Obama Marks Genocide Without Saying the Word
ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- President Obama, who as a candidate vowed to use the term genocide to describe the Ottoman mass slaughter of Armenians nearly a century ago, once again declined to do so on Saturday as he marked the anniversary of the start of the killings.
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."
Two years later, as president, he used none of that sort of language, though as he did a year ago, he hinted to Armenians that he still felt the same way. "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed," he said. "It is in all of our interest to see the achievement a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."
His statement came as the issue has grown as a source of tension between the United States and Turkey, and as a reconciliation effort between Turkey and Armenia that Mr. Obama has championed has seemingly stalled.
In March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted narrowly to condemn the killings as an act of genocide, defying a last-minute plea from the Obama administration to forgo a vote because it would threaten the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation efforts. Turkey briefly recalled its ambassador from Washington in protest.
Armenia announced Thursday that it would suspend ratification of peace accords with Turkey, apparently because it was angered that Turkey was making new demands. Armenia insisted that it was not altogether abandoning the peace process, but analysts indicated that the Armenian government believed Turkey was trying to pressure it to reach a separate peace treaty with another neighbor, Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.
Although the president's statement did not use the term "genocide" on Saturday, it was strong enough to provoke a sharp statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which called the language a reflection of a one-sided political perception. "Third countries neither have a right nor authority to judge the history of Turkish-Armenian relations with political motives," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Armenian National Committee of America, an advocacy group based in Washington, condemned the "euphemisms and evasive terminology" in Mr. Obama's statement and called it "yet another disgraceful capitulation to Turkey's threats."
"Today we join with Armenians in the United States and around the world in voicing our sharp disappointment with the president's failure to properly condemn and commemorate the Armenian genocide," said Ken Hachikian, the committee's chairman. He added that Mr. Obama's failure to follow through on his campaign pledge was "allowing Turkey to tighten its gag rule on American genocide policy."
By Peter Baker
New York Times