By William Mann, The Associated PressU.S. senators failed to persuade the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Armenia to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians last century as "genocide."
"I have not received any kind of written instruction about this," Ambassador-designate Richard E. Hoagland said Wednesday. "I simply have studied the president's policy. I've studied the background papers on the policy. And my responsibility is to support the president."
The Bush administration does not question that Turkish troops in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire 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" to describe what happened.
Turkey strongly objects to the use of the word "genocide" to describe what happened in 1915. U.S. policymakers are wary of antagonizing an important strategic NATO ally.
Bush is ordering home the current ambassador in Yerevan, John Evans, two years into the normal three-year diplomatic term. In announcing his recall last month, the White House gave no reason and praised Evans for his service. Last Sunday was his second anniversary in the Armenian capital. In February 2005, Evans told Armenian-Americans, "The Armenian genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century."
Sixty members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice protesting that Evans was being punished for his reference to "genocide." In a separate letter, Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts demanded an explanation from Rice for Evans' recall.
Senator George Allen, a Virginia Republican who presided over Wednesday's confirmation hearing for Hoagland before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recalled remarks made by Adolf Hitler on the eve of World War II. Allen referred to an August 1939 meeting between the Nazi leader and his generals, some of whom protested that the world would not stand for the slaughter of civilians during the coming war. Allen paraphrased Hitler: "Who remembers the Armenians"
Another Republican senator, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, told Hoagland that the State Department was putting him in a difficult position. "It's almost absurd to sit here and you can't utter the word genocide. The president's statement that he issues every year is a description of genocide," Coleman said.
He said former President Ronald Reagan spoke of the Armenian genocide in an official proclamation in 1981, and even Bush used the word in 2000, when he was governor of Texas and campaigning for president. "Now we have ambassadors who can't say, use a word, just a word," Coleman said. "But words have meaning. Words have meaning, and it says to the people, `I understand what you've been through."'
The word "genocide" did not exist in 1915. Its first legal application was in the indictments of the 1945-46 Nuremberg Tribunal for Nazi war criminals.
"I fully agree that the events that occurred in 1915 and following were of historic proportions, as I said, well-documented, horrific, horrifying," said Hoagland, who is currently the ambassador to Tajikistan. He quoted Senator Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, who read a statement about the situation, that "hundreds of valleys (were) devastated, no family untouched. It was historic. It was a tragedy, everyone fully agrees with that, sir."
The events occurred during the expulsion of ethnic Armenians from eastern Turkey into Syria in 1915-16. Turkish officials traditionally have maintained that 300,000 died.
(Photolur photo: Richard Hoagland.)