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      Rescinding of “Dissent” Award Triggers International Uproar

Rescinding of “Dissent” Award Triggers International Uproar   16/06/2005

Rescinding of “Dissent” Award Triggers International Uproar

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Last week, in this column, I disclosed the news that the American Foreign
Service Association had just reversed itself, taking the unprecedented step
of withdrawing the “Constructive Dissent” award from John Evans, the U.S.
Ambassador to Armenia.

This was a shocking development, as this award is given to high-ranking
diplomats for their “intellectual courage, initiative and integrity in the
context of constructive dissent [and] for demonstrating the courage to speak
out and challenge the system on a subject related to their work.”

Last February, Amb. Evans had forthrightly and appropriately referred to the
Armenian Genocide, as a genocide, to the chagrin of the Turkish government
and its supporters in the Bush administration. It was highly ironic that the
U.S. Ambassador would lose this award for the very reason that it was given
to him in the first place - “dissent.” So much for encouraging honesty and
integrity at the State Department.

I posted my last week’s column on the groong web site in the evening of June
6, a couple of hours after being informed by AFSA that it had just decided
to rescind the award. Little did I know then that within a couple of days,
my column would trigger a national and international uproar and would be
picked up by scores of newspapers and wire services from around the world,
such as the Washington Post, the Associated Press, the UPI, Hurriyet, Radio
Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Turkish Daily News, AzerTag (Azerbaijan),
Webindia123 (India), and Armenian newspapers in several countries. Even the
spokesman for the State Dept., Sean McCormack, was asked about this
controversial issue during his daily press briefing on June 9.

Despite attempts AFSA and State Dept. officials to cover up the real reasons
for the withdrawal of the award, it has become clear that the award was
rescinded after direct pressure was brought to bear on AFSA from the State
Dept. When John Limbert, the president of AFSA, was asked by the Washington
Post to explain the reason for his group’s action, he replied: “State
Department officials would have to explain their concerns.” The Award
Committee is composed of current and former State Department officials. L.
Bruce Laingen, who chaired the selection committee, was more forthcoming. He
told the Post that “very serious people from the State Department in
particular” expressed concerns about this award being given to Amb. Evans.
Laingen said that the award committee had not focused on the criterion that
dissent had to be expressed within the system, until it was reminded of that
by the State Department!

Once again, as a result of the over-reaction of Turkish officials and their
Washington cronies, the issue of the Armenian Genocide was publicized
worldwide. All of the above newspapers and wire services, even the Turkish
and Azeri ones, reported that the award had been withdrawn from Amb. Evans
because of his comments on the Armenian Genocide. The Washington Post wrote
that Amb. Evans had characterized “as genocide the deaths of 1.5 million
Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.” It included in
its article lengthy quotations from the statements Amb. Evans had made last
February on the Armenian Genocide - the same quotations that I had cited in
my last week’s column.

The Washington Post also wrote: “the timing of the association’s decision
appeared curious, given it came just before Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Washington for a meeting with President Bush to
bolster strained U.S.-Turkish relations. John W. Limbert, president of the
association, said that no one at the organization can remember an award
being withdrawn after it had been announced. ‘It is not something we do
easily,’ he said.”

Ironically, if the State Department thought that by withdrawing this award
it would avoid the awkward situation of honoring the U.S. ambassador to
Armenia for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, at a time when the Turkish
Prime Minister was meeting with Pres. Bush, it actually ended up creating a
bigger embarrassment, as the national and international media reported AFSA’
s controversial decision, while the Turkish leader was still in Washington.

By withdrawing the “Dissent” award, AFSA and the State Department made fools
of themselves in front of the whole world. Their unwarranted action not only
undermined the credibility of the award, but also the reputations of both
AFSA and the U.S. government which acted in this case with intolerance more
typical of oppressive third world regimes.














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