Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Yovanovitch Nomination

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State Department Letter Amends
US Position on Genocide

WASHINGTON — The Bush Administration’s nominee to serve as US ambassador to Armenia, Amb. Marie L. Yovanovitch, (previously ambassador to Kyrgyzstan) was approved during last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, reported the Armenian Assembly of America. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was recorded as a no vote stating that it was not “a vote in support of the truth,” while Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) wanted to make it clear that his affirmative vote was in no way an endorsement of the Administration’s flawed policy on the subject of Genocide affirmation.

Boxer stated that, “where the US stands on genocide is no small matter” and expressed her continued frustration with the administration’s policy, stating that Yovanovitch “still cannot use the word genocide.” Echoing Boxer, Menendez recounted the series of questions he posed during the confirmation hearing and expressed his continued concerns about Yovanovitch’s inability to provide her own opinion regarding the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide and the Administration’s failed policy in this regard.Menendez also pointed out the absurdity of the administration’s stance, which sends the ambassador every year to commemorate the Genocide at Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, in Yerevan, but does not affirm it.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) joined with his colleagues and agreed that the administration’s policy is not helpful He also reminded his colleagues of efforts by Turks and Armenians, such as the International Center for Transitional Justice, which concluded that the events of 1915 was indeed genocide.

In closing, Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) stated that he did not think the administration would come as far as it has without the consistent pressure by his colleagues, Boxer and Menendez. Biden also thanked the Armenian-American community, as he acknowledged the presence of Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States Tatoul Markarian, at the proceedings.

“The Assembly commends Chairman Biden, along with the continued efforts of Senators Boxer and Menendez to ensure that affirmation of the Armenian Genocide remains a front and center priority,” said Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “We also appreciate the support of Senator Cardin and all those on the committee who have played a critical role throughout this process. The community rightly expects that our Ambassador to Armenia follow in the tradition of Morgenthau and Evans and squarely acknowledge this horrific crime,” continued Ardouny. “At the same time, Armenia has made its desire known that it wishes to have an Ambassador to foster and build the USArmenia relationship,” added Ardouny.

In the midst of mounting Senate scrutiny and the threat of a “hold” on Yovanovitch’s nomination, the State Department, cleared the way for her approval by retreating from statements calling into question the historical record of the Ottoman Empire’s destruction of its Armenian population, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Last month, Boxer delayed the committee’s consideration of the confirmation of Yovanovitch in response to the State Department’s late responses to the eight sets of written questions submitted to her by members of the panel. In the days leading up to the vote, Biden, Boxer and Menendez approached the State Department for further clarification of the nominee’s statements. Facing strong pressure and the prospect of a Senate “hold,” Matthew Reynolds, acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote to Biden to formally affirm that: “the Administration recognizes that the mass killings, ethnic cleansing, and forced deportations of over one and a half million Armenians were conducted by the Ottoman Empire.”

The State Department letter was issued only hours before the committee was set to vote on her nomination.

On August 5, Anthony Barsamian, chairman of Public Affairs for the Armenian Assembly , said he was “very dissatisfied” with the vote. “This is nothing the new. The letter simply states what the administration’s position has been. They don’t deny the Genocide, but they won’t use the term. It is high time for the next administration to use the proper term — ‘genocide.’ The whole process just confirmed that the administration’s position has remained the same.”

In response to the vote, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), co-chair of the Armenian Caucus, issued a statement, on August 5, in which he said, “It is my hope that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will use diplomatic measures to end the Turkish blockade on Armenia and find a lasting, peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabagh conflict. While I am pleased that appointing a new Armenian ambassador will continue to strengthen the US-Armenia relationship, it is disturbing that the Bush Administration conditions its Foreign Service career professionals to abstain from referring to the Armenian Genocide. I appreciate the efforts of Senators Rober Menendez and Barbara Boxer to question the State Department’s flawed policy to support Turkey’s Genocide denial.”

“Today’s State Department letter, although clearly falling short of America’s moral responsibility and national interest in recognizing and condemning the Armenian Genocide, did mark a step in the direction of distancing US policy from the dictates of the Turkish government,” said Armenian National Committee of American (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “While we, of course, remain troubled by the President’s refusal to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide — as reflected in Ambassador Yovanovitch’s responses — we were gratified to see that, as a result of pressure from Senators Biden, Boxer, and Menendez, the Department of State has retreated from its most offensive and factually unsupportable assertions calling into question the historical fact of Ottoman Turkey’s destruction of its Armenian population.”

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Hamparian elaborated on his comments on Tuesday, August 5. “The letter we got represented movement by the State Department. It was a clear step away from Turkey’s outright denials. The letter makes it clear that there is no question mark. Turkey has always wanted a historical commission to study the events. Armenia has rejected that suggestion and the letter does preserve the historical record, and makes it clear that there is no need for further study.”

During the committee meeting, Biden, and Boxer, Menendez, and Cardin spoke forcefully about the necessity for proper US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, stating that while the State Department’s letter represented progress, the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide remains a moral imperative and will bolster US credibility in stopping 21st Century genocides. “Full recognition by the US government of the Armenian Genocide can and will come, and today we got a bit closer,” explained Biden. “The Bush Administration should realize that if you are blind to the past you can’t see the future.”

The Senate is now in an August recess and is expected to take up approval of the appointment when it returns to Washington in September.
(Daphne Abeel contributed to this story.)