By Emil Danielyan
President George W. Bush has officially confirmed the impending dismissal of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans which Armenian circles in the United States attribute to the diplomat’s public recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The White House announced on Tuesday that Bush will ask the U.S. Senate to endorse his nomination of Richard Hoagland, Washington’s outgoing ambassador to Tajikistan, as Evans’s replacement. It offered no explanation for the widely anticipated move.
Evans has been tipped to lose his current job for the last three months. Armenian-American groups and activists have suggested that he is paying the price for his controversial reference to the mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as “genocide.”
U.S. officials have declined to publicly confirm or deny this. “We all serve at the pleasure of the President,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told the Armenian Assembly of America on March 27 when asked to comment on the issue. The Assembly and another Armenian lobbying group in Washington, ANCA, have voiced strong support for Evans, demanding that the Bush administration refrain from recalling the envoy.
Evans has served as ambassador to Armenia for less than two years. All of the four previous heads of the U.S. mission in Yerevan had longer tenures. “I do not know when I will be leaving Armenia and I have not submitted by retirement papers,” the 58-year-old career diplomat told reporters on March 7.
Evans openly contradicted the long-running policy of successive U.S. administrations when he declared in a February 2005 speech in California that “the Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century.”
Washington was quick to disown the remarks, saying that it reflected only his personal views and did not signify any change in U.S. policy on the sensitive subject. “He did not coordinate with the U.S. government. He did not clear his remarks with the State Department,” a senior Bush administration official told RFE/RL at the time.
“I used the term “genocide” speaking in what I characterized as my personal capacity,” Evans clarified in a subsequent written statement. “This was inappropriate.”
The extraordinary genocide recognition led to a decision by the U.S. Foreign Service Association to give Evans its annual prestigious award designed for American diplomats displaying “constructive dissent” in their work. However, the association then unexpectedly withdrew the award. Reports in the U.S. press suggested that the decision, which came ahead of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s June 2005 trip to Washington, was made under pressure from the State Department.
Turkey, which is a key U.S. ally, vehemently denies that the Armenian massacres constituted a genocide and has repeatedly warned Washington against using the politically sensitive term.
In his last April 24 address to the Armenian-American community, Bush again stopped short of describing the mass killings as genocide, speaking only of “one of the horrible tragedies of the 20th century.” But he at the same time cited and praised an independent study, commissioned by prominent Armenians and Turks in 2002, which concluded that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians fits the internationally accepted definition of genocide.
(Photolur photo: John Evans.)