Not Welcome?: New US ambassador expected to arrive amid controversy, protests

The new United States Ambassador to Armenia is expected to assume his post in Yerevan in the near future, but in some local and Diaspora groups his arrival is, already, not being greeted warmly.

Pending expected Senate approval, Richard Hoagland will be taking up his diplomatic work here against odds hardly faced by any other US ambassador since Harry Gilmore was the first to be assigned to Armenia, in 1993.

Hoagland will be following in the footsteps of Ambassador John Evans. Evans was removed from Armenia nearly a year ahead of his expected rotation because – in the minds of nearly everyone except Washington spin doctors – of his public use of the word “genocide” in describing the Armenian-Turkish conflict of 1915-18.

Washington does not use the “G” word as it concerns Armenia and Turkey, and Evans’ early departure is widely seen as a gesture of the US commitment to remain neutral on the matter – while seen by Genocide-recognition activists as a back-handed approval of the Turkish policy of denial. (Gilmore’s assignment was also shortened, after he became the first US official to place flowers at the Genocide Monument in Yerevan.)

In Washington, D.C., Hoagland's confirmation by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has been protested by the Armenian National Committee of America. In a September 10 press release ( ANCA said it “remains firmly opposed to the Hoagland nomination, and will continue to seek to block his confirmation until he publicly states that he does not question the Armenian Genocide, and the State Department explains both its firing of the current Ambassador as well as the role of the Turkish government in this controversy."

Locally, a youth group, “Spirit Guardians”, promises to protest Hoagland’s arrival (he has been the US Ambassador to Tajikistan), accusing the ambassador of being pro-Turkish. The group has also launched a smear-campaign, saying it has information that questions whether Hoagland’s personal lifestyle contradicts Armenian traditions.

“We, as the youth representing the Armenian nation that aims at preserving its traditions, consider the [comment deleted] ambassador to be unacceptable and loathsome from a moral viewpoint, who also has a prejudiced standpoint on the Armenian Genocide,” says the president of the counsel Edgar Helhelyan, representing a membership of some 150 and a coalition of many organizations.

The US Embassy told ArmeniaNow it has no comment on the Hoagland appointment as the embassy, itself, awaits full-Senate confirmation. His appointment to Armenia requires full-Senate approval, which is still pending, while US Senator Robert Menendez reserves his vote, saying that he has "great concerns" that Hoagland's confirmation "would be a step backward."