Many Suspicious about Interaction–Motives of State Department–AFSA
By Jenny Kiljian
Following what it said were concerns raised by the State Department–last week the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) announced that it had awarded and subsequently withdrawn its Christian A. Herter award for "Constructive Dissent" from US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans–on the grounds that his nomination had not met the selection criteria.
Evans was nominated for the award for his February remarks in which he characterized the extermination of 1.5 million Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1918 as genocide. His commen’s created a diplomatic debacle–after which the State Department forced Evans not only to retract his remarks–but also later to clarify his retraction.
Despite overwhelming criticism–AFSA officials stand by their decision. "I got a lot of messages saying the American Foreign Service Association doesn’t look good," said AFSA president John W. Limbert. "My response was ‘I agree.’ But there are some times when other things are important–other than looking good. The awards committee found itself with two bad choices: either continue in a course of action it now considered a mistake–or rescind the award. Neither one is very good."Association officials said that the decision was based on AFSA criteria for the awards; the historical facts of the Armenian genocide were not part of the committee’s discussion or subsequent decision–according to AFSA.
"What was never debated was the historical issue. In other words–what happened during World War I to the Armenia’s," said Limbert. "The issue was an AFSA process issue. Simple question was does this award meet our dissent award criteria."
AFSA has–however–apparently left this question unanswered several times in the past. "The award wasn’t for dissent. I received it because as a second-tour [junior officer] I spent six months as acting deputy chief of the [non-immigrant visa] section," said an anonymous source in an article titled "Is there Life after Dissent," from the June 2002 issue of the Foreign Service Journal.
In 1981–Ambassador L. Bruce Laingen and other former hostages were "corporately awarded" the Christian A. Herter Award–the William R. Rivkin Award–and the W. Averell Harriman Award–according to Foreign Service Journal articles from June 1981 and June 2002. Laingen was the charge d’affairs in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis.
"My colleagues and I were given the award on returning," said Laingen–disagreeing with the comparison between the Evans decision and his receiving of the award. "I don’t think they’re analogous. It was given to us under very unusual circumstances."
Laingen served as the chairman of the committee that considered Evans’ nomination.
"I’m in no position to make judgment whether it was genocide or not–so I don’t use the term. I think we can all agree that the event was surrounded by all kinds of tragedies–particularly for Armenia’s," said Laingen. "Whatever degree it was–everyone can agree it’s a tragedy. But it’s over. It’s part of history now–and we know how both governmen’s–both peoples feel and how governmen’s feel and have reacted to it. But as I recall–the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission–the little language I can remember–was looking for reconciliation on that issue. And I would hope to God they can. I haven’t read the report of TARC–but I get the impression that that’s what the TARC people were trying to do–to encourage reconciliation. Everyone knows the facts–but to look at it in light of history and the passage of time–and move forward.
"But–the AFSA committee wasn’t there to make a decision on those kind of things. We were looking at it in the context of our criteria. We all have respect for what John Evans was trying to do–what he said and why he said it. But–let’s look ahead."
AFSA and State Department officials may not have to look much further–a resolution calling for the US recognition of the Armenian genocide was brought before Congress this week. Rep. Frank Pallone–an original co-signer of the resolutions–made highly critical remarks about the AFSA decision last week on the House floor.
"Mr. Speaker–Ambassador Evans has been penalized for telling the truth. The American Foreign Service Association has set a terrible example by retracting Ambassador Evans’ award. I guess even in America the Turkish Government is able to stifle debate," said Pallone. "I find the timing of the decision peculiar. The sharp turnaround came right before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Washington for a meeting with President Bush. Based on past history–it’s clear that the State Department–the Bush Administration–and the powerful pro-Turkish lobby pressured AFSA to withdraw Ambassador Evans Award."
Jenny Kiljian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly