GLENDALE — The White House announced Friday that its controversial nomination of Richard Hoagland for U.S. ambassador to Armenia has been withdrawn.
Hoagland, the former U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, was tapped by President Bush last year to replace former Ambassador John Marshall Evans after Evans was allegedly forced into early retirement in November 2006 for publicly referring to the Armenian genocide.
After a Senate confirmation hearing last year, Hoagland came under fire from Armenian American political organizations for not recognizing the Armenian genocide.
Hoagland’s dismissal is being hailed as a major political coup for the Armenian American community, which has lobbied intensely for more than a year against his appointment, officials said.
“The most important thing is the administration will learn the political message that in dealing with Armenian issues, they have to be more reasonable and accommodating and work with the community,” said Harut Sassounian, who, as publisher of the California Courier, a Glendale-based Armenian newspaper, reported Hoagland’s imminent dismissal in a July 19 column. “If they don’t, they’ll pay a price for it, and in this case, Hoagland paid the price.”
Evans’ 2005 comments about the genocide won him admiration from the Armenian American community, and the American Foreign Service Assn. — comprising current and former U.S. foreign service officers — picked Evans to receive its “constructive dissent” award.
But the State Department, which has not recognized the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, ordered Evans to issue a retraction of his statements, and the American Foreign Service Assn. revoked the constructive dissent award on a technicality, Evans said during a March appearance on the Larry Zarian Forum in Glendale.
Despite the retraction, Evans was forced by the State Department into early retirement after a career in foreign service, he said.
Hoagland had already been chosen as Evans’ successor in June, but his status in Washington has been in limbo for more than a year, due in large part to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who twice placed a hold on Hoagland’s nomination.
A hold is a rarely used parliamentary procedure that allows a senator to delay certain appointments.
That move afforded time for lobbyists to flood congressional offices with letters and phone calls in opposition to Hoagland’s nomination, Sassounian said.
“Richard Hoagland’s nomination became tainted the moment he disclosed his position denying the historical veracity of the Armenian genocide,” Andrew Kzirian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region, said in a statement. “The Armenian American community of the western United States welcomes the administration’s decision to withdraw the nomination and sincerely expresses gratitude to Sen. Robert Menendez for his leadership in this regard.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, whose district includes Glendale and Burbank, also saluted the White House move.
“The president was right to withdraw Mr. Hoagland’s nomination,” Schiff said in a statement. “I hope that the president will soon nominate a new ambassador who will be more forthcoming in discussing the Armenian genocide.”
White House officials said Hoagland submitted a letter of withdrawal this week to the president, which the president “accepted.”
“The president, obviously, claims he would have been a wonderful ambassador and appreciates his willingness to serve his country,” White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said.