As was the case in April 2009, Obama used instead the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to mark the 95th anniversary of the start of the mass killings and deportations. “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,” he said. “Today is a day to reflect upon and draw lessons from these terrible events.”
“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,” he added.
Obama at the same time again made clear that he stands by his statements on the subject issued during the 2008 U.S. presidential race. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” he said.
In a January 2008 statement to the Armenian community in the United States, Obama, then a presidential candidate, called the Armenian genocide “a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.” “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president,” he said at the time.
Obama backpedaled on that pledge after taking office, anxious not to antagonize Turkey, a key U.S. ally. In his April 2009 statement on Armenian Remembrance Day, Obama implicitly cited the need not to undermine the U.S.-backed rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. The process culminated in the signing of Turkish-Armenian normalization agreements in Zurich last October.
Obama’s latest message contains no explicit references to the normalization process that has stalled because of Ankara’s refusal to unconditionally normalize ties with Yerevan. It only voices support for continued historical dialogue between Armenian and Turkish societies.
“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,” Obama said. “Together, the Turkish and Armenian people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.”
The current and previous U.S. administrations have strongly encouraged and even sponsored Turkish-Armenian contacts at various levels. The U.S. State Department was, for example, behind the establishment in 2001 of the non-governmental Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC).
TARC called for the unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations before being disbanded in 2004. It is also famous for commissioning a study on the events of 1915 from the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).
In a 2003 report, the ICTJ concluded that the Armenian massacres “include all of the elements of the crime of genocide” as defined by a 1948 United Nations convention. Former U.S. President George W. Bush repeatedly cited the ICTJ study in his April 24 statements.
U.S. -- President Barack Obama (L) greets Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, 12Apr2010
Obama on Saturday also paid tribute to the “remarkable spirit” of the Armenian people. “The indomitable spirit of the Armenian people is a lasting triumph over those who set out to destroy them,” he said. “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.”
These words will hardly placate influential Armenian-American advocacy groups that had strongly backed Obama’s presidential bid and now deplore his reluctance to use the word “genocide.” They have also criticized the Obama administration for opposing a congressional draft resolution affirming the Armenian genocide.
The Turkish government scrambled to halt further progress of the resolution after it was approved by U.S. House Foreign Affairs committee on March 4. Turkish leaders also warned Obama against uttering the politically sensitive word in his April 24 message. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested after meeting Obama in Washington last week that the U.S. president will heed the warning.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian seemed resigned to that as he addressed the nation Thursday on the future of the Turkish-Armenian normalization process. But he implied that Obama’s failure to term the 1915 massacres a genocide will not halt the decades-long Armenian campaign for genocide recognition.
“Our struggle for the international recognition of the Genocide continues,” said Sarkisian. “If some circles in Turkey attempt to use our candor to our detriment, to manipulate the process to avoid the reality of the 24th of April, they should know all too well that the 24th of April is the day that symbolizes the Armenian Genocide, but in no way shall it mark the time boundary of its international recognition.”