By Emil Danielyan
The congressional confirmation of the new U.S. ambassador-designate to Armenia was again delayed late Tuesday amid a continuing uproar over the apparent recall of his predecessor which is widely attributed to the latter’s public recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee decided postpone at least until next month its planned vote on the nomination of Richard Hoagland by President George W. Bush. Reports from Washington said the delay was forced by two prominent Democratic members of the committee. Senators Joseph Biden and John Kerry, who have close ties with the Armenian-Armenian community, expressed fresh concerns about the controversial resignation of America’s current envoy in Yerevan, John Evans.
Evans caused a stir in Washington in early 2005 after declaring in a series of meetings with Armenian-American activists that “the Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century.” The remarks contradicted the policy of successive U.S. administrations that have avoided using the term “genocide” in reference to the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. The White House officially confirmed Evans’s impending dismissal and Hoagland’s appointment in late May.
The decision was strongly condemned by leaders of the Armenian community in the United States who expressed their solidarity with Evans and lobbied pro-Armenian legislators to block Hoagland’s confirmation. Hoagland, who currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, was grilled by several members of the Foreign Relations Committee, notably Republican Senators George Allen and Norm Coleman, during the first confirmation hearing on June 28, refusing to describe the killing of some 1.5 Ottoman Armenians as genocide.
"Ambassador Evans had to resign for stating the obvious," an angry Allen reportedly told Hoagland before the committee vote was postponed until August 1.
Several U.S. legislators, including Biden, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, demanding an official explanation for Evans’s sacking. The State Department has so far declined to explain its reasons, saying only that all American ambassadors “serve at the pleasure of the president” and denying that Bush replaced Evans under pressure from Turkey.
Armenian-American lobbying groups, meanwhile, welcomed the second delay of the committee vote. Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), praised the senators instrumental in the move for their the “principled efforts” to get the Bush administration to “clearly articulate its stand on the recognition of
the Armenian Genocide.”
The lawmakers’ “leadership on this issue” was also commended by the Armenian Assembly of America. “The Administration should take the next logical step to its stated position, which provides a textbook definition of the Armenian Genocide without using the words and, once and for all, reaffirm this crime against humanity,” the Assembly’s executive director, Bryan Ardouny, said in a statement.
Hoagland’s nomination has to be endorsed by the Senate committee before it can be considered by the full upper house of the U.S. Congress. The panel is now expected to vote on the matter at its next meeting scheduled for September. With almost half of its members having expressed concern at Evans’s resignation in one way or another, the outcome of the vote seems by no means certain.
(Photolur photo: John Evans.)