U.S. President Barack Obama again declined to refer to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as genocide on Wednesday, essentially repeating carefully worded statements on the subject made during his first term.
Obama used instead the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to commemorate the 98th anniversary of the start of the massacres in the Ottoman Empire.
“Today we commemorate the Meds Yeghern and honor those who perished in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century,” he said. “Ninety-eight years ago, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. We pause to reflect on the lives extinguished and remember the unspeakable suffering that occurred.”
Obama also implied that he stands by statements on the events of 1915 which he made when running for president in 2008. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” he said. “A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests.”
“Nations grow stronger by acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of the past, thereby building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future,” he added in an apparent appeal to 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 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 becoming president, 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.