WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide, Cyprus, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate took center stage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier today as Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) pressed U.S. Ambassador-designate to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, on a range of concerns dealing with America’s increasingly strained ties with its NATO ally, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“I really think Turkey is an important ally but I also think that you can’t have, as the Chairman has talked about, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the school at Halki and the persecution of religious freedom. You can’t have this type of unique relationship that you want with the United States and vote against us on a critical question for the world like Iran. You can’t, ultimately, continue the most incredible militarization when there is no threat to Turkey in the division of Cyprus,” explained Sen. Menendez in his remarks during today’s confirmation hearing. “I don’t understand how the Turkish leadership doesn’t understand that it is in its interest to move beyond that agenda or, for that fact, come to a historical recognition of what most of the world recognizes as it relates to the Armenian Genocide.”
In his prepared testimony presented to the panel, Ambassador-designate Ricciardone echoed the standard formulation that the Obama Administration has used to avoid honoring the President’s campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide while still striving to maintain a semblance of credibility on this human rights issue by referring to the candidate Obama’s “personal” recognition of this crime: “Facilitating regional integration is a high priority for the United States. Rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia will foster increased stability and prosperity in the entire Caucasus region. As President Obama noted in his Armenian Remembrance Day statement of April 24th, ‘Together, the Turkish and Armenian people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.’ We commended the governments of Turkey and Armenia on their signing of the historic protocols on normalization of relations on October 10, 2009 in Zurich. Both countries publicly reiterated their commitment to normalization this spring. The United States will continue to urge Turkey to ratify the protocols, and we will support programs that build understanding between Turks and Armenians.”
In response to a question from Senator Menendez about the issues he would be “advocating as our Ambassador as it relates to the question of the Armenian Genocide,” Ricciardone recited the State Department’s stock answer on the topic: “Clearly we don’t have personal policies that you send us forward to push. We uphold the policies, the programs, the laws, the interests of the United States Government, as given to us by Congress and as determined by the Administration. On the question of the Congressional resolution, obviously we stand behind the statements of President Obama and Secretary Clinton. President Obama has spoken very forcefully about the events of 1915 as one of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century. He cited the number of 1.5 million people massacred, he used the word massacred, and marching them to their deaths. He was very forthright about it. Our aim of course is to do all possible to get a normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations and a part of that clearly has to be a frank, full, and just acknowledgment of the history these two people, countries, share. And if confirmed, I will certainly be working for that to the best of my ability in every way possible.”
“President Obama – and Ambassador Ricciardone, if he is confirmed – cannot, with any credibility – call on Turkey to accept a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide while at the same time so publicly, recklessly, and irresponsibly dodging proper American recognition of this crime with word games and diplomatic half measures,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “Our interests as a nation, our values as a country, and our standing in the world are best served, not when we cater to the undemocratic and anti-human rights sensitivities of countries like Turkey, but rather when we stand up for what we know is right, and true, and just.”
Menendez followed up by asking if Ambassador-designate Ricciardone had attended an Armenian Genocide commemoration during his past diplomatic service in Turkey. Riccardone explained that that there were none to attend, noting: “What I did do, as an individual officer, in my very first tour, is go to the ghost town of Harpoot.” He added: “I don’t know if you’ve heard about it or know about it but it was one of the scenes of a vibrant Armenian community. I went there, deliberately, when I was Vice-Consul in Adana. When I was Charge [d’Affaires], I visited with the Armenian Patriarch. When I was Charge [d’Affaires], I also helped Armenian Americans in their visits there, helped them make contacts.”
Religious Freedom in Turkey:
Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Robert Casey (D-PA), who served as chairman of the hearing, pressed Ambassador-designate Ricciardone for information on U.S. efforts to end the Turkish government’s restrictions on the Ecumenical Patriarchate and oppression of Christian minorities. Responding to their inquiries, he stated: “When I would speak with the Turks on human rights issues, particularly religious freedom issues, one of the points that I found most salient, and that really hit home with the Turks is to appeal to their pride; and historic tolerance, they see it as part of a national branding of the Turkish character, if you will. And when Catholic Spain was burning Jews, and Muslims and heretics, only half a millennium ago, which in Middle Eastern time is less time than for us, Turkey welcomed the Jews of Spain to come there and profited greatly from that. The Ottoman Empire also profited heavily from having Greek Christians, Armenian Christians in their highest offices of government as ministers until the end of the Ottoman Empire. Turks take pride in that, but don’t always live up to it in the modern time. So I would certainly remind the Turks of that great tradition that they had. Beyond that, it’s public diplomacy.”
On the issue of Cyprus, Senator Menendez asked, “What would you as the Ambassador do, if you were confirmed as it relates to Turkey’s position on Cyprus. It has been our view that this should be a reunited, bi-zonal bi-communal confederation. It is the view of the President of the United States. But yet, we have Mr. Erdogan and his government continuing to advocate that there are two states on the island – a position that is diametrically contrary to our position. What would you do in moving Turkey on what has been an incredibly long standing division of the island?”
The nominee responded, stating, “On the question of Cyprus, successive Administrations that I have served – Republican or Democrat – have advocated a bi-zonal bi-communal federation. At various times we have drifted closer to it and then farther from it. At the moment the leaders of the two communities are in talks with each other. That’s an encouraging thing. I have to read back into it more closely. Our task in Ankara has always been to support the Turkish community in Cyprus to do the responsible thing and stay in close communications with their Greek Cypriot counterparts. We’ll keep after that and keep doing that to the best of our ability. That island has been divided for far too long. We believe that it should be reunited as soon as possible.”
Ambassador-designate Ricciardone, a career member of the Foreign Service, has served as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and the Philippines, and has had three tours of duty in Turkey, most recently, between 1995 and 1999, as Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires. He speaks Turkish and several other languages. If approved, he would replace Ambassador James Jeffries, whose confirmation hearing to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq will was also held today along with the nominees for U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon and Yemen.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee members will also be submitting questions to the nominees in writing. Upon receiving responses, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may vote to confirm Mr. Ricciardone as early as next week, opening the door to a full Senate vote prior to the August Congressional recess.