WASHINGTON, DC – The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed the U.S. Senate’s decision to recess for August without confirming an ambassador to Turkey as a meaningful opportunity for both Senators and American civil society to review both Ambassador-designate John Bass’ positions as well as the range of issues that are rapidly reshaping the increasingly strained U.S.-Turkey relationship.
The Senate finished its business late Thursday evening with the confirmation of U.S. Ambassador to Russia nominee John Tefft, after having declined to act on a number of other diplomatic nominations, including a U.S. envoy to Ankara. The Senate is set to meet again on Friday, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced that he does not expect any roll call votes until after the August recess. The earliest date for confirmation votes for Ambassador-designate Bass and other pending ambassadorial nominations is September 8th.
“We are gratified for the additional time that U.S. Senators and American civil society stakeholders will have to scrutinize the troubling responses offered by Ambassador-designate Bass,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “More broadly, we welcome this expanded opportunity for a careful consideration of the implications of this Administration’s doubling down on decades of failed U.S. policy toward Turkey.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee paved the way for full Senate consideration of Bass on Tuesday of this week, when it approved a slew of Ambassadorial nominees by voice vote. The ANCA worked closely with Senators to secure responses from Ambassador Bass on a range of Armenian American concerns, following his disappointing Senate testimony. In his formal testimony he used inaccurate and offensive euphemisms, such as “shared history,” to avoid properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide, and praised Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s cynical repacking of genocide denial in his April 23rd “condolence” open letter to Armenians.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) questioned Ambassador Bass on U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s ongoing blockade of Armenia and efforts to secure the return of confiscated Christian holy sites from Turkey. Ambassador Bass’ responses were mixed.
“The U.S. government acknowledges as historical fact and mourns that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire,” began one response to Chairman Menendez, who had asked how Ambassador-designate Bass “personally characterize[s] the events that took place between 1915-23.” The nominee, later in his response, went on to reduce this genocidal crime to a “shared history” between Armenia and Turkey.
Senator Markey’s inquiry regarding the role of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Turkey in commemorating the Armenian Genocide received this response: “In recent years, a senior representative from our Consulate in Istanbul has attended the April 24 commemoration event in Istanbul. This is typically the largest and most public event held in Turkey on Remembrance Day itself, and Istanbul is where the vast majority of Armenian citizens in Turkey now live. If confirmed, I will continue to make attendance at such commemoration events a priority, particularly in light of the upcoming 100th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
In response to a question by Chairman Menendez regarding the decimation of Turkey’s Armenian, Greek and Assyrian communities and efforts to address religious persecution against Christians and other minorities, Ambassador-designate Bass responded, in part: “If confirmed, I will encourage the Turkish government to follow through on the return of religious minority properties and to take additional steps to promote religious freedom, such as allowing more religious communities to own property, register their places of worship, and train clergy.”
In response to questions by Chairman Menendez and Senator Boxer regarding efforts to lift Turkey’s blockade of Armenia, Ambassador-designate Bass stated: “Facilitating Armenia’s regional integration by opening its border with Turkey is a priority for the United States. If confirmed, this would be one of my key goals as Ambassador,” This response downplays Turkey’s unilateral responsibility for imposing an illegal blockade, implying, inaccurately, that Armenia bears some of the burden of “opening its border.”
Earlier this week, Hamparian publicly noted that “The ANCA cannot support the nomination of John Bass to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, on the basis of his Senate testimony that compounds President Obama’s broken pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide by retreating even further from the truth and tightening Turkey’s gag-rule on the U.S. government.”
“It is simply unacceptable – six years after President Obama pledged to recognize the Armenian Genocide, five years after Ankara walked away from the Turkey-Armenia Protocols, and less than a year away from the 100th anniversary of the start of this still unpunished crime – for a U.S. ambassadorial nominee to respond to direct Senate questioning on the Armenian Genocide with generic references to ‘shared history.’ Such euphemistic language seeks to downgrade a genocidal crime to a bilateral conflict by establishing moral parity between unrepentant perpetrators and those that they mercilessly preyed upon.” He closed by stressing that: “The United States must be represented in Ankara on April 24th of 2015 by a clear and compelling voice for truth.”