An Interview With Former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans:

Long-time Asbarez correspondent and contributor Raymond Kupelian recently attended the Armenian Heritage Cruise, where former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans was a special guest. During the trip, Kupelian interviewed the Ambassador. We present the interview below.

Raymond Kupelian: You became a legend for millions of Armenia’s around the world. To them, you are more popular than the US president. You earned that popularity the hard way; by endangering your job and your future as a diplomat. What prompted you to follow your conscience?
John Evans: The last thing I was thinking about when I decided to level with my audiences about the Armenian Genocide was whether it would make me “popular” with anyone. To the contrary, I knew that doing so would make me very unpopular with my own employer, the U.S. Department of State, and that was very much on my mind. But I felt then, and I feel now, that it was unhealthy for American officials, elected or appointed, not to be able to discuss serious issues honestly with fellow American citizens. It is almost impossible to speak honestly and with any credibility to a knowledgeable audience, Armenian or non-Armenian, while pretending, for policy reasons alone, not to know and recognize that the Armenian Genocide happened.
R.K.: Why is the State Department so obsessed with the idea of not offending Turkey, while, when invading Iraq we realized how unreliable our so called “staunch ally” was?
J.E.: I would not say that the State Department is “obsessed” with not offending Turkey; rather, the cold, rational calculus has always been that Turkey is our NATO ally, and that we would go out of our way to avoid “offending” the Turks, even at the cost of withholding the truth about the Genocide. In fact, no U.S. official has ever denied the facts about what happened in 1915; it is only the characterization of those facts as a case of genocide that has been withheld.
As for the March 2003 decision of the Turkish National Assembly not to grant U.S. forces the possibility of invading Iraq from Turkish territory, that was a decision that the Turks made after intense discussion, and, although the Administration did not like it, NATO Allies remain sovereign powers and can take such decisions on occasion.
R.K.: The world looks upon the US as the bastion of democracy, moral values, and the future architect of a just and decent world. What message is the Bush administration is conveying to our friends and foes by covering up crimes committed against humanity, specifically the Armenian Genocide?
J.E.: I believe the world still views the United States as a leader in human rights, although that reputation, which was decades in the making, has certainly been tarnished in recent years. Our policy of going along with Turkey in its denial of the Armenian Genocide is clearly motivated by current considerations of Realpolitik rather than by any innate desire to “cover up” crimes against humanity. In March of last year, in a hearing on U.S.-Turkish relations, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried actually used the term “ethnic cleansing” to refer to the events of 1915. “Ethnic cleansing” is seen as a crime against humanity, although the phrase, which has negative connotations on account of its implication that some territory needs to be “cleaned,” has been called “genocide from the point of view of the perpetrators.”
R.K.: Isn’t our unconditional support to Israel radicalizing the Moslem world, when half of our oil supply comes from the Middle East? And yet we shy away from just pronouncing the G world, to not offend Turkey?
J.E.: There are really two questions here. The United States has supported the State of Israel since its foundation sixty years ago this year, and there is no reason to imagine that that support will not continue indefinitely. It seems to me that the important thing we could bring to the central Middle East conflict is our credibility as an honest broker of a just and lasting peace. I’m afraid we have lost some of that credibility in recent years.
As for Turkey and the question of the Armenian Genocide, I think I have already given you an answer.
R.K.: Recognition of the Genocide has been pushed to the back burner, as some of our intellectuals were advocating for years. By sheer evolution, now the G word has conceded its place to Reparation. Armenian political leaders were moving toward the Reparation long before the failure of the House Genocide resolution 106. With Turkey knocking at the doors of EU, is there any chance of settling the long overdue issue?
J.E.: The so-called “Copenhagen Criteria” that the European Union agreed Turkey would need to meet in order to qualify for accession to the EU do not include recognition of the Armenian Genocide, although mending relations with its neighbors and opening the land border with Armenia are included at least by implication.
It seems to me that a measure of compensation for the wrongs committed by the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire is more likely to come about as the result of a political process that includes democratic political evolution within Turkey than as a consequence of any single legislative or judicial act.
R.K.: There are two ongoing presidential elections; the US Primaries and the one in Armenia. As for US elections, who are your choice among the democrats and the republican Candidates?
J.E.: As one who has long been an independent, I have not yet fully made up my mind yet. But I like what Senator Obama has said about the need to put an end to the genocide that keeps happening in our world and about the Armenian Genocide in particular. He is reported to have said, when the question of my statemen’s about the Genocide were being discussed: “That the invocation of an historical fact by a State Department employee could constitute an act of insubordination is deeply troubling and is a clear sign that it is time to revisit the Administration’s guidance on this issue.”
R.K.: Are you planning to write a book about your recent experience with the State Department, on the Armenian Genocide?
J.E.: Yes, I am working on a book about the issue of the Armenian Genocide.
R.K.: What is your impression of the Secretary of State Ms. Condoleeza Rice. As a person of African descent, one would have expected her to be more sympathetic toward the sufferings and the plight of others?
J.E.: I do not believe it is fair to generalize about Dr. Rice’s views either from the facts of her own heritage or from her policy ‘s which has long been the policy of successive Secretaries of State of both parties ‘s on the Armenian Genocide.
R.K.: In recent years, beside Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame, you where one of the few high ranking person in the foreign services, subjected to harsh treatmen’s, to say the least. Are you hoping to be vindicated with a democratic win in this year’s White House race?
J.E.: I see very little in common between my case and that of Ambassador Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. They became embroiled in a party-political matter. The issue of the Armenian Genocide is not a partisan one.
I do not look at our elections this year as an opportunity for vindication, but I do hope that the new administration, of whichever party, will take a fresh view of the issue of the Genocide. My book will contain some practical, though principled, suggestions as to some things that could and should be done about it. As discussions during this Armenian Heritage Cruise have again shown, the issue is not simply going to go away.
R.K.: Are you planning to sue the State Department or Secretary Condoleezza Rice for their ill advised behavior?
J.E.: No.
R.K.: Would you be willing to return to Armenia as the U.S. Ambassador?
J.E.: Yes, but only on the condition that the U.S. policy of withholding the historically accurate qualification of the events of 1915 as “genocide” is changed.

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