Biden, Boxer, Menendez Force State Dept. to Distance US From Turkey’s Genocide Denial

WASHINGTON–In the midst of mounting Senate scrutiny and the prospect of a "hold" on Marie Yovanovitch’s nomination to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, the State Department, today, cleared the way for her approval by retreating from statemen’s calling into question the historical record of the Ottoman Empire’s destruction of its Armenian population, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The Department of State letter ‘s sent in response to sustained pressure from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) ‘s was issued only hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote on her nomination. The Committee confirmed the nomination by voice vote, with Senator Boxer going on record against the nomination, citing the Administration’s reluctance to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide. The full Senate will likely consider her nomination prior to their August recess.

"Today’s State Department letter, although clearly falling short of America’s moral responsibility and national interest in recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide, did mark a step in the direction of distancing U.S. policy from the dictates of the Turkish government," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "While we, of course, remain troubled by the President’s refusal to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide ‘s as reflected in Ambassador Yovanovitch’s responses ‘s we were gratified to see that, as a result of pressure from Senators Biden, Boxer, and Menendez, the Department of State has retreated from its most offensive and factually unsupportable assertions calling into question the historical fact of Ottoman Turkey’s destruction of its Armenian population."

Last month, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) delayed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of the confirmation of Ambassador Yovanovitch in response to the State Department’s late responses to the eight sets of written questions submitted to her by members of the panel. In the days leading up to today’s vote, Senators Biden, Boxer and Menendez approached the State Department for further clarification of the nominee’s statemen’s. Facing strong pressure and the prospect of a Senate "hold," Matthew Reynolds, Acting Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, wrote to Chairman Biden to formally affirm that: "the Administration recognizes that the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations of over one and a half million Armenia’s were conducted by the Ottoman Empire." The full text of the letter is provided below.

During the Committee meeting, Chairman Biden, and Senators Boxer, Menendez, and Ben Cardin (D-MD) spoke forcefully about the necessity for proper U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, stating that while the State Department’s letter represented progress, the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide remains a moral imperative and will bolster U.S. credibility in stopping 21st Century genocides.

On March 28, President Bush nominated Amb. Marie L. Yovanovitch to serve as America’s next Ambassador to Armenia. The ANCA spoke to Committee members about the value of carefully questioning Amb. Yovanovitch on the many issues she would face as the U.S. envoy in Yerevan, among them the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades of Armenia, and the need for a balanced U.S. role in helping forge a democratic and peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. These efforts have been supported by extensive on-line outreach and a national postcard campaign to key Senate Foreign Relations Committee members.

During her June 19th confirmation hearing, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) sharply criticized the Bush Administration’s policy of Armenian Genocide denial, dramatically pressing the Ambassadorial nominee regarding the Administration’s refusal to properly characterize Ottoman Turkey’s systematic destruction of its Armenian population as a genocide.

President Bush’s previous nominee as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Richard
Hoagland, was subject to two legislative holds by Sen. Menendez and was ultimately withdrawn by the Administration, following the nominee’s statemen’s denying the Armenian Genocide. The ANCA led the Armenian American community campaign opposing Hoagland’s nomination, stating that a genocide denier could not serve as a credible and effective U.S. spokesperson in Armenia. The last U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans, was fired by the State Department for properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide as "genocide."

State Department Letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee
United States Department of State
Washington DC, 20520

July 29, 2008

Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am writing in response to your concerns regarding responses to questions for the record submitted by you and Senator Menendez regarding the nomination of Marie Yovanovitch as Ambassador to Armenia.

Regarding your Question #1, Ms. Yovanovitch mentions an International Visitors Program under consideration that would bring archivists from Turkey and Armenia to the United States for professional training.

Our goal is to help archivists protect the evidence of the past so that future generations will have the documentation of the mass killings and deportations of Armenia’s committed by Ottoman’soldiers and other Ottoman officials in 1915. Our goal is not to open a debate on whether the Ottomans committed these horrendous acts; it is to help preserve the documentation that supports the truth of those events.

Regarding Ms. Yovanovitch’s response to Senator Menendez’s Question #8, the Administration recognizes that the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations of over one and a half million Armenia’s were conducted by the Ottoman Empire. We indeed hold Ottoman officials responsible for those crimes.

In her testimony, Ms. Yovanovitch tried to convey her deep empathy with the profound suffering of the Armenian people and in no way sought to cast any doubt on historical facts.

We hope this information is helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance on this or any other matter.

Matthew A. Reynolds
Acting Assistant Secretary
Legislative Affairs


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