ANC-SF: US Ambassador Visits the BayArea Armenian-American Community


Armenian National Committee
San Francisco – Bay Area
51 Commonwealth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94118
Tel: (415) 387-3433
Fax: (415) 751-0617
[email protected]

Contact: Roxanne Makasdjian (415) 641-0525

“I will today call it the Armenian Genocide”

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2005, UC Berkeley – U.S. Ambassador John Evans, on a
tour of Armenian-American communities throughout the United States,
spoke plainly about the importance of Armenian Genocide recognition.

“I will today call it the Armenian Genocide,” said Evans, who has
studied Russian History at Yale and Columbia universities and Ottoman
History at the Kennan Institute.

During a public gathering hosted by UC Berkeley’s Armenian Studies
Program Executive Director, Prof. Stephan Astourian, Ambassaador Evans
told community members he had studied the Genocide, having read Prof.
Richard Hovannissian’s work on the Armenian Genocide, the compilation of
US newspaper accounts of the Genocide, a book about the Germany’s
involvement in the Genocide, and the recent Nobel Prize winning book “A
Problem from Hell”, about the US response to 20th century genocides.

“I informed myself in depth about it,” said Evans, “I think we, the US
government, owe you, our fellow citizens a more frank and honest way of
discussing this problem. Today, as someone who’s studied it… There’s
no doubt in my mind what happened.”

Evans said he had also consulted with a State Department lawyer who
confirmed that the events of 1915 were “genocide by definition.”

Various past and present US administrations and officials have avoided
using the word “genocide” for the Armenian case, using various
descriptive phrases and euphemisms, instead. Noting that “No American
official has ever denied it,” Evans nevertheless said, “I think it is
unbecoming of us as Americans to play word games here. I believe in
calling things by their name,” but he pointed out that the official
policy of the US has not changed.” In the case of Turkey, there are old
NATO ties, particularly in the military sphere.”

Evans also emphasized that he believed that the International Convention
on Genocide, an agreement approved by the United Nations in 1948
condemning and indicating punishment for the crime genocide, applies
only to events occurring after 1948. “We do not dispute the facts, but
these treaties are meant to apply to future events,” said Evans.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century,” said
Evans, remarking that since it was the first occurrence, the world
wasn’t equipped to respond appropriately. “We made many mistakes after
WWI. They sowed the seeds of WWII.” He said he’s proud that Colin
Powell courageously called the recent massacres in Darfur, Sudan genocide.

“I pledge to you, we are going to do a better job at addressing this
issue,” said Evans.

Regarding the U.S. relationship with Turkey, Evans said, “We’re having a
very hard time with Turkey,” and “What we all want to see is evolution
in Turkish society. Let’s hope we’ll all see the day when there will be
a change of heart in those areas where there needs to be.”

The Ambassador’s comments about the Armenian Genocide were greeted with
sustained applause from the audience. “We welcome the Ambassador’s
honest approach to Armenian history, “said Roxanne Makasdjian, of the
Bay Area ANC.
“Although we believe that there are many international laws and
agreements, including the Genocide Convention, which are clearly
applicable to the Armenian Genocide, we are impressed and gratified by
Ambassador Evans’ straight-forward discussion of the historical facts.”

At the Berkeley event and at a lunch meeting at KZV Armenian School with
representatives of various Bay Area Armenian-American organizations,
Ambassador Evans also discussed the Karabagh conflict and US aid to
Armenia, presenting a 14-minute DVD about the many initiatives being
carried out by the United States Agency for International Development in

In response to questions about U.S. policy towards independence for
Karabagh, Evans compared the prevailing government view in the 20th
century against secessionist movements to the 19th century societal
taboo against divorce. He said that the U.S. does not favor
non-secessionist policy over secessionism, saying, “It’s ultimately the
presidents who will make the political move forward.” He said currently
there might be a slight cause for optimism in the Karabagh settlement
process because neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is nearing an election,
at time “fraught with risk.” Evans indicated that although the U.S.
follows a policy of territorial integrity of nations, that “Everybody
realizes that Karabagh can’t be given back to Azerbaijan. That would be
a disastrous step,” Evans said. “If Yerevan and Baku work out a
settlement, I hope that everyone will pull together to support them. If
they reach a settlement, we cannot undermine it.”

Ambassador Evans said there was no need for a retraction of a statement
made recently by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones
during a video conference on U.S. – Russia relations. Jones said, “It is
in Russia’s interest for these areas, for Transnistria, Abkhazia, South
Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, for these areas to be stable, for corruption
to end there, for the criminal secessionists who rule there to be
removed.” Evans said Jones was not referring to Karabagh with the term
“criminal secessionists,” and therefore no public apology was necessary,
beyond the explanation she gave in private discussions with the Armenian
government. He said, “too much was made of the comment, that it had
been exaggerated too much in Armenia, that Armenians may be doing damage
to their national interest by perpetuating the issue. “I think you
should drop it and get on with life,” said Evans.

Commenting on a recent statement by an Azerbaijani official who said
that there would be no Armenia left in 25 years, Evans said, “This was
an outrageous, bellicose statement, and it brought all the bad memories
of Armenians back.” He said the U.S officials often work behind the
scenes to address such problems. “One of our main goals is to provide
for greater stability in the region,” said Evans, “The South Caucasus
does not need another war.”

Evans praised Armenia’s democratic and economic progress, saying,
“Armenia is headed in the right direction in several vectors. Sometimes
progress is not as swift as we’d like, but the basic direction is
right.” Referring to the Millenium Challenge Account, a U.S. government
program which rewards more aid to governments that are taking steps “to
rule justly, invest in the people, and provide the right conditions for
free markets and private enterprise,” Evans said Armenia rated “above
the mean.” Evans said that among all the former Soviet States, only
Armenia and Georgia were deemed eligible for funding, and that he
expects the government of Armenia to put forward a funding proposal for
the program soon.

Although the problem of corruption is still significant, Evans said
Armenia “regularly comes out ahead of its neighbors.” He noted that
this year Armenia will have recovered back to its economic level of
1991, and that 80% of the economy was accounted for by the private
sector. And although poverty is a huge problem, there has been a recent
drop from 52% to the 43% or lower by some estimates, with the level of
extreme poverty dropping from 11% to 7%.

The ambassador said that one of the Embassy’s big initiatives is to help
develop the economy in a “much more broad-based and sustainable” way.

Evans said Armenia has a good constitution but that “implementation is
the important thing.” He praised President Kocharian for his tough
meetings with the tax and customs service administrators, in an effort
to more fairly implement tax collection.

Evans also thanked Armenia for its recent deployment of 50 non-combat
soldiers to Iraq, saying he recognized the fears for the safety of the
historic Armenian community there.

Joining Ambassador Evans on his visit were his wife, Donna Evans, USAID
Mission Director in Armenia, Robin Phillips, and Aaron Sherinian, U.S.
Embassy Political Officer.


Picture Caption:
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans and Prof. Stephan Astourian, UCB
Armenian Studies Program Executive Director