Armenian Assembly Reserves Judgment On John Heffern Nomination


WASHINGTON — John Heffern, the administration’s nominee to serve as ambassador of the US to Armenia, faced a series of questions on a range of issues during the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing chaired by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), reported the Armenian Assembly of America.

Presiding over the hearing, Foreign Relations Subcommittee Chair on European Affairs, Shaheen began the round of questioning and touched on the Protocols between Armenia and Turkey, the current status of the Nagorno- Karabagh talks and prospects for peace, as well as the importance of democracy and free and fair elections, especially in the context of the upcoming national elections in Armenia in 2012 and 2013. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) emphasized the importance of democratization and queried Heffern about the steps he would take to assist Armenia’s development.

In response to Shaheen’s questions, Heffern indicated that the United States strongly supported the Protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey in October 2009, and indicated that the administration remains “committed to doing whatever we can to encourage the two parties to get the protocols back on track.” Heffern also stated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “has made it clear” that “the ball is in Turkey’s court.” With respect to the Nagorno- Karabagh peace process, Heffern noted that President Barack Obama and Clinton have been “deeply involved” and “remain committed” to the OSCE Minsk Group process to find “a lasting, peaceful and just solution to this conflict.”

On the democracy front, Heffern noted a series of positive steps that the Armenian government has taken in the last six months and indicated that if confirmed he would continue to build on this progress and the work of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

In Heffern’s opening testimony, he indicated that “the Obama Administration has strengthened US relations with Armenia,” and noted that last April the presidents “of our two countries held their first bilateral meeting in 10 years, and when Secretary Clinton visited Yerevan last year, it was the first visit by a Secretary of State to Armenia in 19 years.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) welcomed Heffern’s opening statement which reiterated Obama’s position on the Armenian Genocide: “President Obama has recognized and deplored the horrific events that took place in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. He has publicly called the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians at this time one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. The president has urged Turkey and Armenia to work through their painful history to achieve a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts. If confirmed, I will do my best to fulfill the president’s vision.”

Menendez outlined the facts and discussed several historical documents pertaining to the Armenian Genocide, including various cables from US officials serving at the time of the Genocide, as well as Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Menendez asked Heffern if he disputed any of the facts presented, of which Heffern did not. Menendez also asked if Heffern believed that the facts presented, including those in Heffern’s opening statement fit the definition of Article II of the Genocide Convention. Heffern responded in the affirmative, but indicated that the characterization of the events was a policy decision as reflected in the president’s April 24 statement.

In closing, Menendez expressed his continued frustration with Administration policy by stating that this is “an inartful dance that we do. We have a State Department whose history full of dispatches cites the atrocities committed during this period of time. We have a Convention from which we signed on to as a signatory that clearly defines these acts as genocide. We have a historical knowledge of the facts, which we accept that 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 be sending 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 cannot even acknowledge this fact and we put diplomats in a position that I think is totally untenable.”

“The Armenian Assembly welcomes the continued efforts of Senator Menendez to ensure that the facts of the Armenian Genocide are brought to the forefront and not denied. We concur with the Senator that the Administration’s current policy is untenable. The Assembly strongly believes that America’s long-term interests would be better served by speaking the truth and squarely affirming the Armenian Genocide,” said Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.

Also attending the hearing were the Assembly Terjenian-Thomas 2011 Interns, including Evelina Beknazaryan and Aram Bagrazyan.

The next step in the confirmation process is to allow senators to submit questions in writing to the nominee. After the Senators have an opportunity to review the nominees’ responses, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business committee meeting to vote on Heffren’s candidacy.