New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Senator Robert Menendez sharply criticized the official U.S. position on the Armenian Genocide, during a confirmation hearing at Senateʼs Foreign Relations Committee of the Ambassador designate to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch. Introducing a series of documents and arguments that proved that what happened in 1915 was indeed Genocide, Senator Menendez grilled Yovanovitch, whose nomination in uncertain.
Greek News presents the excerpts of the dialogue between Menendez and Yovanovitch, as they were recorded by the Federal News Service.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me congratulate all the nominees on their nominations and your willingness to serve. We appreciate that.
Ambassador Yovanovitch, let me start at the outset by acknowledging and thanking you for your 22 years of very distinguished service to our country. I appreciate your service.
In your opening statement, you acknowledge the mass killings, ethnic cleansing and forced detentions that devastated over 1-1/2 Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire; is that correct?
MR. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, sir, that’s correct. It’s the administration’s policy to acknowledge these historical facts.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Would you agree with the characterization — and if I may, Mr. Chairman, I’m going to be referring to a series of documents, so if I could give the ambassador a copy of them so she could have them in front of her, that would be helpful. And I’d ask unanimous consent that these documents be included in the record.
SEN. CARDIN: Without objection, the documents will be included in the record, and — (inaudible).
SEN. MENENDEZ: I would ask you, would you agree with the characterization by President Bush on April 24th of 2004, which is the first referenced item before you, where he says, and I quote: On this day we pause in remembrance of one of the most horrible tragedies of the 20th century, the annihilation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians through forced exile and murder at the end of the Ottoman Empire.” Would you agree with that? I just need a yes or no.
MR. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, sir.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Okay. Thank you.
Would you agree that the use of the words “ethnic cleansing,” which you used in your opening statement, would include the deliberate inflicting on a group of conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part? Would you agree that’s what generally ethnic cleansing would be defined as?
MR. YOVANOVITCH: There’s no –
SEN. MENENDEZ: Let me read it — say it again to you so you’ve got it before your answer.
The deliberate inflicting, on a group of individuals, of conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.
MS. YOVANOVITCH: The question that you’re asking, and I hope you understand my answer, the determination of that is a policy decision that I’m not authorized to make right now. It’s a decision for the administration, for the president and the secretary.
SEN. MENENDEZ: I respect your answer. I’m not asking you, what is the policy or a policy? I’m simply asking, you used the words in your opening statement — ethnic cleansing. And I’m asking you a simple question.
Would you describe ethnic cleansing as a deliberate inflicting, on a group of individuals, of conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part? And if the answer is no, then tell me what you mean by ethnic cleansing.
MS. YOVANOVITCH: There is no question that at the end of the Ottoman Empire, there was mass murder. There was starvation. There were deliberate rapes. There was forced exile of one-and-a-half million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire.
SEN. MENENDEZ: And is that what you describe as your definition of ethnic cleansing, those facts?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Would you look at the document that references number two there, which says — these are documents, that I’m going to be referring to, by American officials at the time of history.
And I would ask you whether the statement by then-U.S. Ambassador Morgenthau who wrote, on July 16th, 1915, it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion.
Is that a fact that you would agree with, as reported, as historical fact, that Ambassador Morgenthau reported?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes. It’s certainly a fact here — I’m reading off of this handout that you gave me — that Ambassador Morgenthau reported this.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Thank you.
Would you look at number three, where it says, where U.S. Counsel, in Aleppo, Jesse Jackson reported to Ambassador Morgenthau on June 5th, 1915, that it is without doubt a carefully planned scheme to thoroughly extinguish the Armenian race.
Is that what Counsel Jackson said in his statement to Ambassador Morgenthau?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes. According to this document that you’ve given me, that’s correct.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Number four, where U.S. Counsel, in Harput, Leslie Davis reported to Ambassador Morgenthau on July 24th, 1915, quote, “It has been no secret that the plan was to destroy the Armenian race as a race. But the methods used have been more cold- blooded and barbarous, if not more effective, than I had first supposed.”
Is that the statement issued then by the counsel?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, as I’m reading this from what you’ve given me.
SEN. MENENDEZ: And finally, on number five, where the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1916 to 1917, Abram Elkus, telegraphed the secretary of State on October 17th, 1960, and said, quote, “In order to avoid opprobrium of the civilized world, which the continuation of massacres would arouse, Turkish officials have now adopted and are executing the unchecked policy of extermination through starvation, exhaustion and the brutality of treatment hardly surpassed even in Turkish history.” Is that a statement that was issued at that time by the U.S. ambassador?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, as I’m reading it here now.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Now, the final reference I want you to look at is number six. And would you agree that Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, of which the United States is a signatory party to and ratified, a copy of which I have before you, states under Article II, in the present convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such: killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part? Is that a fair statement of the reading of Article II of the convention?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, sir.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Is that a yes?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, I’m sorry. Yeah.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Yeah, okay.
Therefore — and I — Mr. Chair, if you’ll indulge me — therefore, would not the facts that you acknowledge — and please listen to my question — would not — intently — would not the facts that you acknowledge in your opening statement and those facts that you have recognized as historical facts during the period of 1915 to 1923 meet the definition of Article II that you just — I just had you read?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Thank you. It’s certainly true that this is the definition of genocide here, and I’m familiar enough with the record to have read some of the accounts from our embassy and our consulate at the end of the Ottoman Empire which are truly shocking in terms of scale and the individual stories, as individual families and the things that happened.
It’s the responsibility and the duty of embassies and consulates to inform and represent honestly, faithfully, objectively to the department, to Washington, to the president.
And it is the president, it is the secretary of State that makes the policy, that makes the determination of how to characterize — (inaudible).
SEN. MENENDEZ: And I am not asking you for a declaration of policy. I have not even asked you about a maybe more ultimate question. What I’m asking you, as a career Foreign Service officer, well-educated, with a lot of experience — would the facts, as recognized by President Bush in public statements, as recognized by you in your opening statement and in terms of the historical documents that I presented to you — would those facts fall in line — clearly you mentioned the killing members of a group. You mentioned murder in your opening statement.
MS. YOVANOVITCH: I did.
SEN. MENENDEZ: That’s killing members of a group, is it not?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes, it is.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Would it not be fair to say, in furtherance of some of the questions I asked you, and I think you very appropriately answered some of the acts that took place, not only the murders and rapes and forced deportation of people or forced exile of people, would that not clearly be causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: Yes.
SEN. MENENDEZ: And clearly, it would also be deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. Obviously, those who were murdered in mass numbers, 1.5 million, obviously those who were exiled, obviously those who, through other actions, were taken place — that would fall into that category, would it not?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: It’s a policy decision, sir.
SEN. MENENDEZ: I want to thank you for your honest answers.
Mr. Chairman, if I may — I appreciate your indulgence. I will have a series of other questions for the record. I don’t want to delay. But what’s going on here — it is a shame that career Foreign Service officers have to be brought before the committee and find difficulty in acknowledging historical facts and find difficulty in acknowledging the realities of what has been internationally recognized, Mr. Chairman. Not because I say it; I don’t hold myself out to be that type of a scholar.
But the fact is that the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the preeminent authority on genocide, has unanimously — not equivocated — unanimously declared the Armenian Genocide a genocide. And it is amazing to me that we can talk about millions, you know, a million and a half human beings who were slaughtered.
We can talk about those who were raped. We can talk about those who were forcibly pushed out of their country. And we can have presidential acknowledgements of that. But then we cannot call it what it is.
It is a ridiculous dance that the administration is doing over the use of the term “genocide.” It is an attempt to suggest that we don’t want to strain our relationships with Turkey.
But I have to say the fact that we are sending off our diplomats in such a manner; that they are not able to recognize a historical event that is clearly documented by credible, objective historians, an event that is so tragic, an event that the recognition of which is personal for millions of Armenians and descendants of Armenians, many of whom are Americans, is also something that I think is detrimental to our foreign policy.
Mr. Chairman, we have actually had the U.S. ambassador to — former U.S. ambassador to Armenia attend every year in April the commemoration of the Armenian genocide. It is amazing that we send a U.S. ambassador to the commemoration of an Armenian genocide — which I would hope that if your nomination is ultimately approved by the Senate, that you would commit yourself to attending — and yet we cannot — how do you go and go to a commemoration of the Armenian genocide and never, ever use the recognition of that fact?
I believe acknowledging historical facts as they are is a principle that is easily understood both at home and abroad. So while the administration believes that this posture benefits us vis-a-vis our relationship with Turkey, I think they should also recognize that it hurts our relationship elsewhere, and it tarnishes the United States’ history of being a place where truth is spoken to power. And acknowledgement of our failures in the past make us stronger, not weaker, and recognizing the evils of the past do not trap us, but they set us free.
That is what I hope we can be able to achieve, Mr. Chairman.
I have great admiration for Ambassador Yovanovitch. She is the designee here, and having to respond to questions. And as I told her privately, I would be pursuing the line of questioning. I appreciate her intent to be as frank and open as possible. And Mr. Chairman, if you have a second round, I have a different set of questions for one of the other candidates.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Ambassador. Would you, if you were to be confirmed by the Senate, make a commitment to this committee that you would attend the Armenian genocide commemoration, which is held every April 24th, as Yerevan, as previous ambassadors have?
MS. YOVANOVITCH: If I were confirmed, I would certainly commit to attend to Armenian Remembrance Day.