Official Yerevan on Monday praised U.S. President Barack Obama’s carefully worded statement on the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, while regretting his failure to describe them as genocide.
In a written statement on Friday, Obama used the Armenian phrase Mets Yeghern, or Great Catastrophe, to mark the 94th anniversary of the start of mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians. He at the same time stood by his earlier statements that referred to the Armenian genocide as “a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”
“President Obama’s statement was a step forward from relevant statements made by other U.S. presidents,” Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian told the Armenpress news agency. “That statement contains very strong points. President Obama said that he has repeatedly spoken out on the events of 1915 and that he has not changed those views.
“President Obama used the phrase Mets Yeghern. We Armenians ourselves use both the terms genocide and Mets Yeghern.”
“But of course the Armenians expected that the U.S. president will use the word genocide,” added Nalbandian.
Armenian-American advocacy groups have been far more critical of the statement, accusing Obama of breaking his main election campaign pledge given to the Armenian community in the United States. "Today's statement does not reflect the change the president promised," Bryan Ardouny of the Armenian Assembly of America said on Friday.
In his April 24 message, Obama implied that he will not call the slaughter of more than 1 million Armenians a genocide to avoid antagonizing Turkey and setting back its ongoing rapprochement with Armenia. He cited and welcomed in that regard the announcement by the Turkish and Armenian governments that they have agreed on a “roadmap” for the normalization of bilateral ties.
The announcement came less than two days before the annual genocide commemoration. Many in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora feel that the timing gave the U.S. president a perfect pretext to backtrack on his campaign pledge.
Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), subscribed to that view on Monday, saying that Armenia’s government is “at least indirectly” responsible for Obama’s failure to reaffirm genocide recognition. “Those U.S. congressmen who have supported Armenian resolutions are now saying that if wasn’t for that [Turkish-Armenian] agreement, Obama would have had great difficulty avoiding uttering the word genocide,” he said.
Nalbandian denied, however, any connection between the timing of the “roadmap” announcement and the genocide remembrance day.
Parts of Obama’s statement were also criticized by the Turkish government over the weekend. “Hundreds of thousands of Turks and Muslims also died in 1915. Everyone's pain must be shared," the Anatolia news agency quoted President Abdullah Gul as saying on Saturday.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry called the statement “unbalanced” and “unacceptable.” According to “Hurriyet Daily News,” the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffrey, was summoned to the ministry on Monday.