenian territory. After such a sacrifice, no Armenian official would ever think of returning Karabagh’s Armenian population to the cruel and tyrannical rule of Azerbaijan.


In the clarification issued by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia on Monday, Amb. Evans alluded to “misunderstandings” that may have arisen as a result of his earlier comments. He said he used the term “genocide” in his “personal capacity,” which he now found to be “inappropriate.” Copying the words used by Pres. George W. Bush in his annual April 24 statement, Amb. Evans described the Armenian genocide as a “tragedy,” “horrific events,” and “the forced killing and exile of Armenians in 1915.”


Amb. Evans said that his “comments on the status of Nagorno Karabagh may have also created misunderstanding on U.S. policy. The U.S. government supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and holds that the future status of Nagorno Karabagh is a matter of negotiation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”


Even though there has been recently a lot of bad blood between Turkey and the United States, their discord apparently has not reached a level that would force Bush administration officials to reconsider their complicity in Turkey’s shameful denial of the Armenian Genocide. The ideological bias of a small but powerful clique of neo-conservative Turkophiles in Washington holds such a sway over U.S. foreign policy that when Turkish and Azerbaijani officials complained about Amb. Evans, they found a receptive audience.


Nevertheless, I believe that this whole controversy has its beneficial aspects for the Armenian Cause. The Turks, the Azeris and their surrogates in Washington had to spend some of their valuable political capital to get this “clarification” issued. They cannot go to the same well too many times, before the cost becomes too prohibitive for them. While Turkey’s clout in Washington is waning, the Armenians have just started implementing their yearlong activities worldwide to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.


Thanks to the Turkish and Azeri over-reactions and the media coverage of this controversy, the Armenian Genocide has become once again an important topic of discussion in various capitals, including Ankara and Washington.


It is only a matter of time before Turkish and U.S. officials give up their untenable denials of the Armenian Genocide. The only remaining question is would they do it willingly and with dignity or would they have to be dragged into admitting the inevitable, losing all respect in the process!



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