Yovanovitch: President Obama’s April 24 statement caused “severe disappointment”
U.S. ambassador discusses Armenian-American concerns in four-city tour
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Thursday July 02, 2009
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch listens to a question from an audience member at the Library of Congress on June 30, 2009. Armenian Reporter photo
WASHINGTON - "I know there is disappointment, frustration, anger in the Armenian-American community about this year's April 24 Remembrance Day statement" by President Barack Obama, U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch acknowledged in a talk on June 30 organized by the Library of Congress.
Ms. Yovanovitch promised to communicate the "severe disappointment" she heard from Armenian-Americans to Washington policy makers, but argued that "President Obama went further in the statement this year than in any statement since Remembrance Day statements have been issued."
She also stuck very closely to U.S. policy language on the Ottoman-Armenian experience that describes its magnitude and horrors in detail, while avoiding the term genocide, in deference to Turkey.
A traditional tour
Following a custom established by Ambassador Michael Lemmon, who served as the U.S. envoy to Armenia from 1998 to 2001, in the last two weeks Ms. Yovanovitch held a series of meetings with members of Armenian-American communities. Prior to her appearance in Washington, the final stop, Ms. Yovanovitch spoke in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles.
The Washington speech covered the full spectrum of U.S.-Armenia relations, including U.S. concerns with economic and political developments in Armenia and U.S. efforts to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia and Turkey.
The Washington event, organized by the library's Armenia specialist Dr. Levon Avdoyan, drew a few hundred participants, including Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish diplomats, and two former U.S. ambassadors to Armenia, Harry Gilmore (1993–95) and John Evans (2004–6).
It was in a tour like this in 2005 that Mr. Evans openly referred to the Armenian Genocide as genocide, a step that eventually led to his early recall as U.S. ambassador to Armenia the following year.
Armenia-Turkey progress "not inevitable"
Amb. Evans asks Amb. Yovanovitch a question. Armenian Reporter photo.
During the question-and-answer period that followed this week's talk, Ambassador Evans noted widespread skepticism about Armenia-Turkey talks; he asked about claims by at least one American Turkey expert who blamed Armenia for the lack of progress and who alleged "changing of the goalposts" by Armenia.
Ms. Yovanovitch acknowledged the skepticism and said that while progress was "possible" in Armenia-Turkey talks, it was also "not inevitable." She also denied claims that Armenia has changed its position during negotiations with Turkey.
Of the remaining six questions, three dealt with America's policy on the Armenian Genocide; two were on U.S. aid cuts; and one was about Armenia's democratic shortfalls.
Asked if she felt she would be punished were she to refer to the Armenian Genocide as genocide – as Mr. Evans was – Ms. Yovanovitch declined to speak on "personnel issues," while also noting that she was speaking as "a representative of the U.S. government" and had to tailor her remarks accordingly.
Asked by the Armenian Reporter whether a clear warning was given to Armenia prior to the recent reduction of Millennium Challenge Corporation funding to Armenia, Ms. Yovanovitch said there was.
"There is good communication between our government and government of Armenia," the U.S. Ambassador insisted, adding that issues related to political transition were hard to deal with.