Clinton at Tsitsernakaberd: Secretary makes “private” visit to memorial

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent only about 18 hours in Armenia, but it was a few minutes Monday mid-morning that took the spotlight of the brief visit for Armenians looking for intent in gesture.

Clinton left Yerevan at about noon today for Tbilisi, Georgia, the final stop on a five-country diplomacy tour, but before leaving the Armenian capital she visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial where she laid roses at the Eternal Flame.

It is not unusual for diplomats to include a visit to Tsitsernakaberd (the memorial), however speculation over whether Clinton would make the customary walk included debate over whether the simple act might also have a political subtext.

Soon after Clinton went to Tsitsernakaberd, the US Embassy in Armenia put out a press release clarifying that Clinton’s visit was not official. Clinton attended the memorial in the company of US Ambassador Marie Yavonovitch and Director of the Genocide Museum-Institute Hayk Demoyan. No representative of the Armenian Government accompanied her.

In summarizing the secretary’s 18-hour visit, the embassy said “. . . The Secretary also made a private visit to the Memorial at Tsitsernakaberd as a sign of respect for the 1.5 million Armenians who lost their lives in 1915.”

A detail that is likely to draw speculation as Armenians look for any subtle sign, is that the sash across the wreath laid by Clinton identified it as “From Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton”.

As a senator, Clinton was a staunch supporter of US resolutions recognizing the Genocide and promised to see legislation passed to that effect. But as Secretary of State, she has just as staunchly stood against the current House Resolution, saying that passing such legislation would hurt US relations in the region, specifically with Turkey.

Following Clinton’s visit today, Giro Manoyan, Director of the International Secretariat of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) Bureau in Yerevan, told ArmeniaNow: "There seems to be some contradiction between what the US Embassy in Yerevan has announced about her visit to the Genocide Memorial and what's written on the wreath that she placed there. In any event, if Hillary R. Clinton did not visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial in her capacity as the US Secretary of State, then the US Secretary of State has insulted Armenia and the Armenians for not doing so. If, as the writing on the wreath says, she visited in her capacity as the US Secretary of State, then it either means that the Obama Administration has changed its policy and will agree to have the US House of Representatives pay its respect to the victims of the Armenian Genocide or the Secretary's visit to the Genocide Memorial is not an honest expression of respect.”

Anticipated reaction from Ankara today will reveal whether Turkish officials see the secretary’s gesture as an affront to its denial of history for which the Genocide Memorial is a reminder.