State Dept. Again Refuses to Directly Comment on Reports of Amb. Evans’ Recall

WASHINGTON–DC–For the fourth time in the last week–the State Department’s official spokesperson has failed to directly respond to questions raised by journalists during the Department’s daily press briefing about reports that the US Ambassador to Armenia–John Marshall Evans–has been recalled due to his truthful statemen’s about the Armenian genocide–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

"It’s certainly disappointing seeing State Department officials hiding behind their spokesperson to avoid directly answering questions about whether Ambassador Evans is being recalled because he had the courage to stand up against what effectively amounts to a ‘gag-rule’ preventing our nation’s diplomats from speaking truthfully about the Armenian genocide," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian–in a March 8 letter to Secretary Rice–wrote that–"If–in fact–the State Department has taken punitive steps against Ambassador Evans–you should fully and openly explain your policies and actions to the American people. If–on the other hand–the Department has not taken any such steps–you owe it to the American people to affirm that it is not the policy of the United States of America to punish its diplomats for speaking the truth about the Armenian genocide."

Questions concerning Ambassador Evans were raised on March 8 and 10 and again on March 13 and 14. Each time journalists asked for official commen’s about Ambassador Evans’ reported recall. Reflecting the growing frustration among journalists over the lack of a clear response to their inquiries–a member of the State Department press corps publicly described the answers provided by the official spokesperson as "a bit of a dodge."

The growing controversy surrounding reports of Ambassador Evans’ recall has resulted in separate letters being sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–the Co-Chairman of the Armenian Issues Caucus–as well as formal Congressional inquiries by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Grace Napolitano (D-CA).

Speaking last year to an Armenian American gathering at the University of California at Berkeley–Ambassador Evans said–"I will today call it the Armenian genocide. . . 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 [as to] what happened. I think it is unbecoming of us–as Americans–to play word games here. I believe in calling things by their name." Referring to the Armenian genocide as "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." 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."

Within days of his remarks–Ambassador Evans was apparently forced to issue a statement clarifying that his references to the Armenian genocide were his personal views and did not represent a change in US policy. He subsequently issued a correction to this statement–replacing a reference to the Genocide with the word "tragedy."

Later last year–the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA)–in recognition of his honesty and commitment to principle–decided to honor Ambassador Evans with the "Christian A. Herter Award," recognizing creative thinking and intellectual courage within the Foreign Service. AFSA states–"The purpose of the [award] is to encourage Foreign Service career employees to speak out frankly and honestly." Sadly–as Washington Post staff writer Glenn Kessler revealed on June 9–AFSA withdrew its award following pressure from "very serious people from the State Department" just days before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Washington–DC to meet with President George W. Bush.

The full text of the four exchanges are provided below:

1. MARCH 8–2006 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING (WASHINGTON–DC) SEAN MCCORMACK–SPOKESMAN

QUESTION: [. . .] Why did you recall your Ambassador to Armenia–Mr. John Evans? Are you going to replace him?

MR. MCCORMACK: I’m not aware that we have recalled anybody — our Ambassador to Armenia.

QUESTION: Not in Germany–in Armenia.

MR. MCCORMACK: What’s that? I’m not aware that – I believe that he’s still serving as Ambassador in Armenia.

2. MARCH 10–2006 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING (WASHINGTON–DC) TOM CASEY–ACTING SPOKESMAN

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia having his time there cut short–maybe his career? A couple of Congressmen have asked Secretary Rice about it and apparently have not gotten an answer. He’s supposed to have suggested that Armenia’s were the victims of genocide–which doesn’t happen to be Bush Administration policy.

MR. CASEY: I think Sean addressed this a couple of days ago.

QUESTION: I think it’s been brought up — further up to date. If you could —

MR. CASEY: I don’t have anything beyond what he said on it. I’ll look into it for you and see if there’s any changes in —

QUESTION: He said that ambassadors serve at the privilege of the President

MR. CASEY: Yeah. And as far as I know–he’s . . . still ambassador. I’m not aware that anything’s changed that situation.

QUESTION: You can’t — well–all right–if you don’t have anything further. (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: I think–Barry–I will — yeah–I’ll look into it for you. I haven’t gotten an update on it–but I’ll try and see if there’s something and we’ll post an answer for you.

QUESTION: And also if somebody ghosted an answer from the Secretary to Mr. Schiff and the other Congressmen.

MR. CASEY: Okay. I’ll let you know. Let’s go back here. Oh–to you guys first and then we’ll come over to this side.

3. MARCH 13–2006 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING (WASHINGTON–DC) TOM CASEY–ACTING SPOKESMAN

QUESTION: Is the Ambassador of Armenia being — having his career shortened because he spoke out against genocide in Armenia?

MR. CASEY: Barry–I know we promised you an answer on that one on Friday. Still don’t have it and I’ll get something for you this afternoon.

QUESTION: You mean his future hasn’t been decided yet?

MR. CASEY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: I think it has.

MR. CASEY: I believe you think it does.

QUESTION: No–I do believe it does and so do — and I have reason to believe it does and I know there are at least two members of Congress who believe it does. No–I just think the State Department is having difficulty finding words to announce his premature retirement.

MR. CASEY: No. We owe you an answer on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: I’ll get it for you. Yes–Saul.

[. . .]

QUESTION: And one on Armenia. Representative Frank Pallone in a strong statement expressed his extreme disappointment with regards of the Department of State decision to rid finally Ambassador John Evans from Armenia as a retaliation for statemen’s he made in recognition of the Armenian genocide in Los Angeles by Ottoman Turks. And it was reported that already you have decided to replace him. Could you please clarify for us what is going on exactly this particular moment of this issue?

MR. CASEY: That was the question Barry asked. We owe you an answer and we’ll get you one.

QUESTION: Is the same answer.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. It’s the same issue; it will be the same answer.

QUESTION: Is there an ambassador on post in Armenia right now?

MR. CASEY: Yes–there is.

QUESTION: Is his name Evans?

MR. CASEY: Yes–it is.

QUESTION: Does he have suitcase packed?

MR. CASEY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: But when you do announce this–would you kindly tell us the difference between what happened and genocide?

MR. CASEY: I think —

QUESTION: Because U.S. policy is there was no genocide.

MR. CASEY: Our policy on this issue is well known. It was reported in a presidential statement and–yeah–I don’t have anything to add to it.

4. MARCH 14–2006 DAILY PRESS BRIEFING (WASHINGTON–DC) ADAM ERELI–SPOKESMAN

QUESTION: Mr. Ereli–on the DOS [Department of State] Web site–regarding yesterday’s taken question about U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans’ status–you have put quote–"genocide," unquote–in quotes. I’m wondering why–if you can say so.

MR. ERELI: I think because it was referring to remarks that somebody made.

QUESTION: Do you know whether John Evans was recalled or whether he’s been recalled due to his speech on Armenian genocide?

MR. ERELI: I think the question was answered in the – that was answered in the question posted.

QUESTION: Should DOS [Department of State] employees have been advised not to use the term–quote–"genocide," unquote–when discussing the extermination of the (inaudible)?

MR. ERELI: No–I think our guidance on that is the same. And we posted that guidance last week.

QUESTION: Is it not true that Mr. Evans’ 35-year diplomatic career will be shortened because of the remarks he made–saying that … genocide?

MR. ERELI: I think the question was answered in the – that was answered in the question posted.

QUESTION: Had DOS [Department of State] employees been advised not to use the term–quote–"genocide," unquote–when discussing the extermination of the 1 1/2 million . . .

MR. ERELI: No–I think our guidance on that is the same. And we posted that guidance last week.

QUESTION: Is it not true that Mr. Evans’ 35-year diplomatic career will be shortened because of the remarks he made–saying that Armenia’s were the victims of genocide–since the U.S. government or the State Department doesn’t believe what happened was genocide? It doesn’t fit the definition of genocide?

MR. ERELI: I really don’t have anything more to add to what we posted.

QUESTION: Well–what you posted yesterday was a bit of a dodge.

MR. ERELI: No. I think it’s the situation as it is. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: There is very strong reason to believe–in Congress and elsewhere–that this man is going to lose out; he’s going to be brought home early because of what he said.

MR. ERELI: Look–I’d like to be able to — Ambassador Evans is our ambassador and he continues to exercise that honor and privilege. And he takes it seriously; we take it seriously. And I really don’t have any more to add to that.

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