A patronizing tone, the dodging of questions, and the banning of cameras from public events highlighted Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s tour of Armenian communities, which culminates in Washington on June 30.
Perhaps the clearest message coming from Yovanovitch was that President Obama’s April 24 statement outlines U.S. policy and there was nothing more to add. She also insisted that she recognizes the frustration and anger of the Armenian American community vis-à-vis Obama’s broken promise to recognize the genocide, and pledged she would take that message back to Washington with her.
In her meetings with Armenian American communities on the east and west coasts, Yovanovitch outlined U.S. policy toward Armenia. The U.S., she said, was working hard on assisting Armenia to become economically independent and to strengthen its democratic institutions and civil society. She also voiced support for the so-called “roadmap” agreement and the OSCE Minsk Group-led effort to find a lasting solution to the Karabagh conflict.
She reiterated earlier statements made in Yerevan that the disparity in the Obama Administration’s proposed military budget for Armenia and Azerbaijan was aimed at bolstering U.S. interests in the Caspian basin, which include counter-proliferation, counter-narcotics, and counter-terrorism.
Beyond the simple recitation of U.S. policy positions that are already widely available across the internet, she brought nothing new to a community eager for honest discourse. Nor did she make herself available for any detailed questioning on these topics of widespread concern, as is the norm for public officials in American civic life.
One questions the sincerity of her stated eagerness to meet and discuss issues with the community when at every event television cameras were barred from taping the talks. For someone who claimed that the U.S. was “bolstering democracy” in Armenia, the ban placed on cameras and the lukewarm treatment of the press at a conference on June 26 in Glendale signaled the ambassador’s unwillingness to foster the administration’s stated policy of transparency and openness.
She explained that since she was making similar presentations in different parts of the country, she did not want her message to get out before she could deliver it. She even went on to say that she did not want her message to wind up on YouTube.
At the press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Glendale, Yovanovitch also dodged questions about the genocide and was more comfortable answering questions about economic development and what the U.S. was doing to benefit Armenia. It lasted 20 minutes and the press was brushed off.
Her decision to exclude cameras deprived the community from hearing her message and her response to the questions raised on the evening of June 26—by around 350 community members who had gathered at the public event organized by the Western Prelacy at Ferrahian’s Avedissian hall. The same was the case the evening before at a gathering at the Diocese.
Through her remarks and actions, Yovanovitch only managed to further alienate the community from their government here in the U.S. By underestimating the intelligence of the community and blatantly banning the press from events, Yovanovitch demonstrated that she and the administration were not interested in or eager to foster dialogue with the Armenian American community.
The community deserves answers to its myriad of questions, and had fully expected to receive them during Yovanovitch’s visit. Instead, they received an education on how to stage an ambassadorial visit that bills itself as open, but in practice undermines the very values we should be advancing both here and abroad, namely, transparency, accountability, and good governance.
Faced with legitimate questions and the prospect of a two-way dialogue and real public scrutiny, it seems she quickly reverted to the very types of behavior she herself has criticized in Armenia.
We urge our readers to contact the U.S. Embassy in Armenia at firstname.lastname@example.org.