“I think that President Obama’s statement in 2009 and subsequently moves us very much closer to the goal of full recognition and understanding of what happened in those days,” John Evans said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Tuesday.
Following the pattern of his predecessors, U.S. President Obama backpedaled on one of his election pledges made to the sizable Armenian American community as he refrained from terming the World War I-era massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a genocide in his first annual April 24 statement in the presidential capacity. Instead, the newly elected American leader used the Armenian phrase Mets Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to describe “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century”.
At the same time, Obama made it clear that he stood by his earlier public statements on the subject. In particular, during his election campaign Obama repeatedly referred to the 1915-1918 slaughter of more than one million Ottoman Armenians as genocide.
“The Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence,” he said in a January 2008 statement on his campaign website. “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.”
“In his statement in April 2009 Obama went much farther than any U.S. president has ever gone before in making it clear what his own view is,” commented Evans in Yerevan as he attended an open public forum discussion hosted by the local think tank Civilitas.
Evans, who served as U.S. ambassador to Armenia in 2004-2006, is believed to have been recalled by the administration of former President George W. Bush for publicly describing the World War I-era massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. Evans later explained he had uttered the word genocide to express his personal opinion rather than make a statement as a diplomat.
Evans’ recall angered the influential Armenian community in the United States which has for decades been campaigning for an official U.S. affirmation of what many international scholars and world governments have recognized as the first genocide of the 20th century. Armenian-American groups lobbied pro-Armenian members of the U.S. Senate to block congressional confirmation of Richard Hoagland, Evans’s initial replacement proposed by the White House, leading to the Bush administration’s withdrawing its nomination in late 2007.
Both Hoagland and the subsequent appointee, Marie Yovanovitch, who ended her tour of duty in Yerevan a few months ago, declined to call the Armenian massacres a genocide during confirmation hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Career diplomat John Heffern, who is likely to be confirmed as the new U.S. ambassador to Armenia after securing the backing of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, also refused to describe the massacres as genocide during a committee hearing held in July.
Evans believes that the future U.S. ambassador in Yerevan should also consider that President Obama’s position on the 1915 events is much more sincere “than the positions of the past.”