By Philip Elliott
Commemorating Armenian Remembrance Day on Saturday, Obama called the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I "one of the worst atrocities" of the 20th century and "a devastating chapter" in history. But he did not call it genocide.
Obama's statement, issued as he and first lady Michelle Obama spent a weekend getaway here in western North Carolina, earned him criticism from all corners. The Turkish foreign minister said it was "unacceptable," and activists took issue with the president's tone in marking the 95th anniversary of the start of the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.
It is "a devastating chapter in the history of the Armenian people, and we must keep its memory alive in honor of those who were murdered and so that we do not repeat the grave mistakes of the past," Obama said in his statement.
Yet for a second year as president, Obama intentionally eschewed calling it a genocide. Instead, he used an Armenian term used to describe the first mass killing of the 20th century—Meds Yeghern.
By Peter Baker
In Yerevan, Armenians on Saturday solemnly observed the 95th anniversary of the genocide that began in 1915 under the Ottoman Turk government. About 1.5 million Armenians were killed.
Trying to navigate one of the more emotionally fraught foreign policy challenges, Mr. Obama issued a statement from his weekend getaway here commemorating the victims of the killings but tried to avoid alienating Turkey, a NATO ally, which adamantly rejects the genocide label.
“On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that 95 years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began,” Mr. Obama said in the statement, which largely echoed the same language he used on this date a year ago. “In that dark moment of history, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.”
When he was running for president and seeking votes from some of the 1.5 million Armenian-Americans, Mr. Obama had no qualms about using the term genocide and criticized the Bush administration for recalling an ambassador who dared to say the word. As a senator, he supported legislation calling the killings genocide, and in a statement on Jan. 19, 2008, he said that “the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact.”
By Chuck Devore
No American President since Reagan has had the simple courage to do the same. The Armenian Genocide that began 95 years ago today in 1915—a historical fact uncontested by the mass of serious historians—is now a forbidden topic to the leader of the free world. It’s a risible state of affairs made possible by the intersection of three factors: Turkish determination to promulgate its national mythos in our own country, a misunderstanding of the American national interest, and a failure of American political courage.
In this as in so many things, President Barack Obama is not showing himself the courageous leader Ronald Reagan was.
In mid-March, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee attempted to stiffen the President’s spine on the public mention of the Armenian Genocide, with the narrow passage of House Resolution 252. The resolution “calls upon the President … to accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide.” It’s what candidate Obama proclaimed he would do in a speech exactly one year before his Inauguration, when he explicitly said, “[A]s President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Add this to the lengthening list of Barack Obama’s broken promises.
Which will Obama do first? 1) Release the Cabinet reports due 90 days after the tribal summit; 2) call what happened to Armenians and American Indians "genocide"; 3) sign the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights; 4) pardon Leonard Peltier; 5) none of the above.
For more on the subject, see "Mind Your Own Genocide" and Armenian and Indian Genocides.