By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
After avoiding public comment for almost three months, the White House officially announced last week the recall of John Evans, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, and the nomination of Richard Hoagland, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan, as his replacement.
Earlier this year, I broke the news that Amb. Evans was being recalled for affirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide, while addressing an Armenian-American audience at the University of California at Berkeley, in February of 2005. Within days of his remarks, and after complaints from Turkish and Azeri officials, Amb. Evans was ordered by his superiors to issue "a clarification" in which he claimed that he had used the word "genocide" in his "personal capacity." He was then asked to issue "a correction" to his "clarification," replacing the word "genocide" with "tragedy."
Subsequently, under pressure from the State Department, the American Foreign Service Association took the unusual step of rescinding the "Constructive Dissent" award that Amb. Evans was to receive for his remarks. He was then summoned to Washington, D.C. by his superiors for private consultations on this issue.
Apparently not satisfied with his repeated apologies and the revocation of the prestigious dissent award, the State Department privately informed Amb. Evans earlier this year that he was being removed not only from his diplomatic post after serving only 18 months of his three-year term, but also from the foreign service altogether. He was asked to remain in Yerevan, pending the Senate confirmation of his replacement.
Until last week when his recall was publicly announced, State Department officials gave evasive answers to persistent media questions, by repeatedly stating that all government officials "serve at the pleasure of the President."
During the past few months, Representatives Adam Schiff, Frank Pallone and Grace Napolitano wrote separate letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seeking an explanation for the recall of Amb. Evans. These congressional inquiries fell on deaf ears, as the State Dept. ignored their letters. Lastweek, 60 members of the House of Representatives sent a joint letter to Secretary Rice with a similar request for clarification. On May 25, Cong. Pallone made his second statement on the House floor, strongly condemning the dismissal of Amb. Evans.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and international media provided extensive coverage of the recall of Amb. Evans. In a hard-hitting editorial published on March 22, the Los Angeles Times said: "The State Dept. has long avoided the word 'genocide,' not out of any dispute over history but out of deference to Turkey=80¦. It is time to stop tiptoeing around this issue and to accept settled history=80¦. Punishing an ambassador for speaking honestly about a 90-year-old crime befits a cynical, double-dealing monarchy, not the leader of the free world." The Fresno Bee, in an unusually harsh editorial published on March 24, wrote: "Shame on the State Department" for recalling the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia. The Washington Times called Amb. Evans a "Genocide 'victim'."
While commemorating the 91st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24 in Yerevan, tens of thousands of Armenians tied yellow ribbons on strings at the Genocide Memorial Monument, in honor of Amb. Evans. Yellow ribbons were worn by the participants at various commemorative events in Los Angeles, New York and other U.S. cities. Armenian-Americans also sent hundreds of e-mails directly to Secretary Rice urging her not to dismiss Amb. Evans. The State Dept. has not had the courtesy of responding to any of these messages.
The diplomatic career of Amb. Evans is being terminated for speaking honestly about the Armenian Genocide. Why is telling the truth a crime for the Bush administration? Amb. Evans did nothing more than uphold Pres. Bush's unkept campaign pledge to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Ironically, Amb. Evans is losing his job for his honesty, while the President is keeping his by not keeping his word!
It is amazing that the remarks of Amb. Evans on the Armenian Genocide would elicit such a hostile reaction from the Bush administration. After all, Pres. Ronald Reagan himself issued a Presidential Proclamation in 1981 that mentioned the Armenian Genocide, and no one in the U.S. government dared to either criticize him or call for his removal from office. Furthermore, the House of Representatives passed two resolutions in 1975 and 1984 recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Amb. Evans was simply restating the long established position of the U.S. government on this issue. There was nothing new in what he said and no valid reason for his dismissal!
Given the unresponsiveness of the State Department to the public at large and to the letters of more than 60 Members of Congress, the Senate is now obligated to place a hold on the nomination of Amb. Hoagland, even though he has had no involvement in this debacle. A "hold" request by any one member of the Senate on this nomination would delay its consideration by the full Senate until that Senator is fully consulted. It is regrettable that the Senate has to resort to such tactics to force the Bush Administration to be more forthcoming on this issue. It is imperative that before the U.S. government sends another envoy to Armenia, Members of Congress know what exactly caused the early termination of the career of the current ambassador. Also, what steps need to be taken to ensure that this unfortunate situation is not repeated during the tenureof his successor?
When the confirmation hearing is scheduled for Amb. Hoagland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should ask the State Department to go on record stating the reasons for the dismissal of Amb. Evans -- a well-respected and highly-competent career foreign service officer. The Senators should also inquire about the unwarranted role of the State Department in rescinding the "Constructive Dissent" award that was to be granted to Amb. Evans by the American Foreign Service Association. Furthermore, serious questions should be raised about undue pressures applied by Turkish and Azeri officials on the Bush administration against Amb. Evans for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.
Armenian Americans should flex their political muscle to let the State Department know that they do not look too kindly upon an administration that fires a distinguished U.S. diplomat for telling the truth about the Armenian Genocide. Unless Armenians put their foot down on this occasion, they will be taken for granted on other issues. If the Armenian American community and its congressional supporters take a strong position, maybe next time the Administration would think twice before contemplating an action offensive to the Armenian community.
Make your voices heard on this important issue by taking the following three steps:
-- Contact you Senators and ask them to hold up the confirmation of Amb. Evans' replacement until the State Department makes public the reasons for his dismissal.
-- Send a webfax to your congressional representatives through www.anca.org.
-- Send an e-mail to the Secretary of State through: www.state.gov (click at the bottom of the page on "contact us," then click on "send a message tothe Secretary of State").