FSO Robyn McCutcheon: A proud woman of transgender experience serving her country

Posted: 12:13 EDT

 

In 2012, we wrote about FSO Robyn Ann Jane Alice McCutcheon, the first transgender diplomat serving in the State Department. Prior to joining State, Robyn worked for a NASA contractor where she was on the Hubble project before it was officially named after American astronomer Edwin Hubble.  See What Do Uranium and a Transgender Foreign Service Officer Have in Common?

Robyn has served in the last ten years in Washington, Russia, Uzbekistan, Romania, and Kazakhstan.  Her journey had not been easy.  “It included failed transition attempts, a week in a psychiatric ward and, more than anything else, years and decades of deep hiding and attempts to make it go away.”  She writes“I’m writing here because I have a debt to pay.”  Her story is one with a happy ending and we are  very pleased to see her as part of NYT’s Transgender Today series that just launched.

Via NYT’s Transgender Today series.

A message from Robyn McCutcheon, a trans* woman serving as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State who transitioned openly while serving overseas at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, in 2011. (Part of the N.Y. Times Series, “Transgender Today,” at nytimes.com/trans-today.)

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Secretary Kerry’s Sri Lanka-Kenya-Djibouti Trip, May 1-5, 2015 (Photos)

Posted: 2:04 am EDT

 

Secretary Kerry is traveling to Sri Lanka, Kenya and Djibouti from May 1-5, 2015. He was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 2, his first trip to the country.  Secretary Kerry’s second stop was Nairobi, Kenya on May 3, according to the State Department “to reinforce the importance of our strong bilateral relationship.”  He will reportedly discuss a range of issues including security cooperation — particularly in light of the recent tragic attack at Garissa University College – refugee assistance, trade, and biodiversity.  On May 5, Secretary will travel to Djibouti, Djibouti.  He will meet high-level leaders to discuss our bilateral cooperation and their support to evacuation efforts from Yemen. He will also visit with U.S. military personnel at Camp Lemonnier.  This is the first time that a sitting Secretary of State will visit Djibouti.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Secretary Kerry Walks With Monk In Processional to Kelaniya Temple in Colombo  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with a monk in a processional to the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 2, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Walks With Monk In Processional to Kelaniya Temple in Colombo
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with a monk in a processional to the Kelaniya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 2, 2015. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Salutes Longtime Embassy Sri Lanka Worker During Employee Meet-and-Greet in Colombo  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry salutes a longtime Embassy employee who has worked on behalf of the United States for over 30 years as he addressed employees and family members from U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka on May 3, 2015, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Salutes Longtime Embassy Sri Lanka Worker During Employee Meet-and-Greet in Colombo
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry salutes a longtime Embassy employee who has worked on behalf of the United States for over 30 years as he addressed employees and family members from U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka on May 3, 2015, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Nairobi, Kenya

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Photo with a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Photo with a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo with a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Feeds a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry feeds a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Feeds a Baby Elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry feeds a baby elephant at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 3, 2015, following a wildlife tour of the Park and before a series of government meetings. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Photos from the trip are available here.  We will add photos from the Djibouti stop when they become available.

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US Embassy Nepal Now on Authorized Departure For Non-Emergency Staff and Dependents

Posted: 2:30 am EDT

 

We’ve anticipated the evacuation of the family members of Embassy Kathmandu staff following the devastating Nepal earthquake of April 25.  On May 1st, the State Department issued a new Nepal Travel Warning and announced the May 2nd “authorized departure” not just of embassy family members but also of its non-emergency personnel. See part of the announcement below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Nepal and recommends that they defer non-essential travel there following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25.  On May 2, 2015, the Department of State approved authorized departure for non-emergency U.S. government personnel and dependents.  The U.S. Department of State also recommends that U.S. citizens in Nepal exercise caution when traveling in or planning departure from the country.  The possibility for aftershocks of significant magnitude persists.  Infrastructure is fragile and access to basic resources, including healthcare, could be limited.  Cell phone and internet service are intermittent. In Kathmandu and elsewhere, some buildings are collapsed and some roads are impassable, making transportation difficult.  Some areas of the city are crowded with displaced persons.  Kathmandu and Lukla airports have been re-opened since the earthquake.  However, the airports may close temporarily without notice due to aftershocks or inclement weather.  We encourage travelers to contact their airlines to confirm flight availability before departing for the airport.

Read the full Travel Warning here.

USAID supported DART teams have been on the move and just rescued a man from a building in Gongabu. Photo from US Embassy Nepal/FB

USAID supported DART teams have been on the move and just rescued a man from a building in Gongabu. Photo from US Embassy Nepal/FB

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Related posts:

Burn Bag: The Consular Leadership Indicator, great idea in principle but …

Posted: 12:11 am EDT

 

Via Burn Bag:

The Consular Leadership Indicator: great idea in principle. But do they really think officers are going to give candid feedback about their supervisors right in the middle of EER* season? And what about all those ELOs** who are up before the Tenuring And Commission Board next month?

via Big Sky Daddy/Tumblr

via Big Sky Daddy/Tumblr

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* EER – employee evaluation report
** ELO – entry level officer

US Embassy Uruguay: Former Gitmo Detainees Keep Up Protest in Montevideo

Posted: 1:27 am EDT

 

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Here’s a job for the Special Envoy for Closure of the Guantanamo Detention Facility. But Clifford M. Sloan who was appointed Special Envoy in 2013 departed post in December 2014 and it does not look like there is a replacement for him at this time.

And because this is 2015, the former Gitmo detainees  — Ali Shabaan (Syrian), Abdul (Tunisian), Abdul Hadi Faraj (Syrian) and Ahmed (Syrian) — now have a WordPress blog at exguantanamorefugeesinuruguay.wordpress.com, where they explained the reason for their protest:

The reason we decided to protest in front of the US embassy is that we wanted from them and from all the world to hear our voices. It´s something we didn’t want nor called for but unfortunately we were pushed to it. We tried every possible and official way, we talked to many representatives of the government but our conditions didn’t change.

We know that Uruguay is a “small country”, but with ¨big hearts”, we know that it is, as Mr Mujica said “a poor country” and that´s why we are protesting in front of the embassy because the US government detained us wrongfully for 13 years and now they should provide us with the means to live as normal human beings. They can´t just throw the mistakes on others, they should help us with houses and financial support. We are not asking the impossible from them they detained us for 13 years and they should help form some years to come. We think that this is the least they could do or we can ask for.

We also want to clarify to the Uruguayan people that we want to work and live in Uruguay. However it must be understood that this is a process that takes time; for example: our first goal is to learn spanish.

Ambassador  Julissa Reynoso, a non-career appointee left post in December 2014 and has joined Chadbourne & Parke LLP as a partner in the firm’s International Arbitration and Latin America practice groups.  The chargé d’affaires at US Embassy Montevideo is Brad Freden, a career diplomat who served at the U.S. Naval War College prior to his assignment in Uruguay.

If these protesters are waiting to speak with the U.S. ambassador, they’ll have a long wait, as a new nominee has yet to be announced.  At the Daily Press Briefing of April 30, the official spox was asked if the U.S. has any sort of financial obligations to these men, having negotiated this agreement to resettle them into Uruguay. The official response:  “We do not. As a general matter under the law of war, there is no obligation to provide direct compensation to individuals detained under the law of war for their detention.”  A reporter notes that countries do get some kind of help sometimes to resettle these people and asked if that was that part of the deal with Uruguay.  The official spox could only promised to “check in and see what our diplomatic discussions are like with countries who agree to resettle detainees.”

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May 1 Memorial Ceremony Honors Foreign Service Employees Lost Overseas: Rayda Nadal and David Collins

Posted: 12:35 am EDT

Via afsa.org:

On Friday, May 1, AFSA will hold its 82nd Annual Memorial Ceremony, which honors Foreign Service personnel who have given their lives while serving their country overseas.

The plaques on which these individuals’ names are inscribed serve as a powerful reminder of the work of Foreign Service personnel who conduct American diplomacy abroad, often under dangerous and difficult conditions. The Memorial Ceremony is our opportunity to give these individuals the recognition that they are due.

We are honored to have Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy scheduled to preside over this event, along with AFSA President Robert J. Silverman, who will serve as host for the solemn occasion.

The Memorial Ceremony will begin at 10:20 a.m. EST in the C Street Lobby of the Department of State. (Note that outside guests must arrive no later than 9:30 a.m.) The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Department of State’s BNET channel. We welcome members of the Foreign Service to attend the ceremony and to enter through the 21st street entrance. If the lobby is full, the ceremony can be watched via BNET or the live simulcast inside the Dean Acheson Auditorium. We hope that colleagues stationed around the world will watch the live BNET broadcast, as well. As with other AFSA events, a recording will be posted on the AFSA website (www.afsa.org/video) shortly after the ceremony.

This year, we will be honoring the lives and work of David Collins and Rayda Nadal.

David Collins, 54, was a financial management officer at Consulate General Lagos, Nigeria. Before joining the Foreign Service, Mr. Collins worked as an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God for more than 20 years, serving in many different capacities such as youth minister and business administrator. Mr. Collins also worked for the Compassion Ministry at the Convoy of Hope in Brussels. He joined the Foreign Service in 2009 and served as an FMO in Pretoria before he arrived in Lagos. There, he and his wife participated in an embassy group outing to the beach on April 28, 2013. Swimming in the ocean, the two were caught in an undertow; struggling to save his wife, David managed to push her successfully to higher ground, but was unable to save himself. When he was brought to shore, he still had a pulse, but died during the 90 minutes it took to get emergency medical treatment. His family has requested that donations in David’s name be made to Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Missouri. Information on Convoy of Hope can be found at www.convoyofhope.org.

Rayda Nadal, 37, was a Foreign Service specialist serving at Embassy Moscow. She joined the Foreign Service in 2008. Ms. Nadal served as an office management specialist in Kuwait City, Kabul, Nassau and New Delhi. She worked for Ambassador Capricia Marshall under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Office of Protocol in Washington, D.C. While in Moscow, Ms. Nadal sustained injuries in a gas explosion in her apartment on May 22, 2014. She was transported for treatment to a hospital in Sweden where she died on May 26, 2014. Her family requests that donations in Rayda’s name be made to the Harriet Tubman Emergency Shelter in Washington, D.C. Information on the shelter can be found at www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/HarrietTubmanShelter.

David Collins and Rayda Nadal affected the lives of others through their dedication and passion. Please join us on May 1, as we commemorate their lives and legacies.

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Howard v. Kerry: Court Denies Motion to Dismiss One Retaliation Claim

Posted: 10:52 am EDT

 

Excerpt from Civil Action No. 14-727 (JDB) by Judge John D. Bates of the United States District Court of the District of Columbia:

Kerry Howard, a former Community Liaison Officer at the American consulate in Naples, did not enjoy her working environment. That is an understatement, to be fair: she refers to it as a “cesspool.” Pl.’s Opp’n [ECF No. 21] at 3. In this suit, Howard asserts that she suffered from a hostile work environment that was discriminatory to women, and from discrete instances of retaliation for her attempts to aid fellow employees. But these claims do not match precisely with those she raised during the administrative process. As a result, some must be dismissed, based on the defendant’s motion to do so.
[…]
Here, Howard filed administrative charges alleging only two discrete retaliatory acts: her poor evaluation on April 19, 2012, and being placed on a performance improvement plan that same day. See Notice of Dismissed Allegations [ECF No. 13-2] at 5. Both were dismissed administratively for failure to contact an EEO counselor within forty-five days, as required by the first step of the exhaustion process. See id. Since then, however, it has become clear to both parties that Howard did timely request an EEO counselor on May 7, 2012—regarding her performance improvement plan. See Pl.’s Supp. at 2; Def.’s Resp. at 3. This claim was therefore appropriately exhausted. The Court will accordingly deny defendant’s motion to dismiss as to the retaliation claim regarding that performance improvement plan.1
[…]
Odious the allegations may be—but Title VII “does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace.” Burlington, 548 U.S. at 68 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing precedent that courts “must filter out complaints attacking the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss the remainder of Count I.

More straightforward is the government’s assertion that Howard failed to exhaust her hostile work environment claim. In the hostile work environment context—as opposed to discrete instances of retaliation—it is settled that claims “like or reasonably related to the allegations of the administrative charge may be pursued in a Title VII civil action, notwithstanding the failure to otherwise exhaust administrative remedies.” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8 (internal quotation marks, citation, and alteration omitted); see also Morgan, 536 U.S. at 115 (“Hostile environment claims are different in kind from discrete acts.”). “A new claim is ‘like or reasonably related’ to the original claim if it ‘could have reasonably been expected to grow out of the original complaint.’” Bell, 724 F. Supp. 2d at 8–9 (quoting Weber v. Battista, 494 F.3d 179, 183 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

“Claims of ideologically distinct categories of discrimination and retaliation, however, are not ‘related’ simply because they arise out of the same incident.” Id. at 9 (internal quotation marks omitted). As this Court has pointed out before, “[t]he EEOC charge form makes it easy for an employee to identify the nature of the alleged wrongdoing by simply checking the labeled boxes that are provided. When an employee is uncertain which type of discrimination has occurred, she need only describe it in the text of the charge form.” Williams v. Spencer, 883 F. Supp. 2d 165, 174 (D.D.C. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In Howard’s formal complaint, she checked the box for reprisal—not for sex discrimination. See Formal Compl. of Discrimination [ECF No. 13-1] at 2. And the explanation she attached to the form similarly focuses on reprisal alone. See id. at 3–4. Thus, “[t]o the extent that [Howard] is attempting to claim that [the hostile work environment] was discriminatory based on [sex], as opposed to retaliatory, [the government] is correct that [Howard] did not exhaust her administrative remedies.” Williams, 883 F. Supp. 2d at 174. As a result, the Court will grant the government’s motion to dismiss as to Count II (hostile work environment based on discrimination).

Read in full at https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2014cv0727-25.

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John M. Evans: The diplomat who called the “Events of 1915″ a genocide, and was canned for it

Posted: 6:20 pm EDT

 

When Henry Morgenthau, Sr. resigned in 1916 as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, his reasons included his “failure to stop the destruction of the Armenians.”  Ambassador Morgenthau’s story is available to read online here.   It was not until the Second World War when we had a term for the intentional destruction of an entire people.

In 1943 Raphael Lemkin coined the word “genocide” to characterize the intentional mass murder of a whole people, basing the concept on the Nazi extermination of Jews and the Ottoman massacres of Armenians. He worked tirelessly to achieve the United Nations Convention against Genocide and was among the representatives of four states who ratified the Genocide Convention.  Raphael Lemkin is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary for coining the term “genocide” by combining Greek genos(γένος), “race, people” and Latin cīdere “to kill” in his work Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) (via).

via WWI Document Archive

This is a follow-up post to 1915 Armenian Genocide — The “G” Word as a Huge Landmine, and Diplomatic Equities.  In February 2005, Ambassador John M. Evans who was appointed to Armenia the previous year, went on a speaking tour in the United States.  During the tour, he used the word “genocide” to refer to the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 and lost his job for it.  His oral history interview is an interesting window into the bureaucracy, about “not rocking the boat, about dictated apologies (he didn’t write his), and how to apologize but not on substance.  His story also includes how the local Armenian employees at Embassy Yerevan mistranslated  the “events of 1915” into “Armenian genocide” on the embassy’s website. Then, there was a senator who strongly complained that when “a U.S. policy compels an ambassador to distort the truth or at the very least to engage in convoluted reasoning it’s time to think about changing the policy.” Can you guess who is this senator?

Ambassador Evan’s trip started in New York with meeting the Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and parishioners, a visit to the Hovnanian School in northern New Jersey, and a stop in Watertown outside Boston, which, apparently is an old center of Armenian settlement and where there is a small Armenian Library and Museum.

Q: Somewhat akin to the collection at the Holocaust Museum.

EVANS: That’s right. And I toured the museum and was very much, I must say, touched by that. I then went into a community discussion and the question did come up and it was there in Watertown that I first said, “yes, I do believe that your people suffered a genocide.” And I went on to try to explain U.S. policy and to say that this event took place 90 years ago, the United States has broad and deep interests in the Middle East. Turkey is a nation of some 70 million, of enormous strategic importance, economic importance, political weight and particularly now, after 9/11, when our relations with the Muslim world are fractured. And so I was honest about my conviction that this event had taken place but I clearly had stepped over a policy line; the State Department did not use the word “genocide” although President Reagan had used it in 1981, for example. And, as I later found out, in 1951, in a formal filing at The Hague, the United States had referred to the Armenian massacres as a prime example of the crime of genocide. So there the line was crossed in Watertown.

I next flew from Boston…Oh, I should say that the reaction of the crowd was subdued. First of all, I wasn’t telling them anything they themselves didn’t already know. We continued our discussion over dinner, a very intelligent crowd in Boston, as you could expect, very well informed. And the next day I flew to Los Angeles.

I expected that perhaps the word of my transgression would have reached Los Angeles but it hadn’t and I continued with my program, which involved a very large student/faculty group at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) where the issue came up again, and again I repeated the same thing, basically, that yes, I did believe that there had been a genocide in the terms of the Genocide Convention of 1948, and then I proceeded to explain the equities involved in U.S. policy, why we needed the cooperation of Turkey. And so there was some debate and discussion about that.
[…]

EVANS: And I remember being impressed by the fact that in one two-hour period one afternoon we visited four different Armenian churches of different, what do you call them, different denominations, Protestant, Armenian, Gregorian and so on and so forth.[…] And we also stopped at California State University in Fresno and had a very good discussion there, which also included the issue of the genocide. And that evening, I was giving my normal talk about conditions in Armenia and a young man in the back stood up and he said, “Mr. Ambassador, are you going to give us that same cock-and-bull story that the State Department always gives us about how there was no genocide?” And somebody was taping this, which I hadn’t realized. My wife, apparently, had noticed this, but the tape has since been recovered and so I know exactly what I said at that time. To paraphrase it, I said “I accept your challenge to talk about this, and let me say what I think. I do believe it was a case of genocide.” And then I went on in the same vein and talked about U.S. equities, why U.S. policy was so attentive to Turkish public opinion and so on and so forth. But again, I had crossed over that line.

In none of these cases up to now had anything been reported in the news media but that wasn’t to be the case in San Francisco, which was our next stop. We got to San Francisco and there was a big dinner. First of all, we visited a school, an Armenian school, where the question of Nagorno-Karabakh came up and I was asked if the United States wasn’t prepared to sell out the Armenians in Karabakh. And I said that’s nonsense, we are mediating between…along with Russia and France we are mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a peaceful and lasting settlement to that conflict. I mention this because later on I was accused of having violated U.S. policy on that question too. But the main event was the big dinner and…I’m sorry, it wasn’t a dinner, it was at Berkeley and it was again a student and faculty meeting. And there again, in addition to…after talking about the assistance and the economic challenges I was asked about history and once again I said the same thing, that I believe that there had been a genocide and I tried to put that in the context of modern diplomatic challenges. That got reported by a young reporter in the audience and I don’t know how quickly it got back to the East Coast but it was definitely by this time on the public record.

The next day, with Robin Phillips and my wife, I flew back to Washington and the next morning I went directly into the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, to the deputy assistant secretary, Laura Kennedy, and I said Laura, “you won’t be happy to hear this but I have breached the taboo on the word ’genocide’.” Laura was quite upset, said “I wish you’d told me first,” but then invited me to take part in a meeting with the State…what was he? Something equivalent to a State Secretary from Ankara, a Turkish, high-ranking Turkish official, to talk about U.S.-Turkish relations and about the Caucasus, and I was instructed not to say anything about the genocide. And I agree to that. So we…it was about a half a day of discussions with this Turkish official, his name was Akinci and I should get his title. Unexpectedly, towards the end of the session, Ambassador Akinci said “by the way, I just want to tell you all that there never was any such thing as the Armenian Genocide. You know, people make up the history they need and the Armenians need the Genocide to be Armenians. And besides, if we had really wanted to kill them all we would have used bullets and so this is hogwash” and on and on in that vein. The American side of the table was dumb-struck; I certainly was dumbstruck. This was a rant on the part of the Turkish official and it contained, within itself, such questionable assertions that, if anything, it only redoubled my conviction that this was an active process of denial. I parted with the Turkish ambassador by saying that the best thing that could happen…that we in Yerevan would love to see a Turkish ambassador accredited to Yerevan. Now this was my way of saying, really, you’ve got to establish diplomatic relations.

Anyway, just to finish up this story, I left Washington… and then got back to Yerevan, where I found on my desk two telegrams, one of which was a dictated apology for my words, written by the State Department, which I was instructed to post on the website of the embassy; in fact, it was already being put on the website by the time I got there. The other telegram was a fierce, very harsh excoriation of me for my actions written by Beth Jones, the assistant secretary, instructing me to respond on my first day in office, to explain my actions and to apologize personally to her for what she termed my “willful behavior.” And so I did respond and I apologized for having upset her but I did not retreat on the substance and I pointed out that Ronald Reagan had used the term as president and I don’t remember the exact…I basically apologized for my breach of my diplomatic duty to her but I did not apologize on the substance or I did not recant on the substance.

There followed a little hiccup in the placing of the apology on the website. In the process of transcribing the dictated apology, which used the term “events of 1915,” the transcribers putting it on the website, who were Armenian, substituted the term “Armenian genocide.” And so when it went up on the website the term “genocide” was there and apparently the Turkish ambassador or some member of his staff, in checking the Web, found that, called the State Department and said your ambassador is still using the term “genocide.” Well, as bad luck would have it, our power went off and I couldn’t get any…or the e-mail went down, more properly speaking. I couldn’t get an e-mail back to the State Department to explain what had happened and I didn’t really know what had happened. I called in my public affairs officer and said “how did this happen?” And he claimed that in the Armenian language version of the apology it had correctly used the euphemism but that in the American — the English — version it had used the term “Armenian Genocide,” and that it was an inadvertent mistake. Well, it certainly wasn’t I at that point who wanted to compound this difficulty but it happened and the fact that the e-mail was down meant that everybody in Washington was absolutely livid until I could…they could get my e-mail. They were still mad but at least they saw that it was a screw-up and not me again.

So this made life very difficult. For the rest of that week I contemplated — this was the beginning of March now of 2005 — I talked to a number of people on my staff and I came within, what would you say, within inches of resigning over this issue. And then I got a call from my wife who had stayed back in the United States and she said, “look, you haven’t told a lie, you haven’t said anything that the world doesn’t believe. The State Department is wrong about this; just stay there and do a good job.” And she had been talking to a lot of people too, and I said well, I think that’s what I’m going to do. So I did not resign.

Now, this was the Bush Administration where almost nobody ever resigned for doing things much worse than what I had done. So I decided to just stay there, see what would happen.

[…]

EVANS: They’re there. And indeed, in our last session I described to you my frustration at not being able to get the European Bureau to align its own Background Notes with the President’s much more forward-leaning statements on the Armenian Genocide. The President had referred to those events as “massacres,” as “murder,” as “forced deportations;” that is virtually using the definition of genocide without using the word genocide, whereas the State Department lagged behind the White House. The Background Notes suggested that the…said nothing about the year 1915 and suggested that the skies were blue and there was nary a cloud in the sky. And it was indeed the Turkish Mafia in the State Department, which is strong. We have a big contingent at all times in Turkey; we have consulates, we have people assigned there and coming back to the Turkish desk and, quite frankly, Laura Kennedy, the deputy assistant secretary, an old friend, had served in Turkey, and it was she who basically said “no, we’re not going to rock the boat at all.” And so when I did this it was out of frustration that we could not put our best foot forward on this issue as the White House had done; we the State Department were behind the White House.
[…]
This was a time of change in the State Department. I had made my remarks right at the cusp when Secretary Powell had left and Secretary Rice was just coming in and Beth Jones was ending her tenure. In fact, the Monday on which I sent my apology, my cable response to her was her last day at work. The new team that came in with Secretary Rice was composed of people who had been at the White House, and they apparently came in with a mandate to straighten out the State Department after the Powell days when they thought that the State Department was soft on Bush Administration positions. And I believe I got, to some extent, caught up in that.

After my apology had been published on the website in the correct version, not using the term Armenian genocide but the euphemism, I of course did not return to that subject as ambassador in Armenia. But then the award came through, the Christian Herter Award nomination, and I was asked would I come back in June to receive the award and I thought no, better not do that but I will send a statement. And in the statement that I composed I said “in all fairness this award should be given posthumously to President Ronald Reagan, who was the first American official to correctly term the events of 1915 a genocide, and not to me.” And then I said that the monetary award should be given to the AFSA scholarship fund.

Well, the next thing that happened was we were in the midst of a visit by a senator and a cable came in summoning me immediately to Washington. And I said I’ve got to finish this congressional visit but I can be there such and such a day so I came back to Washington on that day, arriving late in the day at Dulles; I was immediately asked to go see Dan Fried, the new assistant secretary of state for European affairs. When I got there it was clear this was a hanging court. A representative of the director of personnel was there, somebody from the European management bureau and Assistant Secretary Fried excoriated me in the harshest possible terms. What I particularly remember is he said, “how dare you jam the President on this?” And my answer was I had no intention of “jamming the President”; I simply was not going to continue in this misleading of American citizens. And he said, “well, what are you doing about the Christian Herter Award? Did you reject it?” And I said “no, I didn’t.” And he said, “well, you had better arrange that they don’t give it to you.” It turned out the following week the Turkish prime minister was to be in town and had meetings at the White House.

So I called my friends at AFSA and I said “look, I very much appreciate this award, it’s very kind of you to think of me. I know you probably felt you were throwing me a lifeline but maybe you ought to rethink it.” So the AFSA people went back and scratched their heads and came up with a technicality and rescinded the award, which they’d never done before. So that year, 2005, the Christian Herter Award was not awarded to anyone.

And the other thing that came out of my meeting with Assistant Secretary Fried who, by the way, previously had worked for me on the Soviet desk, he said “well, you’re going to have to leave.” And I said “well, it’ll take you a year to get another ambassador out there. Why don’t you at least let me finish up. I’m doing a great job.” And nobody disagreed that my work there in Armenia was fine. And he sort of mumbled and grumbled and I went back to Yerevan. We were just about to celebrate July 4 and I got a cell phone call in which Dan said “your job will be listed as a vacancy in this cycle and you will be leaving a year early.” I said, “okay.” But now, nobody else on my staff knew that; I was the only one who knew that I was to be replaced a year early.

So I continued doing my work and I, if anything, knowing that I only had another year, I was hyperactive, probably. I traveled all around, I did everything I could and packed a lot into that final year and then, sure enough, in the spring of 2006 it was announced that the President intended to nominate Richard Hoagland to be my successor. And I conveyed that to President Kocharian and obtained the agrément of the Armenian government.

But what happened back here in Washington was that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when it came time to confirm Dick Hoagland, who’s an old friend, as my successor, picked up on some things he said about the, I think it was that he said the “alleged Armenian Genocide” or the “alleged genocide,” and the committee did not confirm him. It was split not along party lines; there were Democrats and Republicans on both sides. What I didn’t know at the time was that one of the senators on the committee wrote a very strong letter to Secretary Rice saying that when U.S. policy compels an ambassador to distort the truth or at the very least to engage in convoluted reasoning it’s time to think about changing the policy. That senator was Barack Obama. I had, however, to comply with the…Well, when Dick was not confirmed I asked the State Department if they wanted me to stay and they said no, come home, and then of course it was clear that I had to retire. So I came home in September 2006 and retired even though I still had time, theoretically, on my clock and the post was vacant for another year until a new nominee was put forward, Masha Yovanovitch, who handled the question rather more adroitly. I think also the State Department had learned something by then. Dan Fried had gone so far in testimony in March of 2007 as to term the events of 1915 “ethnic cleansing.” Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for genocide. It is what the perpetrators call genocide but it is considered in international law to be a crime. So the State Department had moved a long way and it was felt that it was time for there to be another American ambassador there. I also think that Masha was better in her…she conveyed a sense of sympathy, a sincerity about the tragedy that befell the Armenians, which helped her be confirmed.

Q: Were you getting any reflections of your statements and all in the United States in Yerevan, from the government, from other people because was this played up or was there- Well anyway, was there recognition?

EVANS: Yes, it did become controversial in Yerevan although I continued not to discuss the issue publicly. I was mute on the issue publicly with one exception. After the AFSA award was given to me, my wife organized a birthday party for me in the middle of May, 2005. And to my surprise she got up at to make a toast and she told the guests at the dinner…there were about 18 people there and I guess some of them were Armenian officials, the deputy foreign minister was there and there were some ambassadors and my own deputy, Anthony Godfrey, and she read the citation for the Herter Award and said she was so proud of me for having won this, and I had to respond and I said, I made a kind of joke of it, I said “you know, having spent so many years in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union now I know what it feels like to be a dissident.” Now somehow that remark got back to the State Department and they were not happy. But there was controversy in the Armenian press; I mean, they were very complimentary of me for having said what I said but there were also conspiracy theories that you tend to get in that part of the world. Some of them may have been Iranian, instigated from Iran, I don’t know, but there was quite a swirl of controversy, and of course the Armenian-American newspapers were full of this news as well.

Now, perhaps…There were two things that happened. Because it was 2005 — the ninetieth anniversary of the genocide — there was a major international conference that took place in Yerevan and the foreign minister invited all ambassadors to attend it. I was told by my staff that I had better ask the State Department. I requested permission to attend and permission was denied — but my wife went.

And the other thing was that on April 24 of 2005…I’m sorry; it was on April 24 of 2006 now, when it was clear that I was going to be replaced and everyone understood the reason by this point or they guessed at the reason, I went to the commemoration, the annual commemoration of the Genocide, to lay a wreath, as the American ambassador has done since Harry Gilmore first did it without instructions, our first ambassador to Armenia. And when I got there, first of all there was an enormous display of yellow ribbons that had been put up by Armenians during the night. There was a long string of wires to which thousands of Armenians who go to the top of the hill to pay their respects, there’s an eternal flame there, there had been some American Armenians, “repatriates” as we called them, had gotten these yellow ribbons and they had…the Armenians, children, old people and so on, had put them on this enormous yellow wall in support of me and against my being recalled. I had been instructed to say absolutely nothing at the event, the commemoration event. When we were filing up towards the eternal flame with our wreaths, I had my defense attachés with me and the rest of the embassy staff, in fact, there was a small group of Armenian students with bells wearing yellow tee shirts, tolling their bells, and they had a big poster of some sort saying, quoting Martin Luther King, saying “in the end what we will remember is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” And that was in both Armenian and English. So I couldn’t say anything, but I noted this group of young people. And then I laid my wreath. My wife was with me and the staff. And then as we exited there was a huge group of television cameramen and reporters and the way it works is you emerge from a kind of a staircase and there was this phalanx of reporters but I had instructions to say nothing. But there were about 10 microphones in my face and I said “God bless you all” and then went to my car. I’m told that people cried, viewers of the television that day broke into tears, at that point.

Ambassador Evan’s full oral history interview via ADST is available here (pdf). Also the LA Times has a recent piece on Ambassador Evans in  The diplomat who cracked.

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1915 Armenian Genocide — The “G” Word as a Huge Landmine, and Diplomatic Equities

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT

 

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The internal debate is not new.  A good reading would probably be the oral history interview with Ambassador John M. Evans who was ambassador to Armenia from 2004-2006. He lost his job during the Bush II administration after calling the Armenian killings a genocide.  See Country Reader Armenia via ADST. Excerpt below on how the “g” word has become a bureaucratic landmine.

Q: Did you, while you were getting ready, did you touch into the Turkish desk?

EVANS: No, I did not. I had, during my Cox Fellowship, done a lot of reading on Ottoman history. I knew people who had been involved in Turkish affairs, of course; I’d known people all along but at that point I did not make a formal appointment at the Turkish desk.

Q: Well then, did-

EVANS: I should add to that, though, that my old friend Eric Edelman, who had succeeded me as DCM in Prague, was then ambassador in Turkey, and in a very casual encounter we had in the lobby of the State Department he said “John, don’t forget our position on the Genocide is that it was the chaos and fog of war.”

Q: So- Because the genocide or the “g” word was a huge landmine; anybody dealing-

EVANS: It was, first of all, taboo. It was not something we were to discuss. We just learned that; we weren’t told it precisely. I knew from my previous study of Ottoman history that there was a problem around this question. I didn’t know much about the facts of it and I didn’t know much about the definition of genocide, either. But I did start reading about it in the weeks leading up to my departure for Yerevan and I read more about it when I got to Yerevan. I also, before leaving, made a point of calling on the expert in our legal advisor’s office who has the unenviable job of thinking about genocide full time, and I asked him point blank, I said “had it been the case that the Genocide Convention of 1948 was in effect in 1915 would not the events of 1915 have been characterized as genocide?” And he said, “yes, of course. It’s a matter of policy, not fact; it’s a matter of policy that we do not refer to it as genocide.”

Q: Okay, why don’t we take it why? I mean, at the time, we’re talking about 2004, was it? Why was this, I mean, what was the rationale for having a policy not to call it genocide?

EVANS: I was never given a point-by-point rationale for why we did not refer to it as genocide. What I clearly understood, and I think most other people understood, was that it was Turkish official policy to deny that there had been a genocide. Turkey was our good ally, our faithful ally in NATO, had fought with us side by side in the Korean War and so on and so forth. We had big — enormous — strategic interests in Turkey and therefore in deference to Turkish policy we simply did not talk about those times or events.

Q: Did you- still talking about the early days when you were getting ready to go out there- did you chat with anybody else of your colleagues in various positions; did they bring this up or was this sort of-? You know, when you say “Armenia” it sort of- it’s hard almost not to think about the…

EVANS: Well, I did not discuss it with very many people but I did discuss the question with a couple. One was a State Department employee of the Historian’s Office, a man of Armenian background. We had a furtive lunch one day in which he told me what he knew about the question. He told me about Rafael Lemkin, the Polish legal scholar who lost 49 members of his own family in World War II in the Holocaust but who had been led to the study of atrocities and mass crimes by his hearing of the Armenian massacres in his law school days in Krakow and who had asked his professor at that time why was it that if a man commits murder and he is sent to jail whereas if a government murders a million men, women and children there’s no retribution? And his law professor had no answer and so Rafael Lemkin went out to try to find a way to make a crime of these things.

The other person I spoke to before going was, of course, Elizabeth Jones, the assistant secretary. I called on her along with the Armenia desk officer, Eugenia Sidereas. I had noticed that the Background Notes that the State Department furnishes for the use of mostly schools about each country that we have diplomatic relations with said nothing whatsoever about the events of 1915 or massacres of Armenians or anything of the sort, not to mention using the “g” word, but there was absolutely no mention of that period of history, no mention of the fact that millions of Armenians had — or at least some number of Armenians had — fled Ottoman territory and ended up in what was then Russian Armenia. There was no mention of it, whereas our President,  several presidents, had made veiled and euphemistic mentions that went quite far. President Bush had talked about “massacres,” “forced deportations” and used quite…and there was even… the word “murder” had been used in a presidential statement. But the State Department’s Background Notes glossed over it entirely. And I pointed this out to Beth Jones, who’s a very smart and sensible person, and I said “don’t you think that we ought to revise the Background Notes so they at least convey as much knowledge and sympathy as the White House statements that have been made do?” And she said, “yes, I think any issue that’s of interest to our clients,” — meaning the people who read the Background Notes — “ought to be addressed.” At that point the telephone rang and we weren’t able to continue our discussion and we had worked so much together that I felt I had a very good understanding of what she wanted and how she expected her ambassadors to conduct themselves.

Q: Well in a way, when you’re looking at it, you’re trying to have relations with an important country and what’s the point in pulling the scab off, you know? Now, there are reasons for it but you know, we kind of let the Japanese get almost a free ride on World War II, on the rape of Nanking and its behavior in China.

EVANS: Yes. No, I am fully aware of the dilemma that this issue poses and you’ve put your finger on it; it is a dilemma. The dilemma is between the truth of the issue, which is now virtually unassailable when you look at what has been done in the last 20 years by historians and not all of them Armenian-American or Armenian. There are some very distinguished historians, such as Donald Bloxham in the UK (United Kingdom) and others who have made it clear that yes, what happened in 1915 did fit the definition of genocide, whatever the…I mean, it was done against the background of World War I, yes, there had been rebellions by some Armenian armed groups, yes, but if you look at that definition, the shoe fits. The dilemma for us is precisely as you said; we have a loyal NATO ally, a good ally, although in 2003 Turkey’s parliament did vote against our troops going into Iraq through Turkey and that enraged a lot of people on Capital Hill as well as in the Executive Branch. But still, the dilemma here is between historical truth, which is still disputed by Turkey but by no one else, and our diplomatic equities.

Q: First place, with Armenia, how close is- is Armenia really the- sort of the center of Armenians or is this sort of an offshoot or what? Because you’ve got Armenians in Lebanon and Syria and other parts of Turkey and all.

EVANS: Of course the Armenians as a group go way back for thousands of years, probably 3,000 or more years. They’re mentioned in the Bible, they consider themselves to be descendants of Noah’s — one of Noah’s sons — and the real…they were all over the Middle East; in various times they had had their own kingdoms but by the 19th and early 20th century the largest number of Armenians were in the Ottoman realms. The historic dividing line was between those who were in the Persian world, and that included most of the Caucasus and those that were in the Ottoman domains. So when one talks about today’s Armenia it is really on the land that way back in the 18th century was under the Persian shah, but then when the Russians moved into the Caucasus it became Russian Armenia. The genocide struck at the community of the Ottoman Empire but about 60 percent of today’s population of Armenia is descended from, or related to, those Ottoman Armenians who either fell victim to the genocide or escaped it. So in today’s worldwide Armenian community, which is about 10 million, most of those people are descendants of the Ottoman community that was so decimated: they fled to France and the United States and other places.

Q: Did you have a city full of visitors from Armenian communities in the States or elsewhere, like, you know, in France there’s a big Armenian community.

EVANS: We did have visitors from America, not from France, but we…I remember one of the big Armenian community groups, the Armenian Assembly, sent a large contingent through Armenia, through Yerevan, in the fall, it would have been in October or November of 2004, and I addressed them. And I might mention that that was the only time, in all the time I was in Armenia, that the question of the Armenian genocide arose. It never…I was never asked by an Armenian journalist about the genocide but I was asked a question by a member of this traveling group from the Armenian-American Assembly. The man got up and said, “I know what the State Department position is, that there was no genocide, but then how can you explain to me that I had no aunts, no uncles and never knew any grandparents?” And I explained to him that the United States Government had never denied the facts of what had happened in 1915, and to my knowledge we have not denied the facts, but what is at issue is the characterization of those events. And I probably at that time said that there was a question of whether there was “intent” on the part of the Ottoman officials.

Now, I should say a word about the Genocide Convention, if I may, because it was during this time that I became better educated on what the Genocide Convention really says. And what I discovered is that most of us Foreign Service officers are woefully ignorant about what the Genocide Convention says is genocide. There are basically four conditions that have to be met. First of all, “one or more persons” needs to have been killed. Now, that’s not very many: “one or more.” The group must be a “national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” It says nothing about political groups. There must be “intent” on the part of the perpetrators to do away with the group “as such,” to eliminate the group “in whole or in part”; that’s the terminology: “in whole or in part.” And the fourth condition is that these actions must take place in the context of a “manifest pattern of such actions in the past,” of discrimination against the group in the past. So all those conditions need to be met for it to be considered genocide and what had seemed to be missing was the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” members of the group.

Now, we have never found and probably nobody ever will find, a firman signed by the sultan or orders in cabinet saying, “destroy the Armenians.” In the case of the Holocaust we still have no written order by Hitler to destroy the Jews and we probably never will find that, although we do have Hitler’s signature on the Nuremburg Laws. That’s not the way these things happen. The word gets out there what’s to be done but it’s not…there’s no good paper trail because in the case of such a crime one would be a fool to leave such a paper trail.

But in 2003 and 2004, under the leadership of Marc Grossman, who had been Under Secretary of state for political affairs, there was organized something called the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission, and that group was an independent, track-two kind of group composed of some well-known Turks and Armenians and it was called the TARC. David Phillips was the executive director of if and this Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission looked at the events of 1915, looked at the Genocide Convention, and came to the conclusion that at least some of the perpetrators of those events did know that their actions would lead to the destruction of the Armenians of Anatolia and therefore to refer to those events as genocide was fully justified, and that journalists and historians and others would be fully justified to continue to use that term. But, at the same time, the Genocide Convention could not be invoked ex post facto to — in a legal sense — bring anyone to justice. So, in short, what this commission basically decided was that historically it was a genocide but in legal terms to press that claim against the government of Turkey would be unsuccessful. And I think that was a fairly wise way of splitting the difference. All the perpetrators of those events are now, by definition, gone, most of the victims are gone. There are only…there are fewer than a hundred very old people now who were small children in 1915 and so it seems to me that’s a fair way of splitting the difference, to let the Armenians call it genocide in a historical sense but not to try to pin that crime on the Turkish state or the Turkish people today. And I was…I made myself familiar with those findings, they were brought to my attention; I met with one of the people who had worked on that and I must say I thought this was a very reasonable way forward.

Q: Well then, was sort of the bureau pushing on all this or was this something that you all thought should be done?

EVANS: Well, neither. I mean, the EUR Bureau was just carrying on its daily business as it does every day, driven by the news on the front page primarily. There was no desire to unearth old history. But it was around this time that I was asked to make a speaking tour through the United States, particularly to communities where there was a dense population of Armenian-Americans. So I was scheduled to make a tour, a speaking tour, in February 2005, starting in New York, moving up to Boston and then going to the West Coast to Los Angeles, which is the biggest concentration of Armenians in the United States, and then to San Francisco. And it was right about this time in the beginning of late January of 2005 that my wife flew back to the United States to be with our daughter, who had discovered that she needed to get a divorce from her then-husband and she was emotionally a wreck. So my wife came back to the United States, leaving me in Yerevan with a lot of books to read, and one of those books was the very fine Pulitzer Prize winning book called “Genocide: A Problem from”– no, it’s called “A Problem from Hell: America and Genocide” by Samantha Power. And so I had time to read that. And I also read a compendium of essays edited by Jay Winter of Yale University; I think it’s called “America in the Age of Genocide.” In the same period I read Peter Balakian’s prize winning book called “The Burning Tigris,” which was also about America’s response to the Armenian genocide. So whereas most ambassadors don’t have much time to read, the absence of my wife and a fairly quiet winter social season left me in my library consuming these books and becoming more and more disturbed about the dissonance between established historical fact about what happened in 1915 and U.S. policy, which seemed to me to be very much propping up the Turkish official denial of what had happened in 1915. So I became more and more, as the date for beginning my speaking tour in America came closer and closer, I realized that I was facing a huge dilemma here. I knew that I was expected to repeat the tired old message that we didn’t take a position on the genocide, that we questioned whether there had been “intent” and so on, and yet I had read enough by this time to realize that the great preponderance of historical opinion was that indeed, there was no question about it, yes, there was a genocide of the Armenians that took place 1915 through ’18. So I set off for the United States not knowing how I was in the end going to respond to questions about the Armenian Genocide.

There’s something else I ought to add at this point, Stu, about the period we were living in, and that is that our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who I had huge admiration for, had in September of 2004, after a State Department study of the matter, Colin Powell had come out and said that he thought that what was happening in Darfur in the Sudan did constitute genocide. That was a very brave thing for him to have done. I agreed with him from what I knew of that situation and his action emboldened me to endeavor not simply to be a bystander on a question of genocide but to stand up and say something about it. Even though it was 90 years in the past I felt that someone needed to take a stand on this issue and call it what it was. I knew that this would cause difficulty for me, I knew that it was contrary to the policy of the State Department and yet I felt that I was caught in a terrible dilemma between knowingly distorting the facts of history or coming clean and trying to deal with the facts while explaining the reasons for our policy, and that was the trap that I — or those were the horns of the dilemma — that I faced. And I must say that I really didn’t know when I set out on that speaking trip which course I would take.

We will post separately the lead up to Ambassador Evan’s dismissal and eventual retirement after he used the word “genocide” during a speaking tour in California.

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Foreign Service Kids Grill Secretary Kerry During Take Your Child to Work Day

Posted: 12:40  pm EDT

 

Secretary Kerry and his dog, Ben F. Kerry attended the Take Your Child to Work Day ceremony at the State Department today. Secretary Kerry said he wanted to  “take a moment to maybe answer any questions that some of you have, which is always very, very dangerous – (laughter) – and could put my entire job at risk.”   So the Foreign Service kids get to ask their parents’ boss a few questions during the Q&A:

  • When do you have time to relax?
  • What do you do as your job?
  • Why do you have to wear suits to work?
  • Is it fun being Secretary of State?
  • When did you get your dog?
  • Is this your first time being Secretary of State?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • What inspired you to be the Secretary of State, and what age did you decide?
  • How tough was it to become what you are?
  • Do you like to do chores? 

You can add all these questions to an 11-year old’s who apparently asked Secretary Kerry, “Who are you and what do you do?” See video here. Click here for the transcript.
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