Row over US ambassador's Armenia genocide remark

Click to follow

Protests are growing over the possible recall of the US ambassador in Armenia after he described the 1915 massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide. If he is recalled, it would be seen as giving in to Turkish pressure.

Officially, John Marshall Evans remains - for the time being at least - Washington's man in Erevan. "Ambassador Evans is our ambassador, and he continues ... to exercise that honour and privilege," a State Department official said last week.

But that assurance has satisfied neither the ethnic Armenian community in the US, nor members of Congress from southern California where the community is centred. Their suspicion is that a successor for Mr Evans has already been lined up, and he will be ordered home. Adam Schiff and Grace Napolitano, representing districts in the Los Angeles area, have taken up the matter with the State Department. "I expressed my opposition to any disciplinary action being taken against the ambassador for speaking the truth," Mr Schiff said.

Mr Evans caused a diplomatic sensation in February 2005 when he flatly called the massacres a genocide, during an appearance at the University of California at Berkeley. It was "unbecoming of us as Americans to play word games here," he declared. "I will today call it the Armenian genocide."

By doing so, he became the first US official to use the loaded word in an Armenian context. Like the Clinton administration before it, the Bush administration has always referred to the slaughter as a massacre or a tragedy, but not as a genocide. The circumspection is widely seen as an effort not to upset Turkey, an important US ally in the Middle East that shares borders with Iraq and Iran.

The stand-off follows successive efforts by Mr Schiff to introduce a bill specifically recognising the events of 1915 as an act of genocide - efforts that have been blocked at the White House's behest.