by Tatevik Shahunyan
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination of John R. Bass to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). Under the Chairmanship of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bass' nomination was approved by voice vote.
Although questions regarding the Turkish government's 99-year campaign of genocide denial were not raised during his confirmation hearing, some media outlets mistakenly reported that Bass denied the Armenian Genocide at that hearing. While recognizing that several Turkish journalists and public organizations have taken steps to counter the Turkish government's denial of the Armenian Genocide, "more can be done, and we encourage both sides to pursue a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts surrounding the tragic events on 1915," Bass said in his opening remarks. Following his July 15th confirmation hearing, questions on various Armenian American issues were submitted for the record to the nominee by Chairman Menendez, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).
Chairman Menendez began his questioning on the Armenian Genocide and the recent commemorations held on April 24 in Istanbul. "Will you make participating in the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the genocide a priority for you and your staff? How do you personally characterize the events that took place between 1915-23 that resulted in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians and the killing of as many as 1,500,000 men, women, and children?" Menendez asked. "The U.S. government acknowledges as historical fact and mourns that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire," Bass replied. "If confirmed, I will continue to make attendance at such commemoration events a priority, particularly in light of the upcoming 100th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century," Bass said. Chairman Menendez also drew the nominee's attention to the Turkish government's discriminatory policies regarding religious minorities. "Less than one hundred years ago, there was a vibrant and large Christian population in Turkey. Because of genocide and persecution, the population has been decimated and accounts for less than point 2 percent of the population today," Menendez said. "How will you address issues of religious persecution against Christians and other religious minorities with Turkish authorities?" Menendez inquired.
"Religious minority groups face continuing challenges in Turkey," Bass said. "If confirmed, I will encourage the Turkish government to follow through on the return of religious minority properties and to take additional steps to promote religious freedom, such as allowing more religious communities to own property, register their places of worship, and train clergy," Bass replied.
Last month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act. Although a similar measure has not yet been introduced in the Senate, the continued destruction of historic Christian sites of Anatolia has not gone unnoticed in Washington. Senator Boxer also questioned nominee Bass on the Armenia-Turkey reconciliation efforts. "How does the failure of the Turkish government to openly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide impede efforts to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia?" Boxer asked. "To achieve full reconciliation, Turkey must come to terms with its past," Bass said bluntly.
"The Administration will continue to encourage a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts," Bass said, in an effort to support the normalization of relations that will result in the opening of the border. Senator Boxer also raised the issue of Turkey's 20-year land blockade on Armenia directly. "How will you work to end this illegal blockade?" she asked. "Facilitating Armenia's regional integration by opening its border with Turkey is a priority for the United States," Bass said. "If confirmed, this would be one of my key goals as Ambassador." In his line of questioning, Senator Markey recalled the service of former U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, in whose footsteps Bass would serve.
"Do you agree with the accounts of U.S. diplomats, including Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1916, regarding the attempted annihilation of the Armenian people?" Markey asked. "I am aware of the history of the tragic massacres and forced exile that occurred at the end of the Ottoman Empire, and with U.S. policy during that period. Ambassador Morgenthau's accounts, and the reporting of other U.S. diplomats, serve as important historical records of these tragic events from various perspectives. The individual stories of the tragedy are horrifying."
"The U.S. government acknowledges as historical fact and mourns that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. If confirmed as Ambassador, my role would be to represent faithfully the President's policies, as it has been in all of my previous assignments," Bass said.
"We commend Chairman Menendez and Senators Boxer and Markey for their poignant and sharp questioning of nominee Bass on critical issues of concern to Armenian Americans," stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. "The Assembly looks forward to the opportunity to discuss shared concerns directly with the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey," Ardouny added.