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Yerevan ambassador's appointment delayed

ANKARA | 7/27/2011 12:00:00 AM | Ümit Enginsoy

A top pro-Armenian U.S. senator congressional “holdover” Monday has effectively delayed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote on the appointment of the U.S. ambassador-designate to Yerevan by at least a month.

A top pro-Armenian U.S. senator congressional “holdover” Monday has effectively delayed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote on the appointment of the U.S. ambassador-designate to Yerevan by at least a month.

Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, put a hold on confirming John A. Heffern’s appointment to the Armenian capital in protest against the State Department’s policy of declining to qualify World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”

“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 signed 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,” said Menendez, according to the Armenian National Committee of America, the largest U.S. Armenian group.

[HH]Candidacy will be delayed to September

With Menendez’s “holdover” in place, a vote on Heffern’s ambassadorial candidacy will be delayed until the next Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, which according to sources, will most likely be in September. “We commend Senator Menendez for his continued leadership and tenacity,” said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, the second largest U.S. Armenian group. “The administration should heed Menendez’s call and take the next logical step to its stated position – unequivocally reaffirming this crime against humanity as genocide,” said Ardouny.

 Pro-Armenian senators have a long record of hampering the appointment of ambassadors to Yerevan and Baku. U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Evans was fired by former president George W. Bush in May 2006 after he publicly qualified World War I-era killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as “genocide” in violation of the official U.S. policy.

Bush the next year nominated career diplomat Richard Hoagland to replace Evans, but after a lengthy discussion at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez blocked his nomination, accusing him of failing to recognize the “Armenian genocide.” Menendez never withdrew his veto, and eventually Hoagland’s nomination went nowhere.

In 2008 Bush nominated another career diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch, as ambassador to Yerevan. This time Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, temporarily put a hold on her nomination but eventually withdrew it, which enabled Yovanovitch to assume her job in Yerevan.

Pro-Armenian senators last year also vetoed Matt Bryza, the current ambassador to Baku. President Barack Obama then reappointed Bryza last December, but Bryza still needs confirmation by the Senate before the end of this year, otherwise he will lose his position as ambassador.

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