By Emil DanielyanA U.S. senator has pledged to continue to block the congressional confirmation of President George W. Bush’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Armenia over his failure to describe as genocide the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
Bush, meanwhile, again refused to use the term “genocide” with regard to what he called “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century” in an annual message to the Armenian community in the United States.
Bush has twice nominated career diplomat Richard Hoagland to replace John Evans, the previous U.S. ambassador in Yerevan. Evans is believed to have been recalled by the White House last year for publicly referring the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as the first genocide of the 20th century. The statements made two years ago contradicted successive U.S. administrations’ policy on the highly sensitive issue which takes into account Turkey’s long-standing strong denial of the genocide.
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, blocked Hoagland’s mandatory endorsement by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last September and reaffirmed the so-called “hold” in January. Menendez remained adamant in opposing the ambassadorial appointment on Tuesday as he spoke at a ceremony on Capitol Hill that marked the 92nd anniversary of the genocide.
"I wish the Ambassador [Evans] was back in Armenia, but if we cannot get him there, I refuse to release my hold on Ambassador Hoagland because of his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," he said, according to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Evans also attended the event along with about two dozen lawmakers. "If we dare
not call the 1915 events genocide, we make it more likely that current genocides, such as that in Darfur, will continue and future genocides will occur,” he was reported to say.
The ANCA is strongly opposed to Hoagland’s appointment, having branded him a “genocide denier.” But the more moderate Armenian Assembly of America has effectively urged the Senate to confirm Bush’s nominee. Assembly leaders say that Hoagland never explicitly denied the genocide and that the prolonged absence of a U.S. ambassador in Yerevan is damaging Armenia’s interests.
Both lobbying groups criticized Bush on Tuesday for his continuing refusal to characterize the Armenian massacres as genocide. In a statement, Aram Hamparian, the ANCA executive director, said the president “missed yet another opportunity to speak with moral clarity about the Armenian Genocide and to bring America back to the right side of this key human rights issue.”
“I join my fellow Americans and Armenian people around the world in commemorating this tragedy and honoring the memory of the innocent lives that were taken,” Bush said in his April 24 statement. “The world must never forget this painful chapter of its history.”
Bush said a “sincere and open examination of the historic events of the late-Ottoman period” should be an “essential part” of efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations. He went on to praise Washington’s “strong and vibrant ties” with Armenia. “Our Nation is grateful for Armenia's contributions to the war on terror, particularly for its efforts to help build a peaceful and democratic Iraq,” he said.
The ANCA the Assembly have been lobbying Congress to pass a resolution affirming the genocide and urging the U.S. president to do the same. The draft resolution was introduced to the House of Representatives in January and has since been co-sponsored by more than 190 members of the chamber. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top House Democrats have supported such bills in the past.
(Photo by the U.S. Senate: Robert Menendez.)