WASHINGTON, DC– U.S. Ambassador to Turkey nominee Francis Ricciardone, through errors of fact and bias in his responses to Senate inquiries, has proven to be the wrong candidate to continue his posting as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on his nomination on Tuesday September 13th. U.S. Ambassador to Armenia nominee John Heffern will also be considered that day, in addition to several other nominations.
The ANCA has encouraged Armenian Americans to contact their legislators to express their opposition to Amb. Ricciardone’s confirmation. More information on the community call to action may be found at:
In a written response to questions submitted to him by Senator Robert Menendez (R-NJ), Amb. Ricciardone made the patently incorrect claim that “most of the Christian churches functioning [on the territory of present-day Turkey] prior to 1915 are still operating as churches.”
Responding to a wave of grassroots outrage and growing Congressional concern, Ambassador Ricciardone backed away from his most obvious and offensive misrepresentations about Turkey’s destruction of Christian churches, but sparked renewed controversy by artificially inflating the number of currently operating Christian houses of worship, and again using strained euphemisms to help Ankara escape responsibility for its crimes.
“It took Ambassador Ricciardone, with the help of his many State Department colleagues, over a week to submit in writing a patently false misrepresentation about the destruction of Christian churches in Turkey, and another 10 days and a full wave of Senate and citizen pressure for him to finally take half a step back from the most offensive and obviously incorrect aspects of his response,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, upon the issuance of the correction. “He just keeps digging himself into a deeper hole as an apologist for Ankara.”
Amb. Ricciardone’s first response solicited strong comments from His Eminences Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan and Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelates of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America Eastern and Western United States, respectively, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church – Eastern United States each issued powerfully worded spiritual messages in response to the Ambassador’s statement. In an August 15th statement, Archbishop Choloyan stressed that the Ambassador’s assertion was “so blatantly false that it cannot remain unchallenged.” Setting the record straight, he noted that: “The facts are quite clear. From the massacres of Armenians in 1895-96 and the Armenian Genocide in 1915, to the decades following the establishment of the Turkish republic, Christian houses of worship were systematically destroyed or confiscated. My own church’s hierarchal see, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, was a victim of this process, and today is exiled in Lebanon. The archives of the Catholicosate contain hundreds of original deeds and other documentation of churches and church owned property that was confiscated.”
Archbishop Mardirossian concurred, stating, “The presence of an Ambassador in Ankara who is unaware of or uninterested in the truth and the consequences of the Ottoman and Republican Turkish government’s genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Syriacs, Greeks and other Christians materially undermines U.S. interests, compromises American values, and weakens international efforts to defend religious freedom for peoples of all faiths. Sadly, but unmistakably, with this hateful and hurtful statement, Ambassador Ricciardone has demonstrated that he is not the right candidate to effectively and responsibly represent the United States in Turkey.”
On August 19th, Archbishop Barsamian noted that Amb. Ricciardone’s response had “deeply offended Armenian-Americans,” explaining that “the loss of these many hundreds of churches, their neglect and outright destruction, and the conversion of many of our sanctuaries into mosques, is a matter of intense pain to Armenians: an ongoing reminder of the loss of life and the destruction that we suffered as a result of the 1915 Genocide… In all charity, perhaps the Ambassador is simply unaware of certain facts. But mastery of the history of a country, its dark as well as bright chapters, is essential to serving the United States effectively and diplomatically in this important and complex region.”
According to Armenian Church experts, of the over 2,000 churches serving the Armenian community prior to 1915, less than 40 are functioning as churches today.
Reservations about the Ambassador’s readiness to placate his foreign hosts willingness to accept the Turkish government’s talking points on religious tolerance at face value echo concerns expressed last fall by then Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who, during the last session of Congress, placed a hold on Ambassador Ricciardone’s nomination to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. In an August 16, 2010, letter to Secretary Clinton, Sen. Brownback voiced disapproval of Ricciardone’s tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, noting, among other things, that “he quickly adopted the positions and arguments of his Egyptian diplomatic counterparts.”
In the wake of Senator Brownback’s hold, President Obama circumvented Senate objections by issuing a “recess appointment” of Amb. Ricciardone. The Senate must approve his nomination, if Ambassador Ricciardone is to continue to serve in Turkey for more than one year, of the usual three-year ambassadorial term.