By Emil DanielyanThe U.S. Senate has again delayed the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s choice of the new U.S. ambassador to Armenia over his administration’s reluctance to term the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a genocide.
The Senate failed to vote on the nomination of career diplomat Richard Hoagland before going into winter recess late Monday. This means that Bush will have to again nominate Hoagland for the vacant post or to propose another candidate to the new, Democrat-controlled chamber next month. He also has the option of making a so-called “recess appointment” that does not require Senate confirmation.
The previous U.S. ambassador, John Evans, is believed to have been recalled by the Bush administration because of his public description of the slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians as genocide. Hoagland refused to use the politically sensitive term with regard to the 1915-1918 massacres during confirmation hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, angering the influential Armenian-American community and pro-Armenian members of Congress.
The panel twice delayed a vote on the nomination before endorsing it on September 6. Hoagland’s confirmation by the full Senate seemed a forgone conclusion until a pro-Armenian Democratic senator, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, put a "hold" on it a week later.
Menendez reaffirmed his opposition to Hoagland’s appointment after securing his reelection in last month’s mid-term congressional elections that saw both houses of Congress fall under Democrat control. He was joined on December 1 by the new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a longtime advocate of Armenian issues, in urging Bush to propose another nominee.
The incoming Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, likewise criticized the Bush administration for its refusal to explicitly recognize the Armenian genocide, but eventually voted for its ambassador-designate to Armenia. Armenian-American sources say Biden is therefore unlikely to block Hoagland’s appointment.
The Senate’s failure to fill the vacant diplomatic post was welcomed by the Armenian National Committee of America, a lobbying organization strongly opposed to the Hoagland nomination. "With the adjournment of the 109th Congress, we renew our call upon the President to recognize that -- as a matter of basic morality -- a genocide denier should never represent the United States in Armenia,” Ken Hachikian, the ANCA chairman, said in a statement.
Another, less radical advocacy group, the Armenian Assembly of America, has also expressed its solidarity with Evans but now seems reluctant to drag out the confirmation process. Assembly leaders argue that Hoagland has not explicitly denied the Armenian genocide. They also believe that the absence of a U.S. ambassador in Yerevan is damaging U.S.-Armenian ties.
(Photolur photo: Richard Hoagland.)