Obama Ignores Genocide Recognition Promise

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WASHINGTON — The statement issued by President Barack Obama on the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide stirred strong reaction among Armenian Americans for its failure to use the term “genocide,” a widelycirculated campaign promise that won him early support from the community.

Released in the afternoon on April 24, the statement used the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern, or “great calamity,” to characterize the massacres.

“Ninety-four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began,” the statement read. “Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghernmust live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.”

The statement then echoed the words he used while addressing the Turkish
Parliament earlier this April.

“History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight,” Obama’s statement continued. “Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man’s inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”

On April 22, Turkey announced talks with Armenia had yielded a “road map” for reconciliation.

In January 2008, while campaigning for president, Senator Obama reached out to the Armenian-American community and enjoyed widespread support after saying he would recognized the Genocide.

Asked on April 24 what he was expecting Obama to say, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he expected him to avoid the term.

“I believe that (Obama’s statement) should be one that is supportive of our good-intentioned efforts,” he said.

Gul’s words directly contradicted what Obama said in the letter written last year, which is still available on Obama’s campaign website.

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“I believe that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely-documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence,” Obama said in the letter. “The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.”

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America were quick to chastise Obama for going back on his promise.

“I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama’s failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian said in a statement.

“In falling short of his repeated and crystal clear promises, which reflected a thorough knowledge of the facts, the practical implications, and the profound moral dimension of Armenian Genocide recognition, the president chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nation’s stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey’s threats,” Hachikian added.

Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny shared a similar reaction.

“Today’s statement does not reflect the change the president promised,” Ardouny said. “His failure to affirm the proud chapter in US history, the American response to the first genocide of the 20th century, has needlessly delayed the cause of genocide affirmation and diminishes US credibility with regard to genocide prevention.”

Ardouny added that despite the lack of follow- through from the White House, the Armenian Genocide Resolution that was resubmitted by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) in March is gaining support.

“Empty promises are no change at all,” Ardouny said. “We must redouble our efforts to ensure that the words ‘never again’ have true meaning — starting with the adoption of H. Res. 252 in the US House of Representatives.”

For his part, Schiff said he was upset with Obama but would continue to push the House resolution, which as of last week had gained 100 signatories.

“Although the president today acknowledged the deaths of a million-and-a-half Armenians during the Armenian Genocide, I am deeply disappointed by his decision not to use the word ‘genocide’ in his statement,” Schiff said. “Nonetheless, our work will go on undaunted. We will not become complicit in Ankara’s campaign of denial.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently expressed support for the resolution. Her statement on April 24, while not addressing Obama’s, showed a starkly contrasting opinion.

“It is long past time for the US government to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide,” Pelosi’s statement read. “If we ignore history then we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. The genocides in Rwanda and Darfur remind us that we must do more to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The resolution is still up for consideration in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.