WASHINGTON—John Bass, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the post of US Ambassador to Turkey, during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday denied the Armenian Genocide and stumbled on characterizing the widely documented abuses and freedom violations by official Ankara.
In his written statement to the committee, Bass, who is a former US Ambassador to Georgia, opted to use the now infamous and denialist “condolence” statement that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made on April 23 as the basis for his forthcoming work as the US envoy to Ankara vis-à-vis the Armenian Genocide issue.
“On this year’s Remembrance Day, Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan expressed his condolences to the grandchildren of those Armenians killed during World War I. That gesture and other positive efforts by the Turkish government in recent months indicate that the space for dialogue is opening. But more can be done, and we encourage both sides to pursue a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts surrounding the tragic events of 1915,” Bass told committee members.
While there have been endorsements for the Erdogan announcement by the State Department, Bass’s statement sheds light on the tenor of his possible tenure regarding the Armenian Genocide and sheds further light on the Obama Administration’s views on the matter on the eve of the Armenian Genocide’s centennial.
This reinforces a column in Asbarez by Harut Sassounian, who asserted that the White House and Ankara are in collusion when drafting statements regarding the Armenian Genocide.
The tone of the hearing took an abrupt turn when Bass was unwilling to properly characterize the widespread and documented abuses by the Erdogan regime of democratic principles and freedoms, such as banning YouTube and Twitter in Turkey.
When Senator John McCain asked about authoritarianism in Turkey and Erdogan’s style of government, Bass stumbled.
“Are you concerned about Prime Minister Erdogan’s desire to change the Constitution and other actions that we have seen on the part of Erdogan as a drift towards authoritarianism?” McCain asked.
“The prime minister is the leader of the democratically elected parliamentary democracy. We’ll obviously look closely at whatever steps he takes,” responded Bass.
McCain continued by asking whether the Turkish government’s “suppression of social media, YouTube and Twitter and restrictions on the freedom of the media” represented “a drift toward authoritarianism,” and added that Bass was “jeopardizing his nomination” by not giving a succinct response to his question.
“It is a pretty simple straight forward question … Do you believe that the oppression of social media, the desire to change the Constitution to be a more powerful president, which he obviously will be, is a drift towards authoritarianism?” McCain asked.
When Bass again faltered in answering the question, McCain shot back saying: “Mr. Chairman, I am not going to support this nomination, and I will hold it until I get a straight answer. I think it is a fairly straightforward question, Mr. Bass. Is it a drift toward authoritarianism?”
“It is a drift in that direction, yes,” Bass replied. “Thank you. It took 3 minutes and 25 seconds,” McCain said in response.
The Armenian National Committee of America’s Executive Director Aram Hamparian expressed disdain at Bass’s complicit approach to Turkey’s human rights violations. “Sugar-coating Ankara’s growing domestic intolerance and increasingly anti-U.S. regional approach only serves to embolden Turkey’s leaders to escalate their open challenges to American interests and values,” said Hamparian.
“The painful extent to which Turkey’s leadership has succeeded in gaming our Department of State was spotlighted by Senator McCain, who had to repeatedly press Ambassador-Designate Bass — even to the point of threatening a ‘hold’ on his nomination — to secure even the mildest U.S. criticism of Turkey’s unrelenting and highly public crackdown on social media.”