U.S. President Barack Obama again declined to term the 1915 Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire a genocide on Tuesday as he paid tribute to the victims of what he described as “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
As he did in his previous statements on what is known as Armenian Remembrance Day in the United States, Obama used the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the mass killings and deportations.
“Today, we commemorate the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century,” read his latest statement issued on the occasion. “In doing so, we honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.”
“As we reflect on the unspeakable suffering that took place 97 years ago, we join millions who do the same across the globe and here in America, where it is solemnly commemorated by our states, institutions, communities, and families,” he said.
Most American states have already recognized the Armenian genocide.
Obama at the same time again indicated that he stands by statements on the sensitive subject which he made when running for president in 2008. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915,” he said. “My view of that history has not changed.”
“A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past,” he added in what looked like an appeal to modern-day Turkey, which strongly denies that the World War One-era deaths constituted genocide.
In a January 2008 statement to the influential Armenian community in the U.S., 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 April 2009, he implicitly cited the need not to undermine a U.S.-backed rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. The Turkish-Armenian normalization process eventually ended in failure.
Obama’s stance has angered the Armenian-American community that overwhelmingly backed him in the 2008 presidential race. The two main Armenian-American lobby groups were quick to criticize his latest statement.
The Armenian Assembly of America said it is “deeply disappointed” with Obama’s failure to honor the campaign pledge. “The Armenian-Americans will not rest until the United States stands firmly with the community of righteous nations, wherein 20 countries have affirmed the Armenian Genocide,” its executive director, Bryan Ardouny, said in a statement.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) was more scathing. “President Obama today completed his surrender to Turkey, shamefully outsourcing U.S. human rights policy to a foreign state, and tightening Ankara's gag on American recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” said Ken Hachikian, the ANCA chairman.
“President Obama’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide stands today as a stark lie, a painful promise etched on the hearts of all who had hoped and worked for change, but who, today, have been betrayed by a politician who failed to live up to his own words,” charged Hachikian.