Friday, 1 August 2008

Senators Force Bush Administration Retreat from Turkey's Genocide Denial

July 30, 2008

Ambassador Designate Marie Yovanovitch
Amb. Designate Marie Yovanovitch

TOP STORY: Senators Biden, Boxer, Menendez Force Bush Administration to Distance United States From Turkey's Genocide Denial Policy

"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."

-- Matthew A. Reynolds
Acting Assistant Secretary Legislative Affairs

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Ambassador Nominee to Armenia After Last Minute State Department Clarification

WASHINGTON, DC -- In the midst of mounting Senate scrutiny and the prospect of a “hold” on Marie Yovanovitch’s nomination to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, the State Department, yesterday, 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).

The Department of State letter – sent in response to sustained pressure from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – was issued only hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote on her nomination. The Committee confirmed the nomination by voice vote, with Senator Boxer going on record against the nomination, citing the Administration’s reluctance to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide. The full Senate will likely consider her nomination prior to their August recess.

“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 U.S. policy from the dictates of the Turkish government,” said 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.”

Last month, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) delayed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of the confirmation of Ambassador 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 today’s vote, Senators 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 Chairman 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.”

During the Committee meeting, Chairman Biden, and Senators Boxer, Menendez, and Ben Cardin (D-MD) spoke forcefully about the necessity for proper U.S. 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 U.S. credibility in stopping 21st Century genocides. "Full recognition by the U.S. government of the Armenian Genocide can and will come, and today we got a bit closer," explained Chairman Biden. "The Bush Administration should realize that if you are blind to the past you can't see the future."
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