John Evans, a former U.S. ambassador to Armenia who was controversially recalled by Washington, has visited Nagorno-Karabakh in his capacity as an advisor to an Armenian-American charity helping poor children.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry condemned the visit as a “provocation” late on Wednesday, placing Evans on a long list of foreign dignitaries banned from entering Azerbaijan. The ministry claimed that he acted “at the behest of the Armenian lobby” in the United States.
Baku regards visits to Karabakh not authorized by it as a violation of its sovereignty over the Armenian-populated disputed territory.
Evans travelled to Karabakh together with Garo Armen, an Armenian-American businessman and the founder of Children of Armenia Fund (COAF). The two men met on Wednesday with Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, and General Levon Mnatsakanian, the top commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army.
A statement by the army said Mnatsakanian discussed with Armen and Evans the possibility of COAF assistance to Karabakh children living close to “the line of contact” with Azerbaijan as well as families of Karabakh Armenian soldiers killed or wounded in action.
COAF was set up by Armen in 2000 with the primary aim of helping Armenian children in impoverished rural regions through improved education, healthcare and local infrastructure. The charity based in New York has since raised $17 million for that purpose.
With the help of the U.S. State Department, COAF deployed in 2003 bomb-sniffing dogs that were used for demining some Armenian and Karabakh villages located in the conflict zone.
Evans, who is currently an advisor to COAF’s board of directors, was appointed as U.S. ambassador to Armenia in 2004. The administration of the then U.S. President George W. Bush decided to cut short his tour of duty after he publicly described the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey as “the first genocide of the 20th century” at a 2005 meeting with Armenian-American activists in California.
The remarks contradicted a long-running U.S. government policy of avoiding the use of the word “genocide” with regard to the World War I-era deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration disavowed the genocide recognition, saying that it reflected only Evans’s personal views. The administration never gave an official reason for Evans’s dismissal completed in 2006.
Later in 2005, the U.S. Foreign Service Association decided to give Evans its annual prestigious award designed for American diplomats displaying “constructive dissent” in their work. However, the association subsequently withdrew the award.
Reports in the U.S. press suggested at the time that the U-turn was the result of pressure exerted by the State Department ahead of the then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s June 2005 trip to Washington.
Evans reaffirmed his views on the events of 1915 in a book published earlier this year. The book titled “Truth Held Hostage” also makes a case for an official U.S. recognition of the genocide.