United States Ambassador to Armenia John A. Heffern, who during the past several weeks has been in the United States visiting major Armenian-American communities on the west and east coasts, was hosted by Archbishop Oshagan and the Prelacy at a Town Hall Meeting on Sun., Dec. 16, at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral in NY. The ambassador was accompanied by his wife Libby and Jeffrey Paretchan, USAID-Armenia public private alliance specialist and diaspora outreach coordinator.
The guests first came to the Prelacy offices for a private meeting with the Prelate and members of the Religious and Executive Council. After enjoying dinner at the Prelacy, they made their way to St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, where a large group of community leaders had gathered for the Town Hall Meeting.
Archbishop Oshagan opened the meeting with a prayer and asked everyone to remain standing for a minute of silence in remembrance of the tragic loss of lives in Newtown, Conn. Stephen Hagopian, chairman of the Executive Council, served as the master of ceremonies and introduced Heffern. The ambassador has been a career Senior Foreign Service officer since 1982 and has served in various embassies. Most recently he served as deputy chief of mission at USNATO in Brussels, Belgium. He was nominated to serve as the United States ambassador to Armenia in May 2011, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September 2011.
Heffern presented the U.S. Embassy’s mission in Armenia with a slide-show presentation. He explained that the embassy’s primary goal is to help Armenia succeed as a democratic, prosperous, and secure country. He showed the various projects and endeavors already undertaken by the embassy to achieve these goals. He also emphasized the U.S.’s dedication to Armenia by noting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited Armenia twice, while previously a span of 18 years passed without a high-level visit by a U.S. official. On the genocide issue, the ambassador stated that the “characterization of those events is a policy decision that is made by the president.” He also noted that the Armenian Remembrance Day message issued by President Obama on April 24, 2012, was a very strong statement, in which he honored “the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.”
An extended and lively question-and-answer period followed Heffern’s presentation. Issues explored included the genocide issue, the status of Nagorno-Karabagh, the business climate in Armenia, the upcoming elections and questions of corruption and fraud, Diaspora-Armenia relations, life outside of the capital city Yerevan, emigration issues, and the incarceration of political opponents. The question-and-answer period went one-half hour beyond the allotted one hour, and continued individually during the reception that followed, which was hosted by the cathedral.