Turkish leaders have offered contradictory assessments of U.S. President Barack Obama’s closely watched statement on the 95th anniversary of the start of mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
In the weekend statement, Obama again refrained from describing the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, speaking instead of “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.” He at the same time indicated that he stands by his past statements affirming the genocide.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Obama’s comments, saying the U.S. leader “took Turkey’s concerns into consideration.” However, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected the message as “not acceptable.”
“If we are going to share grief for humanitarian reasons, then we would expect respect for our own grief as well,” Davutoglu was reported to say.
“We deeply regret this statement [by Obama] which reflects an incorrect and one-sided political perception,” read a separate statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. “Third counties neither have a right nor authority to judge the history of Turkish-Armenian relations with political motives,” it said.
Deniz Baykal, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, on Sunday criticized Erdogan for contradicting the Foreign Ministry. “The prime minister should advocate for his country, not for what Obama said,” Baykal told reporters, according to “Hurriyet Daily News.”
Erdogan and other Turkish officials warned Obama against using the word “genocide” in the weeks leading up to the annual April 24 commemoration of the events of 1915.
By failing to call the massacres a genocide, Obama again backtracked on a key campaign promise given to the influential Armenian community in the United States. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a Washington-based lobbying group, condemned this stance.
“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,” ANCA chairman Ken Hachikian said in a statement. “Sadly, for the U.S. and worldwide efforts to end the cycle of genocide, he made the wrong choice, allowing Turkey to tighten its gag-rule on American genocide policy.”
But another influential advocacy group, the Armenian Assembly of America, stopped short of explicitly criticizing the U.S. president and praised some passages in his statement, while stressing the need for explicit U.S. recognition of the genocide. In particular, it cited Obama’s reference to the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern,” or Great Calamity.
“The President’s reference to Turks who saved Armenians and to those Turks who want to reconcile was also significant,” added the Assembly.
Armenia’s government, for its part, did not react to Obama’s address.