BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Now that the White House has been forced to withdraw Richard Hoagland’s nomination as ambassador to Armenia, it is time to reflect upon the consequences of this political tug-of-war between the Armenian American community and the Bush Administration. Here are my reflections on this issue: — The Armenian-American community was obligated to come to the defense of Amb. John Evans, an accomplished diplomat and a man of great integrity, who was wrongly dismissed by the Bush administration simply for uttering the words "Armenian Genocide," on a speaking tour of Armenian-American communities in California, in February 2005. He was forced into "early retirement" despite his issuance of an apology and a "clarification" for using the term "genocide," and stripped of the "Constructive Dissent" award granted to him by the American Foreign Service Association. This fine gentleman who lost his job because of speaking the truth deserves the respect and gratitude of Armenia’s and people of integrity worldwide.
— By opposing the dismissal of Amb. Evans, Armenian-Americans were actually defending their own cause. They simply could not stand idly by when a public official was losing his job for siding with the truth on the Armenian Genocide. Had Armenia’s remained silent, no other official would ever dare to speak up on this issue, knowing that this would jeopardize his or her career. However, supporting those who tell the truth on the Armenian Genocide would encourage others to come forward without jeopardizing their careers.
— Officials in Turkey and Azerbaijan were closely following the developmen’s about ambassadors Evans and Hoagland. Had the dismissal of the former and the nomination of the latter taken place without any complaints from the Armenian-American community, Turkish and Azeri officials would have been emboldened to press the Bush administration to take a tougher stand on other issues, including the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide, the blockade of Armenia, and the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict. However, having witnessed Pres. Bush’s withdrawal of Hoagland’s nomination, Turks and Azeris became more wary of the political clout of the Armenian-American community. After extensively covering the developmen’s on this issue over the course of the past year, Turkish and Azeri newspapers published several articles during the last weekend with headlines such as: "Bush gave in to deman’s of Armenian lobby" (Zaman) or "[Armenian] lobby forced Bush into submission" (Milliyet).
— During the past couple of years, U.S. officials have been monitoring the Armenian-American community’s reaction to the dismissal of Amb. Evans and the nomination of Amb. Hoagland. The Neo-Cons in Washington, goaded by their Turkish cronies, completely mismanaged both decisions. They did a major disservice to their Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States, who has been burdened with many other domestic and foreign policy setbacks. Pres. Bush’s underlings acted vindictively towards Amb. Evans and botched the briefing of Amb. Hoagland for his Senate Foreign Relations Committee appearance. Bush administration officials were also surprised and dismayed that their scheme to quietly replace Evans with Hoagland was made public by this writer, several months before both decisions were officially announced by the White House. Complicating matters further for the administration, this writer suggested more than a year ago that the Senate place a hold on Hoagland’s nomination. After Sen. Robert Menendez (Dem. N.J.) did place a hold on Hoagland’s nomination last September, and after the Republicans lost their majority in the Senate last November, Pres. Bush unwisely re-nominated him in January, thus forcing Sen. Menendez to place a second hold on the nominee. It took the White House more than a year to realize that Hoagland had no chance of being confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hopefully, Bush administration officials have learned a valuable lesson from this troubling episode. Maybe next time, before taking another arbitrary decision involving Armenian-Americans, particularly on the Armenian Genocide issue, the White House would consider the political as well as moral implications of its policies.
— Finally, having successfully lobbied to block the administration’s nominee as envoy to Armenia, the Armenian-American community has hopefully become more self-confident in fighting for its rights at the highest levels of the U.S. government. All those Armenian-Americans who were reluctant to join in this effort, thinking that "you can’t fight City Hall," should now be convinced that the community can win such battles, just as it won against Time magazine, PBS, and the Los Angeles Times.
Hopefully, the administration’s next nominee as envoy to Armenia would be better briefed and told to give more thoughtful answers to the Senators’ questions on the Armenian Genocide. Sen. Menendez was quoted by the AP last week as saying that he hoped "the next nominee will bring a different understanding to this issue." Unless the White House becomes more accommodating on this issue, Sen. Menendez may exercise his right of placing a hold once again.
The ideal solution to the administration’s dilemma would be to allow an early vote in the House and Senate on the pending resolutions on the Armenian Genocide. Once these resolutions are approved by Congress, the next nominee would have no problem acknowledging the Armenian Genocide during his or her Senate confirmation hearings and subsequent tour of duty in Armenia. The sooner these pending resolutions are adopted, the easier would be the confirmation process of the next nominee.