Sen. Menendez Cross-Examines Ambassadorial Nominee for Armenia

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

WASHINGTON–Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) castigated the Bush Administration’s policy of Armenian Genocide denial on Thursday dramatically pressing U.S. Ambassadorial nominee to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch regarding the Administration’s refusal to properly characterize Ottoman Turkey’s systematic destruction of its Armenian population as a genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The Associated Press, in an article today entitled "Nominee Refuses to Call Killings Genocide," noted Senator Menendez’s "intense questioning" and the "prosecutorial style" of his inquiries during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing. The AP article, which was also carried by MSNBC and other media outlets, quoted ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian as saying, after the hearing, that, "we were troubled by Ambassador

Yovanovitch’s refusal to offer any meaningful rationale for the Administration’s ongoing complicity in Turkey’s denials."

Sen. Menendez, who had placed two consecutive holds on previous ambassadorial nominee Dick Hoagland for denying the Armenian Genocide, meticulously questioned Yovanovitch by presenting historical State Department documen’s from the time of the Genocide and comparing those statemen’s with her opening remarks.

"The US government–and certainly I–acknowledges and mourns the mass killings, ethnic cleansing and forced deportations that devastated over one and a half million Armenia’s at the end of the Ottoman Empire," said Yovanovich in her opening testimony. Following these remarks, Sen. Menendez presented the nominee with several documen’s quoting U.S. Ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgethau and Abram Elkus, and other U.S. diplomats who served in the region at the time of the Armenian Genocide and documented the destruction of the Armenian population.

Juxtaposing the eyewitness accounts of these U.S. officials with the definition of the crime as outlined by the U.N. Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, Sen. Menendez asked whether the President’s annual April 24th remarks, Yovanovitch’s prepared statemen’s, and her responses regarding U.S. diplomatic reporting matched the U.N. Convention, to which the U.S. is a party. Amb. Yovanovitch sidestepped this question, stating instead that it is the President and the State Department who set the policy of defining historic events. In her testimony, she publicly confirmed that "It has been President Bush’s policy, as well as that of previous presidents of both parties, not to use that term."

Sen. Menendez responded, "It is a shame that career foreign service officers have to be brought before the Committee and find difficulty in acknowledging historical facts, and find difficulty in acknowledging the realities of what has been internationally recognized." He went on to state, "And it is amazing to me that we can talk about millions, a million and a half human beings who were slaughtered, we can talk about those who were raped, we can talk about those who were forcibly pushed out of their country, and we can have presidential acknowledgemen’s of that, but then we cannot call it what it is. It is a ridiculous dance that the Administration is doing on the use of the term genocide. It is an attempt to suggest that we don’t want to strain our relationships with Turkey… I believe acknowledging historical facts as they are is a principal that is easily understood both at home and abroad. So while the Administration believes that this policy benefits us vis-a-vis our relationship with Turkey, I think they should also recognize that it hurts our relationship elsewhere and it tarnishes the United States’ history of being a place where truth is spoken to power, and acknowledgment of our failures of the past make us stronger, not weaker; recognizing the evils of the past do not trap us, but they set us free."

The complete exchange between Sen. Menendez and Amb. Yovanovitch
can be watched on the ANCA website at:

"We join with Armenian Americans across the nation in thanking Senator Menendez for his courage and determination in holding the Bush Administration accountable for its deeply flawed policy of enabling Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "Today’s Senate hearing with Ambassador Yovanovitch, much like yesterday’s testimony before a U.S. House panel by Assistant Secretary Fried, confirms the sad reality that our government has allowed a foreign nation to impose a ‘gag rule’ on America’s right to speak truthfully about the Armenian Genocide."

"We look forward to carefully reviewing Ambassador Yovanovitch’s responses to the written questions that will be posed by Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to get a fuller understanding of her ability to effectively represent U.S. interests and American values as our Ambassador to Yerevan," added Hamparian.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) who chaired the confirmation hearing concurred with Sen. Menendez, noting that "there is no question in my mind, that facts speak for themselves, and what happened was genocide… In Armenia we need an ambassador… who understands the historical facts, and has the historical facts correctly stated." Sen. Cardin also questioned Amb. Yovanovitch on the recent elections in Armenia and urged the Ambassadorial nominee to Austria to help secure Austria’s support for Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released a statement to coincide with Amb. Yavanovitch’s confirmation hearing, noting her outrage at the firing of former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans for speaking truthfully about the Genocide.

"It is bad enough that Armenia’s everywhere have to endure a U.S. President who refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide despite earlier promises to the contrary. But Armenia’s were also recently forced to witness the dismissal of a career U.S. diplomat, Ambassador John Evans, who expressed his personal view that it is long past time that the United States call one of the greatest events of deliberate mass murder in the 20th century by its rightful name–genocide… I could not agree with Ambassador Evans more."

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has submitted a set of questions for the record in which he reaffirmed the importance of recognizing the killing of 1.5 million Armenia’s from 1915 to 1923 as genocide.

The full text of Amb. Yovanovitch’s testimony is provided below.

Testimony of Marie L. Yovanovitch
Ambassador-Designate to Armenia

June 19, 2008
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am honored by the confidence that President Bush and Secretary Rice have shown in me by nominating me for the post of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. If confirmed, I pledge to build on my 22 years of service to our country to protect and defend American interests in the increasingly vital region of the South Caucasus.

Only in the United States would it be possible for someone like me–a first generation immigrant to the United States–to appear before you as an Ambassadorial nominee. My father fled the Soviets and then the Nazis. My maternal grandfather escaped from Russia after the revolution and raised his family in wartime Germany, where my mother grew up stateless. My parents brought me to this country in search of a safe harbor, a harbor that provided freedom and opportunity, dignity and respect.

The United States offered our family a second chance, just as so many Armenian-Americans received a second chance in our country after they were driven out of the Ottoman Empire. In no way do I want to equate my own family history with that of Americans of Armenian heritage here in the United States. But I do wish to convey that I understand from personal experience that the events of the past can haunt the present and that individuals, born a generation or more after apocalyptic events, seek recognition of the injustices of the past.

The U.S. government–and certainly I–acknowledges and mourns the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations that devastated over one and a half million Armenia’s at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The United States recognizes these events as one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, the "Medz Yeghern" or Great Calamity, as many Armenia’s refer to it. That is why every April the President honors the victims and expresses American solidarity with the Armenian people on Remembrance Day.

The Administration understands that many Americans and many Armenia’s believe that the events of the past that I have referred to should be called "genocide." It has been President Bush’s policy, as well as that of previous presidents of both parties, not to use that term. The President’s focus is on encouraging Turkish citizens to reconcile with their past and with the Armenia’s. He seeks to support the painstaking progress achieved to date.

President Bush believes that the best way to honor the victims is
to remember the past, so it is never repeated, and to look to the future to promote understanding and reconciliation between the peoples and governmen’s of Armenia and Turkey. A key part of that effort is to end Armenia’s isolation in the region by encouraging normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey and the opening of their land border. The Armenian government has requested that we facilitate this process. It will not be easy nor will it likely be quick, but there are some hopeful signs. President Bush believes that normalization can and should be achieved. The result would be an improvement in the life of every Armenian.

If I am confirmed, my priority would be to support the efforts of the United States in working towards regional stability by facilitating Armenian-Turkish relations and a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. Armenia is isolated from its second largest neighbor, Turkey, and every year scores of soldiers die along the line of contact with Azeri forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The status quo in both situations is unacceptable, a deterioration unthinkable and clearly not in U.S. or regional interests.

Some progress has been made in both areas recently. Success would bring security to Armenia and great economic opportunities. This is a goal worth pursuing, and, if confirmed, I would give it my utmost attention–not only by supporting government-to-government discussions–but by promoting people-to-people contacts and partnerships, and other cross-border and regional initiatives. Contact begins to build trust, and trust is the necessary first step to reconciliation and conflict resolution.

Promoting good governance in Armenia is also a key U.S. goal. The conduct of the recent presidential elections and their violent aftermath in which ten individuals died were deeply disturbing. The path towards democracy is rarely fast or smooth. Our aim is to help the Armenian government and the Armenian people restore democratic momentum and to renew their own stated mission of moving forward to become a country where government institutions are fully transparent and accountable and where rule of law is accepted by all.

It is important that the Armenian government support an independent, objective, and inclusive investigation into the fateful events of March 1 and release those who have been held on politically-motivated charges. It is important that the judiciary becomes truly independent. It is important that freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression are fully protected. It is important that the Armenian authorities show the will to move forward with a reform program that is responsive to the legitimate desires of the people and that inspires public confidence in the country’s political and economic processes.

We are looking at how our democracy programs can be more targeted–better supporting civil society, watchdog organizations, the independent media, and development of the internet. Our programs will continue to focus on anti-corruption efforts and strengthening the rule of law.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Agreement in 2006 demonstrated our belief that Armenia was fulfilling MCC’s required criteria in the three broad areas of ruling justly, investing in people, and economic freedom. MCC is a performance-based program for governmen’s that demonstrate commitment in these areas. In Armenia, the MCC Compact is a poverty-reduction program that focuses on building roads, improving the irrigation infrastructure and training farmers. The program will eventually benefit 750,000 people, 75 percent of whom live in rural areas.

This is an important program, and we have urged the new Armenian government to act quickly to improve its standing in the 9 of 17 indicators that it currently fails. The U.S. government is committed to assisting Armenia in this process, but it is up to the Armenian government to take the necessary steps, so that the Compact program could continue.

The Armenian economy has seen great success and double-digit growth over the last six years. Our assistance programs–through technical assistance to improve the regulatory and legislative framework, through strengthening of the private sector, and through training in many sectors of the economy–have contributed at least in part to this success.

Over the last four years, Armenia has contributed to global security by providing peacekeepers in both Kosovo and Iraq. In fact, the size of Armenia’s contingent in Kosovo was doubled just last week. By supporting Armenia’s defense sector reform and greater cooperation with NATO, we enhance Armenia’s ability to assist in peacekeeping operations and to work with coalition forces o combat global terrorism and make the world a safer place.

Armenia remains committed to over flight and landing rights for U.S. military aircraft and has worked to improve its capacity to combat both money laundering and terrorism financing. These are efforts we have strongly supported. Our assistance for Armenia’s work to strengthen its borders and combat illegal trade in arms, weapons of mass destruction, drugs, and people is important to regional stability.

Our relationship with Armenia is broad and deep, both on a bilateral level and between our peoples. The United States was among the first to recognize Armenia’s independence, and the first to establish an Embassy in Yerevan. Over the past seventeen years, the United States has provided close to $2 billion in assistance and materially improved the lives of millions of Armenia’s. While challenges remain, we expect our partnership will continue to strengthen, and that we will continue to cooperate in all areas.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, if confirmed, I will do everything in my power to ensure that U.S. interests are promoted and protected, that the bilateral relationship flourishes, and that Armenia’s isolation ends and regional stability is enhanced.

Thank you.


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