A U.S. senator put a hold Tuesday on the nomination of Richard Hoagland to be ambassador to Armenia to protest the Bush administration's refusal to classify the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 13-5 to send Hoagland's nomination to the full Senate for a vote. Until Democratic Senator Robert Menendez lifts his hold, however, the Senate cannot vote on Hoagland's nomination. Under Senate rules, any senator can block nominations or legislation.
Menendez said all Americans must recognize the atrocities committed between 1915 to 1923 in Armenia, during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, amounted to genocide. The Bush administration and Turkey, successor to the Ottoman state, admit many Armenians died but reject the genocide classification.
"Mr. Hoagland has declined to acknowledge the mass killings of the Armenians as genocide, and has said that if confirmed, he would work to represent the president's policy," Menendez said. "I have great concerns that Mr. Hoagland's confirmation would be a step backward."
Menendez’s move was promptly welcomed by the two main Armenian-American lobbying groups in Washington. Bryan Ardouny of the Armenian Assembly of America described it as “bold.” “This is another step in a process towards affirmation of the Genocide,” he told RFE/RL.
"We appreciate the support of those Senators reaffirming the Armenian Genocide and speaking out for the truth,” said Ardouny. “This is an ongoing process. We will continue to work closely with our Senate friends and see how this continues to unfold and see how we can at best make sure that the Armenian Genocide and the facts of the history are not swept down the road".
"We join with Armenians from New Jersey and throughout the United States in thanking Senator Menendez for his principled stand in blocking the Hoagland nomination," Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement. “The Senator's hold represents a victory for our nation's standing on human rights and genocide-prevention.”
The Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, has said the Senate should not withhold confirmation of Hoagland "based on disagreements with administration policy." Lugar has said Armenia, which borders Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan, is an important country that should not be left without a U.S. ambassador.
Hoagland would not use the word genocide at his confirmation hearing in June to describe the killings. The current ambassador, John Evans, reportedly had his tour of duty cut short because, in a social setting, he referred to the killings as genocide.
Turkey, an important NATO ally, has strongly denounced the characterization, and U.S. policymakers are wary of antagonizing that country major ally.
The Bush administration does not question that Ottoman troops killed or drove from their homes 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915. In a presidential message on the 91st anniversary April 24, President George W. Bush called it "a terrible chapter of history" that "remains a source of pain for people in Armenia and for all those who believe in freedom, tolerance and the dignity and value of every human life." As in previous such messages, he omitted using the word "genocide."