Ambassadors to Armenia, Turkey Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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WASHINGTON — On September 13, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting to consider a slate of administration nominees for ambassadorial posts, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) cited his loss of confidence in the US envoy to Turkey Francis Ricciardone given his careless response regarding minority rights in Turkey, reported the Armenian Assembly of America.

Specifically, Menendez stated: “his [Ricciardone’s] response indicates that he either did not carefully review the responses that were submitted in his name or worse that he truly was unaware of the history of the Christian church in Turkey and the difficulties that Christian churches continue to face in that country. His response indicates a lack of focus or interest in issues affecting the Armenian community and sends a message to Turkey that the Armenia issue is not an “A-list” issue. We need an ambassador in Ankara that can support, defend and advocate on behalf of all of the United States’ interests vis-à-vis Turkey. Unfortunately, I’ve lost confidence in the ability of Mr. Ricciardone to undertake that task and will not be able to support his nomination.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) followed up on Menendez’s remarks, adding that Ricciardone’s response was “unacceptable, incorrect and inappropriate.”

The Armenian Assembly previously expressed its concerns with respect to Ricciardone’s responses and, in its August letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urged “immediate action” to correct Ricciardone’s disconcerting statement which “in the context of the planned extermination of the Armenian people and the documented destruction of its religious and cultural heritage is as much offensive as it is shocking.”

In the end, his nomination went through after a split vote, with Senators Menendez, Barbara Boxer (D- CA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) voting against Ricciardone’s nomination, and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D- NH) and Chris Coons (D-DE) also raising concerns about Ricciardone’s troubling response on minority rights and religious freedom in Turkey.

John Heffern was unanimously approved to serve as ambassador to Armenia. The next step in the process is for approval by the full Senate.

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“The Armenian Assembly calls upon the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to undertake a full assessment of the current situation of Armenian churches and other such religious sites and monuments in Turkey, and formulate legislation therein to enhance religious freedom in Turkey and protect and preserve what remains of its Christian heritage,” stated Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.

“We would like to thank Senator Menendez for his principled leadership in calling attention to Amb. Ricciardone’s offensive and unacceptable responses to questions dealing with the plight of Christians in Turkey,” said Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Senator Menendez along with Senators Boxer and Risch sent a powerful message to Ricciardone and State Department officials that the American people deserve a US envoy who will fight hard for US values and interests and not succumb to Turkey’s propaganda machine.”

The nominations are now set to go to the full Senate for confirmation.

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