President Obama Fails on Armenian Genocide Pledge

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WASHINGTON — On April 24, President Barack Obama released a statement on the Armenian Genocide which again failed to use the word “genocide.”

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama pledged “As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Now President Obama avoided his commitment to utilize the word “genocide” and instead characterized the historical reality as “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century” and “the terrible events of 1915” yet again.

He said, in part, “On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that ninety-five years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began.  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.

“Today is a day to reflect upon and draw lessons from these terrible events. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. It is in all of our interest to see the achievement a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts. The Medz Yeghern 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.”

Earlier this month, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern), the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Western) and the Armenian Assembly of America in a joint statement urged Obama to use the English term rather than employ the Armenian term for the Genocide in his April 24 statement. Obama’s reaffirmation of the Genocide, the joint statement also said, can only help to heal the wounds of denial and bring Turkey one step closer toward true reconciliation.

In March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, under Chairman Howard Berman’s (D-CA) leadership, passed the Armenian Genocide Resolution, which sets the stage for passage by the full House. 

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“We have long stated that US affirmation of the Armenian Genocide should not be held hostage to Armenia-Turkey relations. In 1981, President Reagan clearly reaffirmed the U.S. position when in his April 22 Proclamation, he used the English term — Armenian Genocide,” stated the Assembly’s Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Unequivocal affirmation of the Armenian Genocide will also further the cause of genocide prevention worldwide and be more faithful to American principles.”

“We saw once again the president outsource the US policy on genocide,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America of the statement.

Hamparian said Obama “allowed Turkey through lobbying and bribes to exercise a veto over America’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide and sadly as a result, Turkey’s gag rule on America was further tightened.”

He continued, “We had hoped this year he had moved human rights higher up on his agenda. We had hoped just as he’d stood up to China this year by meeting with the Dalai Lama, he’d stand up to Turkey and recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Ardouny agreed and said, “We believe that the United States should not be selective in which human rights atrocities it chooses to address. We should stand firm, especially in the face of genocide denial.”

Other presidents have used dictionary definitions of genocide or incorporated the term Armenian Genocide by reference, but have yielded to Turkish threats and refrained from being as explicit as President Reagan.

President George W. Bush, for example, described the Armenian Genocide as “forced exile, murder and annihilation,” while President Bill Clinton used “the senseless deportations” and “massacres.”  President George H. W. Bush talked about the US response for the victims “of the crime against humanity” and President Jimmy Carter said “there was a concerted effort made to eliminate all the Armenian people, probably one of the greatest tragedies that ever befell any group.”

In October 2008, President Obama reiterated his views, “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.” 

“It is truly regrettable that President Obama has yet again faltered on acknowledging historical truth by its rightful name, Armenians throughout the world, along with Turkish citizens struggling to change the propagated Turkish revisionist history, would obtain moral support in their endeavor if the president candidly spoke of the Armenian Genocide as genocide,” stated Sevak Khatchadourian, Armenian Council of America board member.

State Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D–Newton) noted, “I continue to be disappointed. While I know that this president is doing more to assist Armenia than past presidents, while I’m pleased in some ways, I’m more deeply disappointed about his failure to use the word genocide.”

The use of the phrase “Medz Yeghern” was little consolation to Koutoujian who stated, “I’m so frustrated by false promises. Use the word but don’t use other words as a substitute. Genocide is genocide with a capital ‘g.’”

On the issue of the Protocols, Koutoujian said of its relationship to the momentum of US Genocide recognition in Congress that, “Many US elected officials are backing away from the official recognition and using the Protocols as an excuse — this I find specious and disingenuous. The Protocols, whether you support them or not, are being undertaken by Turkey and Armenia and have no relevance to US policy; it’s a separate issue.”

Obama Statement

The president’s statement in its entirety appears below:

On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that ninety-five years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began.  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.

Today is a day to reflect upon and draw lessons from these terrible events. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. It is in all of our interest to see the achievement a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.  The Meds Yeghern 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.  I salute the Turks who saved Armenians in 1915 and am encouraged by the dialogue among Turks and Armenians, and within Turkey itself, regarding this painful history.  Together, the Turkish and Armenian people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.

Even as we confront the inhumanity of 1915, we also are inspired by the remarkable spirit of the Armenian people.   While nothing can bring back those who were killed in the Meds Yeghern, the contributions that Armenians have made around the world over the last ninety-five years stand as a testament to the strength, tenacity and courage of the Armenian people. The indomitable spirit of the Armenian people is a lasting triumph over those who set out to destroy them.  Many Armenians came to the United States as survivors of the horrors of 1915. Over the generations Americans of Armenian descent have richened our communities, spurred our economy, and strengthened our democracy.  The strong traditions and culture of Armenians also became the foundation of a new republic which has become a part of the community of nations, partnering with the world community to build a better future.

Today, we pause with them and with Armenians everywhere to remember the awful events of 1915 with deep admiration for their contributions which transcend this dark past and give us hope for the future.

— Andy Turpin

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