Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 775-1918
Fax. (202) 775-5648
[email protected]


PRESS RELEASE
August 2, 2011

Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
Tel: (202) 775-1918 / (703) 585-8254 (cell)


AMB. RICCIARDONE DODGES SENATOR MENENDEZ'S QUESTIONS ABOUT ARMENIAN
GENOCIDE

-- Offers Weak Responses regarding Treatment of Christian
Communities

WASHINGTON, DC - During his confirmation hearing earlier today
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Amb. Francis
Ricciardone, President Obama's nominee for a full term as
Ambassador to Turkey, dodged around a series of pointed questions
from Senator Menendez about U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide,
and offered weak responses to concerns raised by senators
concerning the rights and welfare of the increasingly vulnerable
Christian communities within Turkey's present-day borders, reported
the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

"Armenian Americans from New Jersey and across America appreciate
the leadership and determination of Senator Menendez in seeking
answers from Ambassador Ricciardone, and in demanding honesty from
our government regarding the Armenian Genocide," said Aram
Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. "Sadly, we witnessed
today one of our nation's top diplomatic representatives reduced,
once again, to playing word games to evade and avoid the truth that
is so very plain for all to see. The truth is not a commodity,
human rights are not for sale, and America's stand against genocide
should never be bartered away or, worse yet, surrender under threat
from a foreign power."

Ambassador Ricciardone is currently representing the United States
in Ankara under a "recess" appointment made by the President after
his nomination was blocked last year by then-Senator Sam Brownback
(R-KS). Today's appearance was his second before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee. Unless approved by the panel and the
full Senate, his recess appointment will expire at the end of 2011.

"Yedz Meghern"

In response to a question by Senator Menendez as to whether the
U.S. has ever denied the Armenian Genocide, Amb. Ricciardone
paused, and, rather than answering directly, referred to the "Medz
Yeghern" [Great Crime], which he mispronounced," stating, "I stand
behind President Obama's characterization of the 'Yedz Meghern'
[sic], as the Armenians themselves call it - the tragic, murder of
a million and a half men, women, and children marched to their
deaths in 1915. But I stand behind our characterization of that
and our efforts of what we are trying to do now."

Sen. Menendez followed up by asking if the Ambassador agreed with
President Obama's previous statements as Senator Obama, in which he
had properly characterized the Armenian Genocide as "genocide." "I
would not disagree with President Obama on his characterization of
this, of course not," stated Amb. Ricciardone, answering similarly
and cautiously to questions related to past statements by Vice-
President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton during their years
in the Senate.

Sen. Menendez, once again, lamented the difficult position U.S.
diplomats are placed in when they are prevented from properly
referencing the Armenian Genocide. "Here we are again, playing with
an incredibly difficult set of circumstances, where we have
nominees to Armenia going to Armenian Genocide commemorations and
never being able to use the word genocide; we have our Ambassador
to Turkey, which is an important party to try to get beyond this
and move forward for the future, but if you can't recognize the
historical facts you can't get on to the future - in the same set
of circumstances," explained Senator Menendez. "You have our
President, our Vice-President our Secretary of State - all who very
clearly, as members of this body, recognized that there was an
Armenian Genocide. It's very difficult to understand how we move
forward in that respect."

Ricciardone's Rosy Picture of Religious Freedom in Turkey

In response to Delaware Senator Chris Coons' question as to what
steps have been taken to promote religious freedom in Turkey, Amb.
Ricciardone was effusive in describing a Turkish Government
attitude of tolerance toward minorities. In describing his
discussions with Turkish officials about religious tolerance in
Turkey, Amb. Ricciardone stated: "=85 Very interestingly, they [the
Turkish Government] follow our debates about personal freedom and
religious freedom and they say 'Here is how you can understand
this, American Ambassador. In your country, you have in recent
years made a distinction between freedom of religion and the
concept of freedom from religion. For too long in our modern
republic we focused on preventing the intrusion of religion in our
national life and political life. We are quite comfortable to be
observant Muslims, please don't call us Islamists, by the way,'
they tell us, 'but to the extent someone is praying as a Christian
or a Jew, it really doesn't bother us at all - why should it? It's
no threat to the state, on the contrary, we are rather proud of our
diversity and we happy to have them do it. As to their property
issues, let us take a fresh look at this and make sure they get
justice.'"

That assessment is sharply at odds with reports by the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which
raised the following alarm in its 2011 report: "The Turkish
government continues to impose serious limitations on freedom of
religion or belief, thereby threatening the continued vitality and
survival of minority religious communities in Turkey."

In August, 2010, Turkish police were video-taped preventing
children attempting to pray at Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island
- forcing the children to leave the premises, as shown on video
here: http://www.huliq.com/1/822-policeman-turkey-breaks-armenian-
childrensprayer .

In June 2010, the head of the Catholic Church in Turkey, Italian
Bishop Luigi Padovese, was stabbed to death in what many viewed as
a premeditated murder that was religiously motivated. Turkey's top
Roman Catholic bishop Monsignor Ruggero Francheschini publicly
accused Turkish "ultranationalists and religious fanatics" of being
behind the slaying. Before his murder, Bishop Padovese had been
petitioning for the status of the Church of St. Paul in Tarsus,
Turkey to be changed from a museum into a functioning place of
regular worship. Even though his appeals were echoed personally by
the Pope, Turkey refused the request.

In the wake of continued religious intolerance in Turkey, the House
Foreign Affairs Committee voted 43-1 to call on Turkey to put an
end to religious discrimination, allow prayer in confiscated
Christian Churches and return those churches to their rightful
owners.

An article posted in "The Armenian Weekly" earlier today provides a
partial listing of confiscated Armenian Churches and church
properties and can be viewed at:
http://www.armenianweekly.com/2011/08/01/searching-for-lost-
armenian-churches-and-schools-in-turkey/

Senators are expected to submit follow up questions to Amb.
Ricciardone in the upcoming days. Senate Foreign Relations
Committee consideration and vote on the nominee is not expected
until after August Congressional Recess.

Excerpts of Amb. Ricciardone's exchange with Senators Menendez and
Coons are provided below.

#####

Excerpts from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Confirmation
Hearing of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Nominee Francis Ricciardone -
July 2, 2011

Senator Menendez: Let me turn to another issue that I am sure you
will want to be diplomatic about, and that is the question, as our
Ambassador to Turkey, with the relationship with Armenia. From
your view, has the United States ever denied the fact that there
was an Armenian Genocide?

Ambassador Ricciardone: I stand behind President Obama's
characterization of the "Yedz Meghern" [sic], as the Armenians
themselves call it - the tragic, murder of a million and a half
men, women, and children marched to their deaths in 1915. But I
stand behind our characterization of that and our efforts of what
we are trying to do now.

Senator Menendez: Would you disagree with President Obama's
statements as Senator Obama?

Ambassador Ricciardone: I would not disagree with President Obama
of his characterization of this, of course not.

Senator Menendez: Would you disagree with Vice-President Biden's
characterization as Senator Biden?

Ambassador Ricciardone: They are both now my superiors and I
certainly would not disagree with their comments, with their
descriptions.

Senator Menendez: And would you disagree with the Secretary of
State's characterization of the Armenian Genocide as Senator
Clinton?

Ambassador Ricciardone: I certainly would not disagree with my
Secretary of State.

Senator Menendez: You are wiser beyond your years. Each of these
individuals - the President of the United States, the Vice-
President of the United States, and the Secretary of State, as the
Senator at the time from their respective states, acknowledged the
fact of the Armenian Genocide during their tenure as Senator, and
it just seems to me, Madam Chair, that once again, -- I appreciate
Mr. Ambassador your responses - but here we are again, playing an
incredibly difficult set of circumstances where we have nominees to
Armenia going to Armenian Genocide commemorations and never being
able to use the word genocide; we have our Ambassador to Turkey,
which is an important party to try to get beyond this and move
forward for the future but if you can't recognize the historical
facts you can't get on to the future - in the same set of
circumstances. You have our President, our Vice-President our
Secretary of State - all who very clearly, as members of this body,
recognized that there was an Armenian Genocide. It's very
difficult to understand how we move forward in that respect. Very
difficult how we put our diplomats in that respect.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE): What have you been able to do in order to
promote religious freedom. You referenced meeting with His
Holiness Bartholomew. What path forward do you think there might be
for restoring the property and the Halki theological seminary and
what can we be doing in being a more effective partner with you in
advocating for religious tolerance and openness in Turkish society?

Ambassador Ricciardone: On religious freedom, I have raised this
question with all the leaders that I am privileged to see and I
made it a point to call on the community leaders as well. I wanted
the community leaders perspective, not only on the property issues,
and not only with the Greek Orthodox and their Patriarchate but
also of the Armenian Community, the Assyriani [sic] have their own
parallel sorts of issues. I have gone into some detail with them,
we have learned the legal questions. They all have legal cases at
one level or another in the Turkish courts, which they are prepared
to take on to international courts. I don't want to betray their
confidences in these legal things but they are encouraged by the
first ever contacts they are having with high leaders of the state
both substantive ones regarding their issues and then things that
really matter in that part of the world, and that is honor and
dignity and respect. They have had the first visits ever by high
officials of the state to them - not them to the offices of the
Prime Minister or Governors but the Governors or Prime Minister
coming to them - that has not happened before or in anyone's memory
at least in the modern history of the republic.

When I raised these with high officials of the state, they say "Why
should you be surprised? We are not afraid of religion." And very
interestingly, they follow our debates about personal freedom and
religious freedom and the say "Here is how you can understand this,
American Ambassador. In your country, you have in recent years
made a distinction between freedom of religion and the concept of
freedom from religion. For too long in our modern republic we
focused on preventing the intrusion of religion in our national
life and political life. We are quite comfortable to be observant
Muslims, please don't call us Islamists, by the way", they tell us,
"but to the extent someone is praying as a Christian or a Jew, it
really doesn't bother us at all - why should it? It's no threat to
the state, on the contrary, we are rather proud of our diversity
and we are happy to have them do it. As to their property issues,
let us take a fresh look at this and make sure they get justice." I
am very hopeful, again, I don't want to betray any confidences, and
I don't want to overpromise, but I dare be hopeful that Halki
Seminary in particular will be resolved. And since His Holiness'
40th anniversary of his ordination - 40th year as a priest - I know
he would very much like to have that resolved this year, and we
would too."

#####