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By Emil Danielyan
A leading Armenian-American lobby organization has called for an end to the strong congressional opposition to President George W. Bush’s controversial pick for new U.S. ambassador to Armenia.

The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) said on Wednesday that the presence of a U.S. ambassador in Yerevan is “vitally important” for the strengthening of U.S.-Armenian relations and democratization of Armenia’s political system. It also argued that Richard Hoagland, a career diplomat nominated for the job, can not be expected to publicly call the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a genocide as long as that contradicts the Bush administration’s position on the issue.

“Armenia and the United States share important security, economic, and political objectives in the region,” the AAA said in a statement. “These relations need to grow and improve. That cannot happen without the presence of an U.S. ambassador in Armenia.”

“With elections scheduled [in Armenia] this year, the U.S. Ambassador can play an important role in strengthening Armenia’s democratic process and ensuring free and fair elections,” added the statement.

Hoagland’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate was again blocked by a Democratic senator last week over his failure to use the word “genocide” with regard to the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians during the dying years of the Ottoman Empire. Placing his second “hold” on the nomination, the recently reelected legislator, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, urged the Bush administration to propose another candidacy for the vacant post.

Another Senate Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, likewise called for a withdrawal of Hoagland’s candidacy on Wednesday. "Hoagland's reluctance to classify the Armenian Genocide as the 20th century's first genocide is a travesty, which leaves us to believe that he will march lock and step with the administration's politically motivated stance of denial," Schumer said in a letter to the White House.

The move was promptly welcomed by the more radical Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which has been at the forefront of Armenian-American efforts to thwart congressional endorsement of Bush’s nominee. The ANCA, which is part of a pan-Armenian nationalist party, has repeatedly branded Hoagland a “genocide denier.”

The AAA insisted, however, that Hoagland has never explicitly denied the Armenian genocide and has simply avoided using the politically sensitive term in keeping with a long-running U.S. policy on the matter. It said the Armenian community in the United States should concentrate on forcing a change of that policy, instead of blocking the ambassadorial appointment.

“The historical fact that it was genocide will remain; however, U.S. Foreign Service professionals bound to the policies of their government will only be able to express it as such once U.S. policy affirms this truth,” the AAA statement said.

The previous U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, John Evans, is believed to have been recalled last year because of his public description of the mass killings as genocide. The Bush administration is anxious not to damage relations with Turkey, a key U.S. ally which maintains that the killings of Ottoman Armenians occurred on a much smaller scale and did not constitute a genocide.

The Armenian Americans, most of them descendants of genocide survivors, have for decades been lobbying Congress and the White House to affirm the genocide. ANCA and Assembly leaders say they now stand a good chance of pushing an appropriate resolution through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

(Photolur photo: Richard Hoagland.)
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