WASHINGTON—New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez Wednesday pressed aggressively for answers from the Obama Administration over its refusal to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide and, more specifically, regarding how forcing U.S. diplomats into such a “totally untenable” position on this human rights issue materially harms both U.S. interests and America’s moral standing, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Senator’s powerful remarks and sharp inquiries came during his questioning at a hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee to consider the confirmation of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia nominee John Heffern. Mr. Heffern cited the killing of the over 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire, but stopped short of properly referencing the crime as ‘genocide,’ arguing that “the characterization of those events is a policy decision that is made by the President of the United States and that policy is enunciated in his April 24 Remembrance Day statement.”
Senator Menendez remarked “This is an inartful dance that we do. We have a State Department whose history is full of dispatches that cite the atrocities committed during this time. We have a convention that we sign on to as a signatory that clearly defines these acts as genocide. We have a historical knowledge of the facts that we accept would amount to genocide. But we are unwilling to reference it as genocide. And if we cannot accept the past, we cannot move forward. And so I find it very difficult to send diplomats of the United States to a country in which they will go – and I hope you will go, as some of your predecessors have – to a genocide commemoration and yet never be able to use the word genocide. It is much more than a question of a word. It is everything that signifies our commitment to saying ‘never again.’ And yet, we can’t even acknowledge this fact and we put diplomats in a position that is totally untenable.”
Senator Menendez’s exchange with Heffern is posted on the ANCA website.
“Once again, Senator Menendez has powerfully presented – for the White House, his Senate colleagues, and the American people – the mounting moral and material consequences of failing to forthrightly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We remain troubled that the Administration’s failure to speak truthfully and without equivocation about this crime only serves to undermine U.S. moral standing in the cause of genocide prevention, and, as today’s testimony so clearly illustrated, hinders our nation’s interests in, and any future ambassador’s ability to fully realize the potential of the U.S-Armenia relationship.”
Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-NH), who chaired the confirmation hearing, was joined by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) in asking Mr. Heffern a series of questions on democracy building efforts in Armenia. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) recounted the difficulties Armenian artists have had in receiving visas to perform in an international dance festival in Idaho and asked the nominee for help should they be refused entry to participate in the festival again next year. The ANCA had recently submitted an inquiry to the State Department about similar obstacles to the participation of Armenian child artists to obtain visas to attend an international children’s festival in Washington, DC, held last month.
The complete video of Mr. Heffern’s confirmation hearing as well as his prepared testimony before the committee are available on the ANCA website at the links below.
Senators are expected to submit follow up questions to Mr. Heffern in the upcoming days. The ANCA and Armenian American community will join Senators in carefully reviewing his responses.