Obama hailed the U.S.-backed
dialogue between the two nations as “historic,” in a letter to Hirair
Hovnanian, chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, that was publicized by
the influential advocacy group late on Thursday.
“I agree that normalization between Armenia and Turkey
should move forward without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe,”
he said, echoing statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials.
“We will continue to vigorously
support the normalization effort in the months ahead,” added Obama.
The letter dated November 20 came in
response to a September 9 joint appeal to Obama from Hovnanian and the leaders
of the Armenian General Benevolent Union and two U.S dioceses of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The signatories voiced support for the fence-mending Turkish-Armenian agreements
and said Washington should get Ankara to stop linking their implementation with a
resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict favored by Azerbaijan.
The Armenian-American leaders also
urged Obama to honor his campaign pledges to recognize the 1915 massacres of
Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide
once in office. “If this normalization process is used as a smokescreen for not
reaffirming the Armenian Genocide and the U.S.
record, it will be a blow to the rapprochement process and the expectations of
people of goodwill everywhere,” they said, highlighting concerns among many
Armenians in the United
States and elsewhere in the world.
In his reply, Obama again stopped
short using the word “genocide” with respect to “one of the great atrocities of
the 20th century,” even if he made clear that he stands by his past pronouncements
on the subject. “My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just
acknowledgement of the facts,” he wrote. “I believe that the best way to
advance that goal is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts
of the past as part of their efforts to move forward.”