John Kerry, a veteran pro-Armenian senator who will take over as the new U.S. secretary of state on Friday, has reaffirmed Washington’s strong support for an unconditional normalization Turkey’s relations with Armenia.
Kerry did that in his written answers to questions that were filed by other legislators last week during confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate on his candidacy for the top U.S. diplomatic post.
“The United States is encouraging Turkey at the highest levels to engage productively with Armenia on the  normalization protocols, to open the border, to reinstitute transportation, communication, and utility links between the two countries, and to re-establish diplomatic relations,” he said.
“If confirmed, I will continue to strongly support all efforts to normalize bilateral relations between Armenia and Turkey so that together, they can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive, and prosperous,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote to Robert Menendez, the staunchly pro-Armenian incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kerry referred to the U.S.-brokered agreements that were signed by Armenia and Turkey in 2009. The two protocols envisaged the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two neighboring states and opening of their border.
The Turkish government has made their parliamentary ratification contingent on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan, a precondition rejected by Yerevan.
The administration of President Barack Obama likewise says that the protocols must be implemented without any preconditions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated that “the ball remains in Turkey’s court” when she visited Yerevan last June.
Risking criticism from Armenian-American groups that have long supported him, Kerry also stopped short of referring to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. He spoke instead of “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
Responding to Senator Barbara Boxer, Kerry made clear he will stick to the Obama administration’s policy on the sensitive issue. “As the President has emphasized in his April 24 Remembrance Day statements, the achievement of a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts of what occurred in 1915 is in all our interests,” he said. “He also has said that the best way to advance that goal is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward.”
Obama pledged to reaffirm, once elected, that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians during World War One constituted genocide when he ran for president. However, while in office, he has only used the Armenian phrase Mets Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to refer to the massacres.
As senator, Kerry has backed numerous draft resolutions calling for an official U.S. recognition of the genocide. In 2005, he joined 30 senators in urging then President George W. Bush to reaffirm “the United States record on the Armenian Genocide.”
Kerry also criticized the Bush administration in 2006 for recalling U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans for publicly using the word “genocide” with respect to the events of 1915. He accused the administration of bowing to pressure from Turkey.
The two main Armenian-American lobby groups have yet to react to Kerry’s latest remarks. One of them, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), last week welcomed his nomination by Obama.
“Senator Kerry through his 29 years of service in the United States Senate has a deep understanding of the issues facing Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and we expect that as Secretary of State that he will remain true to his extensive record,” Bryan Ardouny, the AAA executive director, said in a statement.