- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The U.S. ambassador to Armenia learned that President Obama’s words do have consequences, as she was peppered with criticism from Armenian-Americans upset that Mr. Obama is backing off a campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian “genocide.”

On a cross-country tour of Armenian-American communities, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch has had to defend Mr. Obama while trying to calm her listeners who are suspicious of a political double-cross.

“I know there is disappointment and even anger at President Obama’s April 24 statement,” she said at a meeting last week in Arlington, Mass., referring to Mr. Obama’s decision to avoid using the word, “genocide,” in his address on the annual Armenian Remembrance Day.

“But President Obama went further in his statement than any previous American president. While we must never forget the past, we also must work together for a better future.”

In his remarks, Mr. Obama referred to the “1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death” in “one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century.” However, during the presidential campaign, he pledged to refer to the tragedy as “genocide.”

The Armenian government has long accused the old Ottoman Turkish Empire of genocide during an upheaval that began in 1915. The modern Turkish government insists that those numbers are inflated and that the deaths of Armenians were caused by a civil war, not a deliberate Turkish attempt to eliminate Armenians.

Turkey, a key ally of the United States and a member of NATO, has warned foreign leaders that they risk damaging relations if they side with Armenia. Last week, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Canada, Rafet Akgunay, after Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, supported an Armenian genocide ceremony.


Congressional leaders are warning President Obama that a failure to challenge Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over Moscow’s human rights abuses will be taken as a sign of “tacit support.”

“Silence allows others to wrongly interpret our actions as tacit support,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“I strongly encourage the administration to include human rights in a very visible and frank manner,” he added, as the commission released a letter to Mr. Obama last week in preparation for Mr. Obama’s talks with Mr. Medvedev in Moscow from July 6 to July 8.

The commission’s co-chairman, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, referred to the Obama administration’s much-publicized pledge to “reset” relations with Russia.

“I hope President Obama will … show human rights advocates the world over that America’s commitment to reset the Russian relationship should come with a corresponding reset of Russia’s human rights record,” he said.

The letter, also signed by the commission’s two top Republicans, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, raised three human rights issues, concerning a crackdown on the Russian media, discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses and the status of historic Jewish records confiscated under the old Soviet Union and held in Russian state archives.

Mr. Obama’s visit comes on the fifth anniversary of the death of Paul Klebnikov, an American journalist killed in Moscow. He was one of several prominent slain journalists whose killers remain at large.

The lawmakers also urged Mr. Obama to call for religious freedom for Jehovah’s Witnesses and raised questions about the status of a “library of sacred Jewish texts” seized by the Soviets in the 1920s.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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