Ambassador to Armenia Defends US Policies

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Armenian Genocide activist David Boyajian asks Yovanovitch a question during a meeting at the Armenian Cultural Foundation.
Armenian Genocide activist David Boyajian asks Yovanovitch a question during a meeting at the Armenian Cultural Foundation.

By Thomas C. Nash
Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — US Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch made several appearances in the Boston area last week, answering pointed questions from journalists and the community on Armenian Genocide recognition and aid reduction to Armenia.

Yovanovitch’s appearances, her first in Boston since being named as ambassador to Armenia, included a breakfast with the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) at the Armenian Library and Museum of America and a speech at the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) on June 19. She also met with Gov. Deval Patrick.

The events were part of a multi-city tour that Yovanovitch said was aimed at creating a dialogue with the Armenian-American community. Other cities on the tour included New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

“The purpose of my trip is to share with people the views that we have about what’s going on in Armenia now, to share a little bit about the US-Armenia relationship, as well as the many positive things that the US government is doing in Armenia,” Yovanovitch said at a press conference in Watertown at the Mirror-Spectator office.

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Asked about the timing of a “road map” agreement between Armenia and Turkey, which many in the Armenian-American community believe was announced on April 22 to keep President Barack Obama from using the word “genocide” in his Armenian Martyr’s Day statement two days later, Yovanovitch said the US was playing only a supporting role in the talks.

“We can’t force either Armenia or Turkey to do anything,” Yovanovitch said. “Opening the border needs to be an agreement that both countries feel comfortable about.”

Asked to clarify why the agreement was announced on April 22, Yovanovitch remained evasive.

“Obviously I’m familiar with what you’re talking about,” she said, “but these discussions have been ongoing for a while and I think that’s when the parties decided to release the statement.”

Yovanovitch also spoke about the May municipal elections in Yerevan, where she had served as an observer and issued a report on June 7 citing widespread irregularities.

The elections were cited by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government program that funds developing nations, as evidence that Armenia continued to not meet fair government standards after its June 10 board meeting. A $67 million funding hold has been in place since the widely criticized presidential elections in 2008.

“The [May] elections were rather disappointing,” she said. “We saw, frankly, an atmosphere of intimidation. We saw people being bussed in from other areas. We saw ballot stuffing. After the counts in various precincts we saw horse trading going on, where we saw different parties getting votes than what was actually the case.”

Yovanovitch stressed, however, that the US is the biggest single contributor to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, from which Armenia has received loans to make up the lost MCC funding. She also pointed out that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) continues to manage several humanitarian programs there.

At an event billed as a “community meeting,” Yovanovitch spoke at the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington to an audience of roughly 200 about US-Armenian relations. Questions from the audience related mostly to US policy on the Armenian Genocide and Nagorno Karabagh, with the interaction at times contentious.

One questioner took Yovanovitch to task on a recent statement by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon that the US would support a joint Armenian-Turkish historical commission.

“I’m puzzled that we still talk about this commission,” the audience member said. “Do we need a commission to prove whether we had slavery in the US, whether the Holocaust happened? Why do we need one for Armenians?”

“The US has said we will support whatever (Turkey and Armenia) agree to,” Yovanovitch said. “We are not advocating any particular way to go. I think that’s a question for the parties to decide.”

Another audience member asked why Armenia was singled out as having issues with democratic government while the US ignored issues in Azerbaijan and Georgia, which also receives MCC funding.

“I feel like there’s a double standard,” the questioner said.

Yovanovitch reiterated that the MCC funding was contingent on the progress the board of directors observes. Earlier, she said the MCC had noted Georgia passes benchmarks set on government corruption, a requirement to receive funding.

“We certainly want to keep up our end of the bargain,” she said, “but we need the Armenian government to keep up its end of the bargain.”

As the meeting concluded, Yovanovitch maintained that the US values its relationship with Armenia and looks forward to encouraging its development and helping along the rapprochement with Turkey.

“You won’t be surprised to hear I think our policies are good policies,” she said.

The next day, Yovanovitch attended the Armenian Night at the Boston Pops. She also visited the Armenia Revolutionary Federation (ARF) headquarters and met Boston area clergy before attending a reception at the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research. On Sunday, she met with the board of directors of the Armenian Assembly of America before attending mass at Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Cambridge.