Book Review: ‘Truth Held Hostage’

Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide – What Then? What Now?
By John M. Evans
Gomidas Institute, London (April 18, 2016); 170 pages
ISBN 978-1-909382-26-8, Hardcover; $32.00

By Garen Yegparian 

The cover of Truth Held Hostage
The cover of Truth Held Hostage

Written in three parts, Truth Held Hostage by John Evans—the “martyred” U.S. Ambassador to Armenia who became a hero to Armenians all over the world—presents one man’s journey from ignorance, to awareness, and ultimately to action and thought provoking contemplation, all about the Armenian Genocide.

In the first part of the book, Evans describes his life’s journey into the U.S. Foreign Service and the Armenian universe along with the genocide that sits (unfortunately) at its core. His story is an example that ought to be emulated by any decent, earnest human being who encounters the Armenian Genocide for the first time. Evans describes his growing experience with Armenians, as he served in various diplomatic postings, including Iran. The reader easily and comfortably empathizes with the author as he grows into full awareness of the monstrous scale and ramifications of the genocide on human beings, Armenians, living around the world, but especially in the U.S. which Evans represents.

The second part starts with a resounding “yes” to the question of whether or not it was genocide. He then presents various legal, historical, and political considerations.

The third and final part is a “what next?” on the U.S., Turkey, Armenia, Diaspora, and international fronts. Among the interesting proposals Evans makes is that for the U.S., the way forward might be to recognize the genocide in an explicitly historical context, creating a distinction between that moral imperative and current geopolitical and policy considerations. He wraps up the book with ten suggestions to move forward, expressly stating that they are likely to be objectionable to both Armenians and Turks.

Herein is the strength of the book. It is not written as some obligatory path to be imposed on the opposing sides from on high. It sets out ideas based on Evans’s diplomatic experience and understanding of history and applicable laws. It creates space for discussion.

In this way, it is a perfect book for Armenians to not just read—but even more so—to give as a gift to non-Armenian friends. The latter will relate easily to the Ambassador’s fair-minded approach and the crisis of conscience which led him to finally utter “the G word,” resulting in his shortened tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, his early retirement, and the yanking of the Herter Award for Constructive Dissent on a technicality, which was just a cover for the State Department officials who were “incandescent” over Evans’s breach of the departmental taboo of even discussing the genocide.

In this way, Evans helped open the door (just a crack) so that the inertia of State Department bureaucracy was shifted enough for the topic to now be addressed a little more openly. He cites examples of this throughout the book.

I am very pleased that I bought and read the book after attending the discussion with Evans and Ara Sarafian, moderated by Salpi Ghazarian of the University of Southern California’s (USC) Armenian Studies Institute—the panel’s organizer. Sarafian is a founder of the Gomidas Institute, which is dedicated to publishing (and sometimes republishing) manuscripts and texts that are important sources of original data for Armenian studies. This book is the fifth by a diplomat that Gomidas has published. Three are by Americans who served in the Ottoman Empire— Morgenthau and his well-known book; Abram Elkus’s (Morgenthau’s successor) The Memoirs of Abram Elkus: Lawyer, Ambassador, Statesman; and Lewis Einstein’s (a little known State Department special agent) Inside Constantinople: A Diplomatist’s Diary During the Dardanelles Expedition, April-September, 1915, which was written as a cover for reporting what was being done to Armenians. The fourth is a Greek, third generation diplomat, Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, whose Caucasus Chronicles: Nation-Building and Diplomacy in Armenia, 1993–1994 exposed the very real threat of a Turkish invasion that Armenia was under at that time. These are great resources and give a special, personal flavor to what might otherwise be dry reading.

That personal angle is very apparent in Evans’s book. For example, he mentions an Armenian who was a driver for the U.S. Embassy in Iran. I’ve already encountered someone in my personal circle who knew that driver. And, there are other figures from the Armenian community of the U.S. who figure into his narrative that we all know.

Buy, read, and gift this book, available in Armenian bookstores or directly from Gomidas Institute.

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

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1 Comment

  1. To Honest Ambassador John Evans

    In the seventeenth century
    Sir Henry Wotton(1568-1639)* announced
    “Ambassador is an honest man sent
    to lie for the good of his motherland”.

    America is a symbol of freedom,
    Country swears on Human rights,
    The state’s doors are open to every race,
    ‘Country’s pride in its fairness shines!’

    No one could believe how they treated
    The well-known soul called ‘Evans’
    They tried to change ‘Evans’
    Which since Greek days cries yet says,

    “Equalization is centurial real truth
    Hence no superiority shall vanish that reign.”

    Evans name proves his carried crane.
    He acts evenly, relives scorns, ethnic pain.
    No body can ever engulf or try to change his astrocytes
    Even the scimitars, which are still dangling
    Beside the fathers and sons of new Ottomans’!

    Evans is an ambassador and a genius human.
    He could not shelter known slain.
    By clouding his dignified fan
    To vanish genocided horrific bleeding rains.

    “He believes in eternity, truth and equality . . .
    Humanity should never replace his Ambassadorial vanity.”

    He has been fired from hurricane sites
    To our sincere, welcoming trustful hearts.
    To be remembered by the holy ancestries of Gomidas**
    By carving Evans name with Mashtotian Alphabets***
    On faithful Armenian shrines!
    Sylva Portioan, M.D
    June 6, 2006
    Modified from my poetry collection, “A poetic soul shined of Genocides” (2008)
    Will be repeated with the new modification in my 16th poetry collection
    “Bring Out our Genocided Skulls and Artful Hands” (2017)
    * John Marshall Evans: American ambassador to Armenia (2004-2006),
    dismissed from the diplomatic circle because he used the word genocide and not massacre.
    ** Gomidas/Komitas (1869-1935): Founder of Armenian classic music.
    *** Saint Mesrop Mashtots: Inventor of the Armenian alphabet (AD 405).

    In my opinion as a medical trained human, I cannot see any difference as far as lives are concerned.
    I think the geneticist will say the same, however, the justice court system should stamp their names.

    I repeat my words, “Killing a person is to kill genes.
    Hundreds, thousands, millions or more
    Does it make incongruity?
    Aren’t all beating tissues, souls . . ?

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