LOS ANGELES—On the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Armenia, Asbarez caught up with Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian. Below is the complete text of the interview:
Asbarez: This is the first time in almost two decades a U.S. Secretary of State will be going to Armenia. With less than a day until her arrival, what are the Armenian American community’s general expectations for her visit.
Aram S. Hamparian: Well, as our Chairman, Ken Hachikian, explained in a statement issued Friday, this visit represents an opportunity for Secretary Clinton to reset a set of flawed and failing policies toward Armenia and, more generally, toward the Caucasus region.
In the eighteen months that the Obama Administration has been in office, we have seen the President and the Secretary of State retreat from clearly articulated pledges to recognize the Armenian Genocide, to support a resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict based democracy and self-determination, and to strengthen the U.S.-Armenia relationship. All three of these commitments made sense when they were made to the American people, and they make sense now. Sadly, however, the Administration has walked away from each of these promises. And we’ve seen that each of these retreats from American values has come at the expense of U.S. interests in a strategically important region.
Tomorrow, in Armenia, Secretary Clinton has a chance to get American policy back on the right track.
The question in everyone’s mind, of course, is whether she will take advantage of this historic opportunity, or, instead, continue down the same old tired path that has dug U.S. policy into such a deep hole in the region.
Asbarez: Secretary Clinton has emerged as a primary proponent of the Turkey-Armenia protocols, devoting considerable time and her diplomatic reputation to this troubled endeavor. Despite her best efforts, they appear all but dead. What’s next?
ASH: The Turkey-Armenia Protocols were dead from the start, because, rather than being a sincere move toward a just peace, they were, instead – as has become painfully apparent – simply Ankara’s latest diplomatic game to delay U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and, in the process, leverage itself into the Nagorno Karabakh negotiations as a surrogate for Baku.
While in Armenia, Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to get it right. To speak simply and honestly. To send a clear message to Ankara and all the world that America’s stand against genocide – the Armenian Genocide or any other – is not a political commodity, to be bought, sold, or traded away. The Secretary, in the best American tradition, can and should say that the fight against genocide and its denial represents a moral challenge, and that in this noble struggle there is no room for word games or half-measures.
Asbarez: There is all sorts of speculation in Armenia right now as to whether Secretary Clinton will visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial during her trip. You’ve urged her to attend and to recognize the Armenian Genocide in this sacred monument. Do you have an update on that for us?
ASH: You’re correct. We have encouraged Secretary Clinton to visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan and, from this hallowed ground, to put America on the right side of this issue. To honor the pledge that she – and the President – have made to properly condemn and commemorate the Armenian Genocide. To, finally, end U.S. complicity in the denial of this horrific crime.
It’s vital that we understand, as we consider the events that will take place in Armenia over the next day, a fundamental moral truth: There is no middle ground on genocide.
Genocide is the worst of all crimes. Our stand against this scourge must be unconditional, not political. Moral, not cynical. I want to stress, once again that, very simply, there is no middle ground on genocide.
In Yerevan, the Secretary has a chance to stand up against genocide as a moral imperative – one that subordinates every other interest to an honest and unapologetic defense of human rights worthy of the American people.
Our hope and expectation is that Secretary Clinton will elevate our government’s response to the Armenian Genocide from word-games and clever half-measures to an open call for a truthful and just resolution of this crime against humanity.
If the Secretary does, in fact, visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial, as she should, her presence in this sacred place will hold meaning for Armenians worldwide to the extent that it marks a real break from Washington’s bankrupt policy of complicity in Turkey’s denials.
Alternatively, if the Secretary, during her visit to the Memorial, does not reverse U.S. policy by fully recognizing the Armenian Genocide, this episode will, sadly, be seen as yet another in a long line of actions – each meaningful in their own right, but ultimately all half-measures – designed to defer proper U.S. condemnation of this crime against humanity.
I guess, to wrap up, a visit by Secretary Clinton to the Genocide Memorial – while certainly reflecting the warmth of the bonds that have long brought together the American and Armenian peoples – should, properly, serve as a symbol of principled U.S. condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, not as a substitute for proper commemoration of this atrocity. The best benchmarks for all those watching these events will, of course, be whether Secretary Clinton, in her remarks, forthrightly and unequivocally recognizes the Armenian Genocide, and whether President Obama officially does the same, both through Executive Branch action and by working publicly for the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution.
Asbarez: Secretary Clinton is traveling to Armenia in an atmosphere of serious concern regarding the joint statement by Presidents Obama, Medvedev and Sarkozy on the Karabakh negotiations? What can she do to address these concerns?
ASH: As we prepare to celebrate July 4th – we’re reminded of the great promise President Obama’s campaign pledge to settle the Nagorno Karabakh conflict based, in his words, upon America’s founding commitment to the principles of democracy and self determination.
We remain deeply troubled, however, that, despite the President’s assurances and America’s core commitment to democratic self-governance, his Administration – through the Secretary’s visit to the region and other means – is arm-twisting the Armenian side into an unfair and dangerous settlement based on principles that, if they were in force in 1776, would have kept the American colonies as part of the British Empire.
Once again, this visit is a chance for Secretary Clinton to get things right by openly and assertively restating that the Nagorno Karabakh issue must be resolved based on the principles, long embraced by America, of democracy and self determination.
Asbarez: Obama pledged to work for stronger U.S.-Armenia relations as presidential candidate but has consistently called for reduced aid to Armenia. How can Secretary Clinton best try to move U.S.-Armenia relations in the right direction?
ASH: In terms of U.S.-Armenia relations, we have seen one missed opportunity after another.
The Administration has called for one cut in aid after another, left millions of dollars of appropriated aid to Nagorno Karabakh unspent, and sought to tilt the U.S. military aid balance in favor of Azerbaijan.
We’ve seen the same negative patterns at work in terms of trade relations as well.
Despite unprecedented – I would say reckless – flexibility on the part of the Armenian government – on the Protocols and the Karabakh talks – we have seen little or no reciprocation from the Obama Administration.
Certainly there’s been no meaningful effort to meet the President’s pledge to expand U.S.-Armenia trade.
A prime example is, of course, the lack of action on a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which would establish an ongoing framework for economic cooperation.
This visit would represent a great opportunity for the Secretary to announce that she is launching talks to negotiate a TIFA that would materially strengthen U.S.-Armenia commerce, trade, and investment. We would also, of course, welcome an announcement that the Obama Administration will seek, over the longer term, to put in place a U.S.-Armenia Free Trade Agreement.
Asbarez: To return for a moment to the Protocols, what are your thoughts about how the Secretary’s visit may breathe new life into this process?
ASH: It’s clear now, in the wake of the collapsed Turkey-Armenia Protocols, that President Obama and Secretary Clinton really got it right during their campaigns for the White House.
As candidates, they understood that the only hope for true progress in Turkey-Armenia ties rested upon the America – and eventually Turkey – coming to terms with a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide.
That certainly runs counter to Ankara’s interests. But, as we’ve seen, there are no shortcuts, certainly not when it comes to matters of genocide and America’s standing as the world’s leading defender of human rights.
The Secretary can get Armenia-Turkey talks back on track by honoring her own promise – and the pledge made by our President, to recognize the Armenian Genocide. And, as I noted earlier, there would be no better place for Secretary Clinton to offer America’s condemnation and commemoration of this terrible crime – ending years of shameful complicity in Turkey’s denials – than at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan.