Sassounian: Defense Secretary Nominee Owes Apology to Armenian-Americans

Most political observers predict a contentious hearing in the Armed Services Committee and later in the full Senate on the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee as the next secretary of defense.

During his 12 years in the Senate, Hagel, a Republican, managed to offend a slew of constituencies, including conservative Senators of his own political party, as well as Jewish-Americans, Armenian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and gays.

In order to appease his critics and secure Senate’s confirmation, Hagel has been busy in recent days issuing retractions and apologies to various groups.

Upon learning of Hagel’s nomination, Jewish-American organizations harshly criticized him for being soft on Iran and hard on Israel, and for stating that “the Jewish lobby” in the United States “intimidates a lot of people.”

Hagel responded by telling the Lincoln Journal Star on Jan. 7 that his record demonstrates “unequivocal, total support for Israel” and endorsement of tough economic sanctions against Iran. There is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one [Senate] vote that matters hurt Israel,” Hagel told the newspaper.

The nominee also backed down from his opposition to ambassadorial nominee James Hormel in 1998 whom he had called “openly, aggressively gay.” He issued an apology last week to gay rights groups, stating that his earlier comments were “insensitive.”

However, the nominee for defense secretary remains unapologetic regarding his highly insensitive remarks on the Armenian Genocide.

During a press conference in Yerevan on June 2, 2005, Hagel expressed his opposition to a pending congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide: “Historians and others should deal with it. But, I don’t think that the United States government should become involved in the issue based on a resolution or any other way. What happened in 1915, happened in 1915. As one United States Senator, I think the better way to deal with this is to leave it open to historians and others to decide what happened and why.” This happens to be the exact position of the denialist Turkish regime on the Armenian Genocide.

Hagel went on to tell Armenian journalists: “The fact is that this region needs to move forward. We need to find a lasting peace between Turkey and Armenia and the other nations of this region. I am not sure that by going back and dealing with that in some way that causes one side or the other to be put in difficult spot, helps move the peace process forward.” These comments were simply intended to cover up the Turkish crime of genocide.

Hagel’s pronouncements against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide are highlighted by his expressions of admiration for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, who continued the genocide initiated by the predecessor regime. It is not surprising that the Ataturk Society of America presented Hagel with the Ataturk Society’s Leadership Award on May 19, 2005, two weeks before going to Armenia and endorsing the Turkish government’s views on the Armenian Genocide.

Hurriyet newspaper quoted Hagel as making the following highly laudatory statement about the father of modern Turkey in a 2008 speech: “Ataturk is one of the most valuable leaders of the 21st century. Children in the United States know nothing about this great leader. They should teach about him in schools and write about him in history books. Ataturk played a leading role in shaping today’s world.”

Armenian-Americans and human rights activists deeply concerned about Hagel’s nomination were quoted in an article by Adam Kredo in Washington Free Beacon titled, “Chuck Hagel has an Armenian Problem.” Here are some of their statements:

— “We remain troubled by former Senator Hagel’s acceptance of Ankara’s gag-rule on American honesty about the Armenian Genocide,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian stated.

— “We expect a rigorous confirmation process which will also serve as an opportunity for Senator Hagel to forthrightly acknowledge the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide,” stated Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America.

— “On the eve of the Holocaust, Hitler mockingly asked, ‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ Not Chuck Hagel, apparently,” stated Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

— “What Chuck Hagel said in his press conference in Armenia in 2005 regarding the genocide of Armenians by Turks is shameful,” said Walter Reich, former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “In his forthcoming confirmation hearings, senators should confront him with what he said and should expect him to address it.”

— Hagel’s opposition to U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide “betrays a shocking lack of moral leadership,” stated Thane Rosenbaum, Fordham University law professor.

Unless Hagel apologizes for his “insensitive” remarks on the Armenian Genocide, Armenian-Americans should urge the Senate to block his confirmation.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. “Leave it to Historians to decide”

    Something you hear mostly from denialist Turks. Haegal must have the backing of the Turkish lobey to have the nerves to say something like that. Because maybe he wants to save US bases in Turkey by leaving it all to historians regarding the genocide. Because Historians are not the people, and they can be recruited by government based on their resumes which qualify them for their job. Part of their job might be linked to honoring the demanding nature of Turkish denialists.

    How did Turkey get away with it so long is so obvious regardless of any arguments. They are actively seeking to keep their skelletons in the closet and away from their rightful honorable place. This maintaines Turkey’s self proclaimed entitlement of honorable Turks and their great history.

    And that tells much about the modern Ottoman empire and how they live with their souless selves.

    And in the US government it is not surprising to me that there are desparates who will seek any vein to draw blood to their political machines. Just look at the small nation of Bulgaria. They suffered nothing less of Armenians in the hands of filty Turks and lost 10’s of thousands to Ottoman savagery. But, their president, priminester, and governmental sits slammed the recognition of Armenian genocide and called the Bulgarian genocide supporters ultra-natioals. Bulgaria, being relatively poor compared other EU members shows more acts of desparateness and dependability on forign investement and vaunarability to Turkish interseption, which drives its lawmakers to honor their old enemy’s denialist cult.

  2. “Leave it to Historians”

    Something that can only be told by Turks and the brainwashed.
    It is not surprise to me that someone such as Haegel would say something like this since so far US collective politics of the federal government has yet to recognize Armenian genocide.

    Basically, what Haegal means is to leave it to historians to give US the strategic advantage. Historians will be recruited to do work for political reasons for which for Turkey its all politics rather than true. In return the bones of the victims will remain in turkish closets away from their rightful resting place, along with Turkish money will be spent on Turks to enjoy their not so industrialized, mainly tourism driven economy.

    Haegel and his likes are puppets of Turkey within US government who can enforce Turkey’s blackmails and their anit-diaspora activities here.

    The US senate and house are battlegrounds between different lobbyists from many countries. Turkey has come a long way getting away with the Ottoman crimes that split our poppulation, not without their proactive involvement behind the sins.

    And the bribes from Ataturk society shows their desparation to counteract recognition of the truth which is not to be known and only left to be recognized.


  3. Chuck Hagel is a strange bird and he is a chameleon. He will put on many faces.
    Armenian politicians should act responsibly and explore for oil in the New Maragagh which is 10 km away from the original Maragha settlement which had proven oil reserves. The Azeris massacred the Maragha Armenians so that they could keep the oil. and the NKR can process the oil for domestic consumption and that can save Armenia huge amounts of money and at the same time.

  4. Not only senator Hagel, but many other senators, representatives, secretaries of state and even Presidents, including the present President owe apologies to not only to Armenian-Americans but to all Armenians.
    Official US policy and posture towards the recognition of Genocide has been shameful, disgraceful and utterly disgusting and disappointing.
    Regardless of what happens during the hearings, what Hagel says or not, once he is nominated, his attitude and opinion will not change.Even Senator Kerry who has been supportive of Armenian causes, when he is appointed Secretary of State will disappoint us. This is a sad reality that in spite of all our efforts will not change.
    The reason, and the most obvious reality, is that there are 24 NATO military bases
    in Turkey. Turkey since 1952 has become NATO’s Eastern Anchor. Moreover, now NATO is installling the controversial missile defense system in Turkey.
    Unfortunately, for geo-strategic and geo-political reasons America’s political interests simply dictate not to upset or offend Turkey. And sadly, the USA has double standards, is spineless and has no principles to change its stand.
    This is very frustrating and disappointing but I am afraid it will not change.
    Our focus and efforts should be directed towards countries that do not have vested
    interests in Turkey.
    Vart Adjemian

  5. Indseed sadly,as Vart Adjemian , above,explains and gives exact definition of the stance that has been “reserved” for our lot by uncle Sam.
    I have also expressed opinion-viewpoint that Armenians worldwide ought to search for allies or rather friends that will come FWD and defend our rights.
    Our Quest FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE LIMITED TO THE ANGLO-AMERICANS’ becoming affirmative in acknowledging the Genocide peerptrated on us by their “‘ally” great Turkey….
    Many other countries are there to reach out to and make them aware of out 100 YEAR OLD WOUNDS THAT ARE LEFT O P E N …
    Time to sstart healing thse wounds by the other small nation/States///

  6. Errata!!!,
    Please rad above sentence”OUR QUEST FOR JUSTICE FOR SHOULD””not be “”LIMITED TO …instead of be limited to.
    Sorry for the error.Please excuse me.

  7. Wait… so Chuck Hagel really said “Ataturk is one of the most valuable leaders of the 21st century”???

    21st Century? He died in 1938…. The guy can’t even suck up to Turkey in an accurate fashion.

  8. Those were the exact words he said to me personally when I visited his office in the U. S. Senste building. ” Leave it to the historians to decide . Hagel is a disgrace and should not be our Defense Secratary. He owes many of us an apology not only to us as Armenians but to Jews as well as others who he insulted. Put him out to pasture . Get rid of him.

  9. The extent to which the Turkish government has influence on the US government, military and especially the US State Department shouldn’t be taken lightly.

    Also it’s every Armenians duty to confront these apologist and opportunists such as Clinton, Albright, Cohen and yes Hagel..The more we as a group can flex our rightful muscle the better. The discussion of the facts of the Turkish mass murder of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians, should NEVER END! It should and must always be an issue. They all need to understand that Armenians will not merely “move on and forget their own destruction for regional stability”.

    Last, Mr. Sassounian,we need an investigation of exactly what happened to all the money of not only the plundered wealth of the victims of the Armenain genocide and which country took the loot to look the other way, but what happened to the 100 million raised for the “starving Armenians”. WHERE IS IT? That will lead you clearly to why some nations refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Follow the MONEY!

  10. This is what happens when the Christians put a Muslims in charge of their country. You will never see a Christian in charge of a Muslim country.

  11. Leaving the issue to the historians is good advice if the issue is one about which the historians themselves are undecided. Politicians chiming in won’t help. However, the Armenian genocide is not such an issue. Historians do not question that it happened. The evidence is overwhelming. The denial that what happened was genocide comes only from politicians, not from serious historians.

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