Microwaving U.S. Embassy Moscow: Oral History From FSOs James Schumaker and William A. Brown

Posted: 12:40 am  ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

We recently blogged about the attacks on American diplomats in Havana (see U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sonic Attacks: As Serious as Mild TBI/Central Nervous System Damage? 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons 

Via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) Oral History:

U.S. relations with Moscow through the decades have been problematic at best while the embassy itself has been the subject of spy scandals, eavesdropping and other Cold War intrigue. One of the strangest episodes was revealed in the 1970s, when the U.S. confirmed that the USSR had been beaming microwaves at the embassy for the past 15 years. One concern was that the Soviets were trying to inflict physical harm on the Americans working there.

Moscow, US Embassy and Chalyapin house

Old U.S. Embassy Moscow — By NVO (Own work by the original uploader) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Microwaving Embassy Moscow brought back a flood of memories to James Schumaker, who served most of his career in the USSR and later Russia and Ukraine. In this account, he describes how U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Walter Stoessel threatened to resign, the widespread concern many Americans posted at the embassy had regarding potential health problems, especially when two ambassadors died of cancer, and his own experience with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

James Schumaker:  The existence of the microwave problem had been kept under wraps for years, first because no one knew that there might be health consequences, and later, according to unconfirmed reports, because Henry Kissinger wanted to avoid damaging chances for détente.  When Ambassador Stoessel (seen at left) learned about the problem, he threatened to resign unless the Embassy community was told.  As a result, the microwave story was finally made public in a press conference called by the Ambassador.

In the wake of Ambassador Stoessel’s announcement, many in the Embassy community felt betrayed about being kept in the dark for so long, and still more were anxious about the effect the microwaves might be having.  Some thought that the microwaves were used by the Soviets to activate the numerous listening devices they had emplaced in the building prior to American occupancy.

Others believed that they were a jamming signal designed to foil our own electronic snooping devices (a highly classified report that came out in the 1970s leaned to this interpretation, and this is what the Soviets told us as well).  Still others thought that the Soviets, who apparently knew a lot more about microwaves than we did, were using them to affect the mental states of Embassy employees.
[…]
For the most part, I was blissfully unconcerned about the microwave controversy.  At the time, it seemed to me that it was an issue taken more seriously by Embassy spouses, who were afraid for their children, than by the Embassy leadership, which in fact was in the crosshairs of whatever the microwaves might be doing.

Periodically, I would see Soviet technicians standing side by side with American techs on the upper floors of the Chancery.  They were measuring ambient levels of microwave radiation.  Naturally, the Soviet equipment didn’t find anything, while ours did.  I thought it was funny at the time.  Screens were put up on the Chancery windows, which were said to diminish the amount of microwave emanations getting into the Embassy.  I didn’t think much about that, either.  I just continued to do my work and not think about the possible consequences.

Microwaves continued to be beamed at the Embassy throughout my tour, and, though the levels went up and down over the years, emanating first from one, and then two locations, the microwaving of the Embassy continued until at least 1988.  Over the years, thousands of Americans were exposed.

Shortly after my tour was over, I found out that my cavalier attitude toward the microwave issue was not at all justified, at least in my own personal case.  Med informed me in late 1979 that my own white cell count was much higher than normal, and advised me to continue testing.  In 1985, my white cell count got high enough for MED to recommend that I see a hematologist, so I went to a local doctor in San Clemente, Dr. Tsang P. Fong.

He did a bone marrow test (the one where they hammer a spike into the pelvic bone – very uncomfortable).  The test confirmed that I had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) stage zero, but that chemotherapy was not advisable, since I had no symptoms and the cure would be worse than the disease.
[…]
I determined to fight the disease as best I could by leading a healthy lifestyle, although, paradoxically, I then volunteered for a high-risk assignment to Kabul in 1988.  Perhaps in the back of my mind I had this feeling that I could take more risks, since I didn’t have very long to live anyway — a kind of “who cares?” illogical approach that has gotten me through many crises in life.  State Medical knew about the CLL diagnosis and downgraded me to a “2” Medical clearance, but didn’t stop me from going overseas, mainly because the jobs I was volunteering for often had no takers.

Read in full James Schumaker’s account here.

William Andreas Brown discusses the widespread concern among Americans working at the embassy at the time and their anger at the State Department for its lack of transparency on the issue. Excerpted from his Oral History interview conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in November 1998.

William Andreas Brown: I have to tell you what a shock it was in about 1972 or 1973 to wake up to the great, microwave scandal and to find that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his associates had kept from us the fact that for years we had been bombarded by microwave apparatuses, directed straight at the embassy in Moscow. I remember being one of a small group of officers in 1972 or 1973 when news of this development broke. We raised our voices in despair, dissent, and so forth.

We were finally ushered into a room where Larry Eagleburger, Kissinger’s Special Assistant at the time, briefed us and made some sort of presentation, assuring us that steps would be taken, and so forth. He said that medical studies were under way, and the evidence thus far was that these microwaves had not been deleterious to our health.

This was somewhat reassuring until, at the end of the meeting, Larry Eagleburger said, “Now, rip up all of your notes and give them to me. Nobody can leave with notes on this discussion.” One said to oneself: “What in the hell is going on here?”

It turned out that the Soviets had been bombarding us with microwaves, beginning in about 1964 or 1965. Why they had done this remained a mystery. How they had bombarded our embassy remained somewhat of a mystery, as well as why they had done so. Also a mystery was what was the response. We were furious. We felt betrayed by the leadership of the Department of State and by the Secretary of State himself…I’m speaking now of the microwave radiation scandal, as I would call it, of the early 1970s, which harked back to the early 1960s.

Many of us who had served in the embassy felt betrayed as people who had put so much into our efforts and who had volunteered to serve in Moscow. We probably would have volunteered anyway to serve in Moscow, even if we had known about this. However, we learned only years later that this had happened and that information on it had been kept from us. Foreign Service physical examinations routinely include a blood test.

Unbeknownst to us, the Department of State was testing our blood to see what, if anything had happened to us as a result of the microwave radiation. This was a pretty jolting realization.

Q: Before we leave that matter, was consideration ever given to our saying to the Soviets: “If you keep up this nonsense, we will close our embassy in Moscow?” 

BROWN: Or, we could say, if the Soviets kept up this nonsense, we would do exactly the same thing to the Soviet Embassy in Washington. But, oh, no, that would have been nasty, and nothing like that was done. We felt pretty strongly about this. It affected morale and assignments to positions in the embassy.

Q: What was the purpose of what has to be regarded as this campaign by Soviet authorities against the health of members of the staff of the American embassy in Moscow

BROWN: This takes you into realms that I’m really not qualified to discuss. I was aware of various theories and of measures and countermeasures that might be taken. However, the point is that microwave emissions were being beamed at us. This point came home to me particularly one day when a visiting technician from the State Department came with equipment and said, “Do you mind if I set this up in your office?”

I said, “Okay, but why here? Why in my office?” He said, “Because actually there are at least two beams being directed at the embassy. One comes in from the front of the embassy building, and one comes in from that great, white building over there, which is called the ‘White House.’  You know, where the Russian Parliament meets.”…

“One beam comes this way, and the two beams intersect right here at your desk. So I’d like to set this up.” I thought: “My God! It makes you think.” But the Soviets weren’t turning these beams off. This was a disturbing development. As I said, it affected assignments to positions in the embassy in Moscow, as well as other things.

Read in full William Andreas Brown’s interview here.

#

Advertisements

Remember The Time When Darth Vader Refused to Stand in “That Visa Line” at US Embassy London?

Posted: 12:12 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Ambassador Eileen Malloy previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and was U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 1994 to 1997. The following is an excerpt from her Oral History interview recounting her first tour experience in London between 1978 and 1979. The interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy for ADST in 2008.  During her first tour, the then newbie FSO felt underwhelmed by life in the Foreign Service though she did have one bright spot when she met Darth Vader, at where else? The visa line.  Via ADST | From What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours.

Once the staff came to me and said “there is this British man and he will not go away. He’s insisting on seeing you and he’s not an American.” So I finally went out and talked to him. He said, “You don’t know who I am and that’s the problem.”

He said, “I am Darth Vader.” I’m thinking, oh my God.

He was the British actor who played Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies (David Prowse).

Via ADST

Via ADST

The body was his. Of course the voice was James Earl Jones, but most people don’t realize he was never under that costume. The man said, “I am one of the biggest stars and nobody knows me and they’re telling me I have to go stand in that visa line and I will not stand in that visa line.”

So we took his visa application and walked him out the back door. He, I saw in the paper that he passed away about five years ago. He was a British body builder. Just, he just did all the stunts and everything. But it was really funny. No one knows my name—or my face—no one knows my face.

The transcript of Ambassador Malloy’s oral history interview is available in full here (PDF).

#

Quote: “I’m not talking about guillotining somebody, or hanging, or boil them in oil.”

Posted: 2:30 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Via ADST/Oral History – Sherman Funk, Former State/OIG:

When I first came Shultz asked me my initial impressions of the Department. I had been here about six weeks. And I told him that I never in my life had encountered such an absolutely superb bunch of people. And he sort of smiled at me, and I said, “But what bothers me is that on the other hand I’d never in my life encountered such a thoroughly screwed up organization, and what I don’t understand is how you can have both. How the people could be so God damned good, and the organization be so thoroughly screwed up.” And I’m still bothered by that, because I don’t know any other place where you find such high caliber persons, where you also find things so badly run. And I still find it. I happened to think the world of many of the people in PER now. Yet they went ahead and they gave an award of $100,000, more than $100,000 U.S. dollars, to somebody to get that person to stop suing the State Department. A clear case of blackmail. And their rationale was, “We have so many class action suits for women, and class action suits for blacks, we don’t want to get involved in other class action suits on a religious basis.” And that was totally ___. There was ample information, they could have fought this one. It was a lack of will, and people sensed that. I’ve seen again and again that we make a recommendation for disciplinary action and unless the thing is so heinous that they’re afraid to say no — afraid the newspapers would find out about it — the chances are they’ll dick around and try to knock it down. We don’t want to be that harsh on the person. I’m not talking about guillotining somebody, or hanging, or boil them in oil. I’m talking about a few weeks suspension for something that is very serious — misuse of a lot of money, millions of dollars. It was like pulling teeth because nobody wants to be responsible for it.

Read in full here.

#

 

Sherman Funk: This story sounds incredible, but it is absolutely true (Via ADST)

Posted: 12:17 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal years 1986 and 1987 (P.L. 99-93) amended the IG Act to include the Department of State and the Foreign Service. The Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, (P.L. 99-399) required the establishment of an independent OIG at State by October 1, 1986. The OIG was established on August 27, 1986.  Sherman M. Funk was the State Department Inspector General from 1987–1994 . He served under four secretaries of state (Schultz, Baker, Eagleburger and Christopher).

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Funk’s oral history via ADST.

There’s a story which nobody believes that is absolutely true and people are still in jail as a result of it, the Japanese. This story sounds incredible, but it is absolutely true. When they built the new embassy in Tokyo, and a compound, the specifications called for two manholes on access points in the rear courtyard where the oil tank was buried. Nobody thought of asking why you needed two. And the embassy opened, and shortly after it opened the truck appeared, a big oil tank truck, guys wearing uniforms driving it. And the night before the security called in and said that they were getting oil, and they went through and opened up one of the manholes, put a hose down and they filled the tank. A couple days later another truck appeared in the morning, also a call to come through saying we were getting a delivery. Nobody thought of asking why deliveries so close. The truck came in, opened up the other manhole and put a thing down and it was true half of the oil had been pumped in a couple days before.

This went on for sixteen years, and in the sixteen years only one person, a young assistant GSO, ever inquired why we were buying so much oil. One person. And the admin counselor called in the senior FSN, the GSO type, and said make a study of why we’re spending so much money. The guy came back with the report that the weather is so volatile here, we have equipment which needs the oil. The person who did that report was the guy in charge of the scam. Toward the end one of the workers got disgruntled, that he wasn’t getting enough money on the scam, and went to the assistant security officer, our assistant regional officer, and said that, “You’re being robbed.” The assistant legal security officer went to the same FSN and asked him to look at it. The guy came back and said no problem. That went on for another year.

Now people who listen to that story say it’s not possible. Sixteen years we used enormous volumes of oil. In fact, we prosecuted. One of my lawyers and two of my investigators went out, we went to Tokyo, worked with the courts. It was hideously embarrassing for the Japanese by the way, and they were very tough on these people involved. We’re getting back most of the money, we’re suing the companies because they should have had controls to prevent that. But one of their biggest arguments, and if that were argued in the States, they would win, was you guys are so stupid why didn’t you guys know something was wrong. We just deliver for your requirements. To me, I find that so incredible, and it went on for sixteen damn years, but we’re getting millions of dollars back now. But we had to sue for it.

What kind of naiveté is it to ask somebody who would benefit from it? And if the thing was going on, he would certainly know what was going on. How much management moxie does it take? How much common sense does it take? Twice they went back to the same person who was the contact point in the embassy, who would make the telephone calls to have the deliveries come in the next morning. Incredible.

Read the full oral history interview here (PDF) conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on July 14, 1994.

#

Insider Quote: “These things go in cycle”… the down cycle is only a few years away

Posted: 3:14 am EST
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Below is an excerpt from Richard E. Thompson’s Oral History interview conducted by Raymond Ewing on April 16, 2001. He had been to every place with a US presence including the longest trip he did as a diplomatic courier to West Africa that took 59 days.  Mr. Thompson joined the State Department as a diplomatic courier in 1965. He retired in 1997. We are currently in an upcycle  but no doubt, the down cycle is only a few years away.

It was Vice President Gore’s Strategic Management Initiative, SMI, reinventing government. As part of his Strategic Management Initiative our assistant secretary, Tony Quainton, decided that we would cut down the frequency of courier service throughout the world. Sometimes we would cut down where we would have courier service twice a week, we would cut down to once every other week. It was an enormous, enormous slice. And so, as a consequence, we had to change everything around, all of our schedules, everything had to be changed around. So what we did, we sent individually tailored telegrams around to every post in the world, telling them what we intended to do and asking them if they had any input or any objections or any problems with it. We put in the telegram that this was from the highest level, Vice President Gore, that we were mandating this. And we got all of these telegrams back and we made up a series of hypothetical trips to accomplish this downsizing and it took several months. I was involved in meeting with very senior people. I chaired these meetings, explaining to them how this would affect them. Then, as a practical matter, I had to deal with the regional diplomatic courier officers who were afraid that they would not be able to handle such bulk because if you only go every other week instead of twice a week, you are going to have heavy loads, and you already have heavy loads to such an extent that sometimes it couldn’t even get on these airplanes. So we had to establish a series of backup flights and new schedules for the courier service throughout the whole world as a result. So we downsized. We were able to eliminate jobs. We eliminated six jobs in our organization because of this, and we pulled it off quite well, I thought. Sometimes we had to charter planes. We didn’t entirely agree with this because we could see that is was not really going to save a lot of money because we would simply have to move material other ways at more expense. But we accomplished this.  Then about two years later, when they had the bombings in Nairobi, they decided to beef up the Bureau of Diplomatic Security again. These things go in cycles. So they decided they were going to increase the frequency of courier service. So, we had to start all over again and start hiring more people and increase the frequency, where before we were going once a week we would go twice a week to some places. So we had a complete switch.

This happened throughout my career in government. You would see these things going on. The interesting thing was that some of the people who took credit for that first downsizing also took credit, these same individuals, also took credit when we increased the service, because they were increasing the efficiency in both cases.

Read in full here.

#

AFSA Awards Bill Harrop With 2015 Lifetime Contribution to American Diplomacy Award

Posted: 12:35 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

The American Foreign Service Association will honor Ambassador Bill Harrop with its 2015 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the Department of State on June 9, 2015.

When Ambassador Harrop was IG (he was the last Foreign Service Officer to serve as Inspector General), there was a non-career, politically appointed ambassador in a Scandinavian country who was actually going out and picking up prostitutes in a park of the capital city. Yup, happened before.  And there was that career Foreign Service ambassador whose wife was writing a book and using the ambo’s Foreign Service secretary and word processor and copying equipment for the project.  Boy, oh, boy!  He also served as Principal Officer in Zaire in the 1960’s where his ambassador complained about the president and the foreign minister saying, “I am awakened at all hours of the night, either by the megalomaniac or by the schizophrenic. I never know which one will be on the other end of the line with some crazy ultimatum.”

On why people get a Washington job:

The “culture” of the Foreign Service had been that people who came into it expected they’d be mainly living overseas. There was some resistance, but gradually people began to understand that if you wanted to have an impact on policy, perhaps the best place to be was Washington. In my view the work was more difficult, more demanding, less well compensated financially, and certainly more fatiguing in Washington, with fewer diversions, less interest and variety than overseas. However, ambitious people began to see that Washington was probably a place they should focus on if they wanted to get ahead in their careers. That view was beginning to be appreciated by 1960.

Photo via Univ of Charleston

Photo via Univ of Charleston

And even more appreciated now.   Ambassador Harrop was interviewed for ADST’s Oral History project. You may read the transcript of that interview here (pdf).

The award announcement via afsa.org:

The American Foreign Service Association is delighted to name career diplomat William C. Harrop as recipient of the 2015 Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award, honoring his extraordinary commitment to advancing the field throughout his career in the Foreign Service, as well as through subsequent diplomacy-focused efforts in the nonprofit sector.

During his 39-year career as a Foreign Service officer, Ambassador Harrop served as U.S. Ambassador to Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles, Zaire and Israel. He also held positions as Inspector General of the State Department and Foreign Service, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, member of the State Department Policy Planning and Coordination Staff, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Australia. While the breadth and prestige of his appointments attests to the quality of Ambassador Harrop’s diplomatic work, his excellence in the field has also been recognized officially. Ambassador Harrop received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and State Department Distinguished Honor Award, as well as the 2001 Foreign Service Cup.

Since 1958, Ambassador Harrop has served as an influential leader within AFSA. He was chair of the Scholarship Committee in his first year of membership and, through hard work and dedication to the organization, rose to become AFSA President in 1971, a position he held for two years. Ambassador Harrop continues to demonstrate his commitment to his fellow Foreign Service colleagues and friends as a director of the Senior Living Foundation. He also sponsors AFSA’s F. Allen ‘Tex’ Harris Award for Constructive Dissent by a Foreign Service Specialist and the Nelson B. Delavan Award for Exceptional Performance by an Office Management Specialist. He also provides support for AFSA as director of the Delavan Foundation.

In his post-career work, Ambassador Harrop continues to show a remarkable level of commitment to the profession, dedicating his time and expertise to numerous organizations that seek to recognize the importance of diplomacy in American life and history. He has worked with the American Academy of Diplomacy, American Diplomacy Publishers, and the Henry L. Stimson Foundation. As president and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Museum Council, Ambassador Harrop spearheaded the effort to create the U.S. Diplomacy Center, a museum and education center that focuses on the vital role of American diplomacy in our nation’s past and future. Thanks to the efforts of Ambassador Harrop and the rest of the committee, construction on the USDC began this year.

Ambassador Harrop has contributed to several books and publications on diplomacy. As chairman of the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Program Committee, he launched the books First Line of Defense (AAD, 2000) and Commercial Diplomacy (AAD, 2004) and provided support for American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013), as well as America’s Other Army (CreateSpace, 2012). In association with the Foreign Policy Association, Ambassador Harrop is currently developing a PBS film on notable U.S. diplomats.

The innumerable ways in which Ambassador Harrop has sought to advance the field of diplomacy serve as a testament to his lifelong commitment to the profession. His contributions demonstrate his determination to garner for diplomacy, and his fellow diplomats, the recognition they deserve as essential to the formation and execution of U.S. foreign policy.

Previous recipients of this award include U. Alexis Johnson, Frank Carlucci, George H.W. Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger, Cyrus Vance, David Newsom, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Pickering, George Shultz, Richard Parker, Richard Lugar, Morton Abramowitz, Joan Clark, Tom Boyatt, Sam Nunn, Bruce Laingen, Rozanne Ridgway, William Lacy Swing, George Landau and Charles Stuart ‘Stu’ Kennedy.

AFSA invites friends and colleagues of Ambassador Harrop to attend the AFSA Awards Ceremony on June 9 at 4:00 p.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. There we will celebrate Ambassador Harrop’s incredible generosity, fortitude and devotion to the goal of making the achievements of the Foreign Service known to the American public.

#

 We’d like to note that Ambassador Harrop has extended his remarkable generosity to this blog. He is  one of 375 individuals who generously supported the GFM campaign to help keep us online this year.   Our  heartfelt felicitations!

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

Posted: 6:20 pm EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

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.

#

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

Posted: 4:29 pm EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

.

.

.

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.

#

Insider Quote: “It’s a good thing that I treated them well …”

Posted: 00:46 EST
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

“Oh, yes. I’ve been traveling. I went back to doing what I started out doing 35 years ago. I take courier trips. And the people that used to work for me I now work for them and it’s a good thing that I treated them well.”

— Richard E. Thompson
Diplomatic Courier
Interviewed by Raymond Ewing on April 16, 2001 for the ADST Oral History Project (pdf)

What’s the diplomatic translation of “I don’t want to hear any more of his dribble”?

Posted: 01:32 EST
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Edward W. Clark started his career in the State Department as a diplomatic courier in 1941. In 1973, he was the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In his oral history interview for ADST, he recalled then Ambassador Robert McClintock during the military dictatorship in the country. Excerpt below is from his interview conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on April 29, 1992

“They expropriated the oil companies and Averell Harriman was sent down to take care of the situation because he used to play polo with some of the people in the Argentine. We had several meetings there with ministers. I remember one we had in the Embassy. Rob McClintock hosted a dinner and then we all sat around a big table. The Minister of Labor was there for some reason. He was a very talkative individual and made no sense. McClintock was translating back and forth. Finally Harriman said to McClintock, Tell that man down there to shut up. I don’t want to hear any more of his dribble.” McClintock turns to him and translates, “The Ambassador says he appreciates very much the information you have given him, thank you very much.

Mr. Clark noted in his interview that this was just before the dictatorship took over the oil companies. Ambassador Harriman apparently was sent down there “to see that they didn’t.” According to Mr. Clark, Harriman was en route home when they actually took it over and “all hell broke loose.”

Read more here (pdf).

Note:  One of our readers pointed out that the word “dribble” here must be “drivel” as in silly nonsense.  We imagine this was a result of mistranscription from the oral history interview.