WASHINGTON–The credibility of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen in leading a newly launched genocide prevention initiative was called into question, today, by reporters who cited their ongoing efforts to block Congressional reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide (H.Res.106 / S.Res.106), reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
"Sadly, the Genocide Prevention Task Force’s worthwhile efforts to build consensus for an unconditional stand against genocide as a core U.S. foreign policy priority are undermined right out of the box by the fact that its leading figures, Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, are today actively and publicly working to block American recognition of the Armenian Genocide," stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
Secretaries Cohen and Albright were keynote speakers at a National Press Club press conference hosted this morning by the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial, U.S. Institute for Peace, and American Academy of Diplomacy, to announce the formation of the Genocide Prevention Task Force, which the two will co-chair.
In response to questions raised by Hamparian and reporters from media outlets including Asbarez, the Armenian Weekly, and the Armenian Reporter, the two former secretaries were largely evasive, and consistently used euphemistic language to avoid proper reference to the Armenian Genocide.
"There are no absolutes in this," explained Secretary Cohen, referring to U.S. action against genocide. "There is an element of pragmatism… I think anyone serving in public office necessarily has to have a set of balancing factors to take into account."
"Secretaries Albright and Cohen can’t have it both ways. Either they stand unconditionally against all genocides all the time, or, by choosing to only raise their voices when it’s convenient, they surrender their moral standing on this, the core human rights and humanitarian issue of our time," commented Hamparian.
This week we feature excerpts of the transcript of the November 13 press conference at the National Press Club.
Q: Aram Hamparian (ANCA / Armenian Weekly)
How do you reconcile your work in trying to build a moral American sentiment, an unconditional consensus against genocide, when just very recently both of you signed letters urging America not to recognize the Armenian Genocide?
[5 second pause]
A: Secretary Madeleine Albright
Well, first of all, I think that this commission is basically about the future, as we both said. We want to look at ways to try to prevent genocide and mass killings. That is the purpose of this commission. And I also think that every former Secretary of State and the [current] Secretary of State recognized terrible things happened to the Armenia’s a tragedy. The letter was primarily about whether this was an appropriate time to raise the issue.
A: Secretary William Cohen
First of all, it wasn’t a tough question, it was a good question and it’s one that we should address head on. The fact is that all the former Secretaries of State, former Secretaries of Defense were concerned about the human’suffering that took place between 1915 and 1923. It was also a very deliberate decision to say that we are engaged in warfare at the moment. That we have our sons and daughters who are at great risk and that we felt that to have the resolution brought before the full floor might result in reactions on the part of the Turkish government that could place our sons and daughters in greater jeopardy. So it was a very practical decision that was made. This is not to say that we overlooked what took place in the past and, in any way, are absolving anyone from what took place in the past. But, rather, to say that we can look back and have some lessons learned but say from this point forward, what do we do? How do we marshal public opinion? How do we marshal political action? How do we generate the will to take action in a society that has been reluctant to do so in the past?.. This is the way that will preclude things that have taken place in the past from taking place in the future.
Q: Elizabeth Chouldjian (ANCA/Asbarez Armenian News Service):
If we’re saying that this isn’t the right time to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, does that mean that you’re essentially arguing that for political expediency purposes we shouldn’t be taking action on future genocides because of what it could mean to U.S. interests?
A: Secretary Cohen
We’re saying there are no absolutes in this. We are going to try to set forth a set of principles that will serve as a guide and hopefully that guide will allow political leadership in this country and elsewhere. This is not something where the United States is advocating unilateral action. What we’re talking about is the United States taking a lead in helping shape public opinion, certainly domestically but also internationally. That will involve multiple considerations, multiple political factors that have to be taken into account. What we’re saying is that this is an endeavor that’s worthwhile, we intend to pursue it, and hopefully we’ll be successful in preventing mass killings and genocides in the future as a result.
A: Secretary Albright
I also do think that it’s very important to recognize the fact that even if terrible things happened in the past they do not need to happen in the future. And that is what this is about. In no way does it put a house keeping seal of approval on anybody’s behavior.
Q: Reporter [name unknown]
It sounds as if both of you are saying that ‘if our friends do it, it’s not genocide, if our enemies do it, it is genocide,’ with relation to the Armenian Genocide. So, for example, a professor at the University of Haifa in Israel, Ivan says he believes a genocide is ongoing in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. But you folks wouldn’t agree with that because Israel is our friend and, therefore, we couldn’t say that about Israel. And we can’t say that I just heard you Secretary Cohen, if I could summarize, state we can’t say that about Turkey and the Armenian Genocide because ‘our boys and girls are in harm’s way.’ So if we’re going to define genocide by who does and not by what it is, I think your commission is in trouble.
A: Secretary Cohen
Well I don’t think either one of us have made that statement. I don’t know that the UN has declared that genocide occurred in the Armenian situation. So, we’re trying to look forward rather than backwards and the issue of whether genocide is taking place in the West Bank or in Gaza certainly will be part of the task force looking at that as well.
There is an element of pragmatism. If someone else’s son or daughter is in harm’s way, that’s a factor that I, as an American citizen, and I, as a former Secretary of Defense, have to take into account, and would. I think anyone serving in public office necessarily has to have a set of balancing factors to take into account.
It’s not an absolute. This will not be a document that says, ‘this is when the line is crossed and this is the action we will take.’ These are going to be guidelines. I think they, in themselves, will serve a very valuable purpose because it will help to at least raise the issue to a level of both domestic and international concern. Hopefully stirring action that will prevent them from taking place. That is our goal.
A: Secretary Albright
Let me just speak to this because I think that you have pointed out why this is difficult. These are issues people have talked about a long time and they may come out in statemen’s and then, ultimately, when you’re in the government (as we both have been) and you have to make very tough decisions, you have to look at the overall picture. I think we have to admit that. Otherwise, we’re not going to get off the ground here. These are very, very hard issues.
I definitely would not accept your definition that if friends do it it’s okay, if enemies do it it’s not. I find that just an unacceptable premise. I do think that it is very important to keep in mind what this task force is going to do. It is going to set forth guidelines for practical action by, primarily, the United States government. Which is why we want to present it by the end of next year. And the point here is, and I’ve been in enough discussions where you can have all kinds of emotional argumen’s about why something is wrong and then you never get it off the ground, because you ultimately have to take practical action. And that is what’s happening in the United States about Darfur at the moment, where people need practical steps in order to deal with that. And that is what this task force is going to do. We’re not going to, I hope, get ourselves into emotional appeals because that does not work.
Q: Nareg Seferian (Armenian Reporter)
As has been previously mentioned, the two of you have personally worked towards ensuring that the United States government does not take a stand recognizing the Armenian Genocide… How can you provide credibility that your recommendation will be of practical use to the United States in its foreign policy and will not be just words on a piece of paper that will be acceptable, but which the US will not follow up on because it’s simply not politically expedient?
A: Secretary Cohen
You talk about political expediency. As Secretary of Defense, I had responsibility for every man and woman who is serving in our armed forces. And, yes, I would have to take into account whether or not I was placing them in greater jeopardy in order to go back and make a declaration about something that happened back in 1915 and 1923. I would have to weigh that. Frankly, I think the former Secretaries of Defense, Republican and Democrat alike, all came to the same conclusion: we would not put our men and women in greater danger under these circumstances. Now, does that mean that we are not in a position to look forward in saying, ‘here are some of the things that have happened in the past, here are some of the things we did not do in the past, here are some things we think need to be done in the future.’ And future leaders will have to take into account the same sort of moral considerations. There is no absolute right or wrong. It’s not all black and white. We’re going to have to take these into account. You as a private citizen, will be in a position to say, ‘Here is a document issued by this esteemed group. What do you Mr. President, what do you Mr. Secretary intend to do about atrocities currently taking place in x country?’ ;So I think that we are certainly in a position, having dealt with ethnic cleansing in the past, to take that experience as well as what took place in Armenia, as well as what took place in Rwanda, now in Darfur, and say, ‘this is how we have to move in the future.’
A: Secretary Albright
Let me also say, I think it’s important that you know what we actually meant in the letter and I think that all the former Secretaries, in fact, while we were Secretaries recognized that mass killings and forced exile had taken place. And that we also said that the US policy has been, all along, for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia on this particular issue. I do think that one of the things this task force will ultimately recommend is that the parties to the problem have to acknowledge what happened and I think that is part of what the issue is… We are trying to put this within a context that will make practical activity at the time something that the US government can undertake. There is not one answer to it all. And that is one of the things we are going to be looking at. I honestly think that is essential that we make clear that this task force is about the future, about preventing genocide and also looking at what the circumstances are.