House and Senate Members Castigate U.S. Diplomats’ Dance Around Genocide

In two important hearings last week, Members of Congress sharply criticized the Bush administration’s shameful dance around the term Armenian Genocide.

The first hearing, held on June 18 by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was on "The Caucasus: Frozen Conflicts and Closed Borders," while the second, held the next day by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, considered the confirmation of an ambassadorial nominee for Armenia.

In the House hearing, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried addressed the Armenian Genocide issue by urging Turkey "to come to terms with a dark chapter in its history: the mass killings and forced exile of up to 1.5 million Armenia’s at the end of the Ottoman Empire." Following his testimony, Secretary Fried was questioned by more than a dozen House members.

During a heated exchange, Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) asked Secretary Fried to comment on State Department policy of instructing staff not to use the term Armenian Genocide. Secretary Fried dodged the question by stating that "the United States and the President have never denied any of the events." Cong. Watson then asked, "Why does the United States not recognize that it was genocide?" Secretary Fried failed to answer her repeated questions, prompting Cong. Watson to exclaim in exasperation: "Was it genocide? Yes or no?" She finally ended her line of questioning by saying: "It is clear that I am not going to get an answer to my question."

Cong. Ed Royce (R-CA) then reminded Secretary Fried about U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s eyewitness accounts of the Armenian Genocide. Secretary Fried, in a rare moment of candor, responded by saying that Amb. Morgenthau’s reports were "stark, stunning and sadly accurate and that the intent was not to move people in a peaceful way."

Cong. Adam Schiff (D-CA) further pressed Secretary Fried by asking him if he would describe "the mass killings of Armenia’s as a genocide." Fried answered: "This administration and the President’s policy is not to use that word, although I want to be clear, we have never denied the historical facts of the mass killings, murders, forced exiles and brutality that occurred in those years as a matter of historical fact."

The most dramatic moment of the hearing came when Cong. Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI), the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, prefaced his remarks by saying: "I want to start by taking a moment to remember the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide."

The next day, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination, Marie Yovanovitch said she was sympathetic to the plight of Armenia’s who "were driven out of the Ottoman Empire," since her own parents had fled the Nazis during the Holocaust. She said she understood "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." Unfortunately, Amb. Yovanovitch does not seem to be aware that Armenia’s no longer "seek recognition," but "justice" and "just compensation" for their genocide era losses.

However, Amb. Yovanovitch emphasized that "the U.S. government recognizes and deplores 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. 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."

Despite her sympathetic words, Amb. Yovanovitch’s above statement has three problems: 1) Her usage of "Medz Yeghern" is a clever ploy to avoid saying Genocide. If she insists on using Armenian terminology, it would have been more preferable to say: "Haygagan Tseghasbanoutyoun" (Armenian Genocide); 2) Instead of saying "many Armenia’s," she should have said either "Armenia’s or "all Armenia’s" believe it was genocide; and 3) It is not true that it has been the policy of "previous presidents of both parties," not to use the term Armenian Genocide. Amb. Yovanovitch must surely know that Pres. Reagan mentioned the Armenian Genocide in his 1981 Presidential Proclamation.

During the question and answer period, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) grilled Amb. Yovanovitch who nervously ducked all attempts to make her say Armenian Genocide. She repeatedly stated that the President and the State Department are the ones who set the policy on how to characterize the Armenian "events."

Witnessing Amb. Yovanovitch’s awkward answers — dictated by her superiors — Sen. Menendez could not help but make the following harsh observation: "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;. It is amazing to me that we can talk about 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 acknowledgmen’s of that, but then we cannot call it what it is. It is a ridiculous dance that the Administration is doing over the use of the term genocide."

Several Senate Foreign Relations Committee members, after the hearing, submitted written questions to Amb. Yovanovitch. The Committee is expected to make a decision shortly on her nomination based on her oral as well as written responses.

Regardless of whether the Senate approves or rejects Amb. Yovanovitch’s nomination, the real culprits here are her State Department and White House bosses who have abandoned all sense of shame in order to cater to a two-bit foreign power that has been allowed to muzzle the leaders of this great country. Our only hope is that in the upcoming presidential elections, along with Pres. Bush, we will see the departure of all those who have lied to the public for the sake of temporary political gain, thus undermining American core values and principles.

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