A ‘Private’ Visit to a State Monument


It was, indeed, a first for a US Secretary of State to visit Dzidzernagapert Armenian Memorial Monument. What was, indeed, puzzling about the visit was that it was dubbed a “private” visit by one of the most visible—public—officials in the world.

While in Yerevan, Hillary Clinton visited Dzidzernagapert, laid a wreath and paused for a moment of silence in what the US Embassy officially described as “a sign of respect for the 1.5 million Armenians who lost their lives in 1915.”

A curious and novel concept in diplomacy has emerged. A US secretary of state makes a very public and official visit to a country and opts to visit its most recognizable monument in “private.” I always thought a private visit was exactly that—private. It did not accompany photographs of her at the eternal flame, or videotape of her, in which she is heard to be in awe of Mount Ararat.

Does this mean that Hillary Clinton “privately” recognizes the Armenian Genocide but publicly—and officially—goes out of her way to deny it? Or, did she think that the mere gesture of visiting the monument would absolve the US from having to change course and actually recognize the Genocide. Truly you jest Madame Secretary!

Let’s contrast her “private” visit to a very public tour of the Schindler Factory Museum, which a news wire describes as capturing “in stark images and artifacts the suffering of Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany” two days before going to Armenia.

Her tour culminated in a very “public” announcement of a $15 million pledge by the US to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to help finance an endowment to preserve and safeguard the remains of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The pledge “illustrates the significance of the Auschwitz-Birkenau site, helps commemorate the 1.1 million victims who perished there, and demonstrates America’s commitment to Holocaust education, remembrance and research,” a State Department statement said.

“The preservation and continuation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is essential so that future generations can visit and understand how the world can never again allow a place of such hatred and persecution to exist. It is also an important educational tool to show those who doubt that the Holocaust ever existed that indeed, tragically, it did,” the state department statement said.

Two different messages in one trip. And, who said the US was inconsistent in its foreign policy?

Of course—and not surprisingly—the Armenian Assembly of America was quick to thank Clinton for her visit and failed to point out that the manner in which Clinton, the US Embassy and the State Department framed this historic visit completely diminished its broader significance to the specific issue of the Armenian Genocide and the broader issue of US’s commitment to human rights.

This dual-messaging approach, which was articulated by President Obama and is now being fostered by Secretary Clinton, creates dichotomies in US policy. Clinton visits Dizidzernagapert “in private,” yet the wreath she lays at the monument says that it is from “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” In his April 24 message, President Obama is quick to point out that his personal beliefs on the Genocide have not changed, but falls short of setting the record straight.

This makes one wonder: Was Clinton’s Dzidzernagapert visit and her comments about Turkey’s failure in fulfilling the Armenia-Turkey protocols an effort to appease Armenia or an opportunity to articulate the current US posturing on Turkey?

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  1. Aram Suren Hamparian said:

    Excellent analysis and commentary.

    It would seem to me that responses to Secretary Clinton’s “private” visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial fell into two general categories:

    The first, which appears limited to the “quick to accommodate anything crowd,” measures the visit against the floor set by the Turkish government’s denial campaign, and, of course, against this hateful set of lies, any step by a third party, however token or inadequate, is welcomed as progress.

    The second, which I sense represents the pulse of our community, measures this visit against the higher standard of American ideals, Armenian dignity, and the repeated pledges by the Secretary and the President to live up to the principles of truth, fairness, and justice. Against this higher standard, the Secretary fell short not only of our commonly held core values but also – and this is important – failed to live up to her very own public commitments. Once again: She betrayed her promise, not simply our expectations.

    The first approach will, as they say, “slow dance” us to hell, trapping us, as it does, into endless applauding a never-ending series of clever half-measures meant not to mark progress, but rather to substitute for the very action – Armenian Genocide recognition – that the President and Secretary so vigorously committed to undertake.

  2. Aram said:

    Here we go again. She’s setting the stage to run for president when Obama’s term expires. I hope that this time our Armenian organization won’t be fooled.

  3. Mark said:

    One must understand that Hillary Clinton is used to “private” events, and so she calls a lot of events “private.”
    You see, her husband Bill has “private” events with other women all the time while Hillary is away.

    • Satenik said:

      Mark you’ve stolen my words right out of my mouth you “thief”. 5 * for your sharp wit.
      I don’t think she should be allowed out of the USA. She is proving dangerous to herself and others.

  4. Tsogh said:

    I commend Ara’s and Aram’s commentaries on this issue. My initial response and I believe the easier stance to take is to be happy that she visited. Time is very valuable and Secretary Clinton gave the Genocide victims and all of us who care deeply about Genocide recognition her time. It’s better than not having visited. And if she truly went as a personal visit, I am happy to know that she does agree with us, that it was a Genocide. This visit was a small gesture, but a positive one in my humble opinion.

    However Aram and Ara are completely correct in that this shouldn’t and won’t let her, or the President, or the American government, off the hook for not publicly recognizing the Genocide. I commend you both and the ARF for standing up and not allowing the US government to get a “Get out of Jail Free” card on this issue. You both are leaders of our community and I just want to thank you for pressing on and pressing forward.

  5. Chris said:

    So… should she not have gone to Dzidzernagapert? Then people would have bashed her for that as well, a lot more harshly. She didn’t have to go at all, no one forced her to go. Given her position and the official position of her government on the Genocide, she probably shouldn’t have gone. But she made the time to visit the memorial because she knew it was the right thing to do (although her government officially doesn’t, and that’s a separate issue), and she clearly wanted to pay her personal respects to the 1.5 million Armenian lives lost. She should be commended, not condemned. Let’s cut her some slack.

  6. armen said:

    I don’t like my tax money to go for private visits of the Secretary of State. I’m just saying.