July 26, 2011
For Immediate Release
Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
tel. (202) 775-1918 / (703) 585-8254 cell

SENATOR MENENDEZ CALLS FOR DELAY IN CONSIDERATION OF U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ARMENIA NOMINEE JOHN HEFFERN

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WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the request of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), today deferred consideration of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia nominee John Heffern until its next business meeting, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The panel’s Chairman, John Kerry (D-MA), announced at today’s business meeting that the Heffern nomination had been “carried over,” a move typically used by Senators to allow additional time to review a nominee’s credentials and testimony.

“We would like to thank Senator Menendez for affording his colleagues greater time to scrutinize and make an informed determination,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “As a matter of policy, we remain deeply troubled that the Administration’s complicity in Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide so manifestly fails to meet the clear-cut moral standard set by President Obama during his tenure on this very Senate panel. The painful spectacle of watching a senior U.S. diplomat forced to dance and dodge around the plain truth – in the service of a patently immoral policy imposed upon America by a foreign government – undermines U.S. interests, and compromises American values.”

During Mr. Heffern’s July 13th confirmation hearing, Sen. Menendez pressed him regarding the Obama Administration position regarding the Armenian Genocide, and also about his own understanding of this crime. The nominee cited the killing of over 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire, but stopped short of properly referencing these acts as “genocide,” arguing that “the characterization of those events is a policy decision that is made by the President of the United States. He added that this policy is enunciated in the President’s April 24Remembrance Day statement.”

Senator Menendez remarked, “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. And so I find it very difficult to send diplomats of the United States to a country in which they will go – and I hope you will go, as some of your predecessors have – to a genocide commemoration and yet never be able to use the word genocide. It is much more than a question of a word. It is everything that signifies our commitment to saying ‘never again.’ And yet, we can’t even acknowledge this fact and we put diplomats in a position that is totally untenable.”

Sen. Menendez was echoing a 2008 statement by then Senator Barack Obama, who, in questioning U.S. Ambassador to Armenia nominee Marie Yovanovitch, expressed concern about the Bush Administration’s position on the issue. Then Senator Obama stated:

“Nearly 2 million Armenians were deported during the Armenian Genocide, which was carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, and approximately 1.5 million of those deported were killed. It is imperative that we recognize the horrific acts carried out against the Armenian people as genocide. The occurrence of the Armenian genocide is a widely documented fact, supported by an overwhelming collection of historical evidence. I was deeply disturbed two years ago when the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia was fired after he used the term ‘genocide’ to describe the mass slaughter of Armenians. I called for Secretary Rice to examine what I believe is an untenable position taken by the U.S. government.”

The complete questions submitted by Senator Obama and responses from Ambassadorial nominee Marie Yovanovitch in 2008 are posted here.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) joined Senator Menendez in submitting written questions to Mr. Heffern following his confirmation hearing.

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