Impressions from the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Class of 2009
United States Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch has been touring Armenian American communities throughout the U.S. –providing the State Department view on U.S.-Armenia relations, the situation in the Caucasus, and reasons for the Obama Administration’s NON-affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.
Her Washington stop took place at the Library of Congress on June 30. And, like every other “town hall” she hosted – her remarks and responses were genial yet disappointing and frustrating.
She began by giving an update of the situation in Armenia -discussing many different issue areas from democracy to security to the economy etc. I won’t go into those. You can read the talking points on the U.S. Embassy website – www.usa.am. The more interesting part arrived when the audience had a chance to ask questions.
When it came to the Armenian Genocide issue, Yovanovitch mentioned it briefly saying “the killings” shouldn’t be forgotten and we should work towards a better future. She also mentioned that she “understands the anger and frustration of the Armenian community “when it comes to this issue. She talked about the importance of opening borders with Turkey and about the importance of Armenia being at peace with its neighbors. Unfortunately she only made the public more frustrated with her broad answers and constant mentioning of the fact that she only follows U.S. policy – which apparently means dodging questions related to the Genocide.
The ANCA’s Kate Nahapetian asked if Ambassador Yovanovitch feared for her job if she properly characterized the events of 1915-1923as ‘genocide’ – noting the presence of former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, who had been fired for just that reason. Ambassador Yovanovitch reduced a fundamental human rights concern to mere employment policy, answering that she cannot comment on “personnel issues.” Is that where human rights and complicity in genocide denial rank in today’s State Department?
The Ambassador spoke about the importance of U.S. aid to Armenia in assisting in democracy building and helping the rural poor, among other things – basic issues of fundamental importance most would agree on. But when ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern Hovanes Gasparian asked why then the Obama Administration had called for a 38%reduction in aid to Armenia in the FY 2010 budget, her response was Washington double-talk. Apparently, according to the Obama Administration, we should compare the FY2010 proposed Armenia aid figure ($30 million) to that which had been proposed by Pres. Bush last year ($24 million) – and not the actual money that went to Armenia ($48 million). In that convoluted formulation, there would be an “increase” in aid to Armenia (of $6 million).
A couple of questions come to mind here. First of all, is Pres. Bush the benchmark the Obama Administration really wants to compare itself to? Secondly, say Armenia were to get Obama’s request of $30million – do they think the folks on the ground won’t notice that there would be 38% less money for programs? The House Appropriations Committee, understanding the Armenian American community’s concerns and the needs in Armenia, has put forward $48million for Armenia and $10 million for Nagorno Karabakh. Now we need to get that approved in the House of Representatives and get similar legislation in the Senate.
All of this reminds me of a lecture we had earlier in the week, jointly with the Armenian Assembly interns, given by Raffi Balian. Balian provided excellent insight on careers and internship /fellowship opportunities at the State Department and spoke of his years serving our country in U.S. Embassies in Bulgaria and Syria. The bottom line realization was that to change U.S. policy, there need to be more voices of reason, committed to ending U.S. complicity in Armenian Genocide denial – not to mention stopping genocide overall – WITHIN the State Department, Capitol Hill, in think tanks — wherever foreign policy is shaped. The need is out there – and the opportunities are out there as well (Check out theANCA Capital Gateway Program). We just need to prioritize and take advantage of them – or continue to be frustrated by Ambassadors toeing a flawed company line.
Photo Caption: U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch with(from left to right): ANCA Legislative Affairs Director Garo Manjikian and Leo Sarkisian Interns Sosse Beugekian, Taleen Mekhdjavakian, Tatev Oganyan, Savada Simounian-Khygani, NaregAghjayan, Tamar Thomassian, and Hovanes Gasparian.