Friday, August 04, 2006

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Huffington Post
Harut Sassounian
The Truth Shall Set You Free

And it can also get you fired, as the US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans found out. Evans, a career diplomat, has been recalled (not reassigned) by the State Department and the White House for daring to say, "I will today call it the Armenian Genocide." He made these remarks during a visit to California last year.

Genocide is what is happening today in Darfur, happened in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Kosovo. And what Evans was referring to is the genocide in Armenia, the Ottoman Empire's successful plot to exterminate the Armenian population in 1915, deporting and slaughtering 1.5 million Armenians. This is well documented and accepted as historical fact. Samantha Power in her Pulitzer Prize winning book. "A Problem from Hell", calls the mass murders in Armenia by the Turkish government the first genocide of the twentieth century, and the blueprint Hitler used for the Holocaust.

It is interesting that the State Department and the Bush Administration recognize what Hitler did to the Jews as Holocaust and the mass killings in Darfur as genocide, but avoid giving the same label to what happened in Armenia. They sidestep the term "genocide" because they are concerned about ruffling the feathers of Turkey, a NATO ally. So rather than ruffle a few feathers, they fire a gutsy ambassador who does what we all tell our children to do, "tell the truth."

Not only was Evans forced to make a clarification and retraction for his genocide declaration, he also lost the "Constructive Dissent Award" he was scheduled to receive from the Foreign Service Association. The State Department arranged to have the award rescinded.

For months now, State Department officials have been giving evasive answers to persistent media questions regarding the sacking of Evans, repeatedly stating that all government officials "serve at the pleasure of the President."

For months, letters from more than 60 members of the House of Representatives and Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seeking an explanation for the recall of Amb. Evans, fell on deaf ears.

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. It is time to stop tiptoeing around this issue and to accept settled history. 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."

In a second editorial on July 16, the Los Angeles Times called on the U.S. Senate "to block the nomination altogether until the ambassador-to-be dares to utter the g-word. And the Bush administration should have the courage of its lack of conviction and explain forthrightly not just to Armenian Americans but to all Americans who believe in calling evil by its proper name why U.S. policy is being dictated by Ankara nationalists."

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.

On June 28, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Richard Hoagland as the new Ambassador to Armenia and after his lengthy grilling, held up his confirmation. During the hearing, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota said: "I am of the Jewish faith. I cannot imagine an Ambassador to Israel being effective without talking about the Holocaust. I am not sure how we can continue to have Ambassadors to Armenia who can be effective, unless they give recognition to the Genocide."

Given the unresponsiveness of the State Department to the e-mails of the public at large and to the many inquiries of the 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 be told what caused the early termination of the career of the current ambassador. The Senate might also want to know, what steps need to be taken to ensure that this unfortunate situation is not repeated during the tenure of his successor?

Pres. Bush and the State Department should know better than firing a distinguished career diplomat for telling the truth! This is not the right message we would like to send neither to our children nor the rest of the world.