President Barack Obama will mark the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide on Thursday with a strongly worded statement, John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said on Tuesday.
“The president’s statement on Thursday again will be a strong one,” Heffern told reporters. He would not say whether Obama will use the word genocide to describe the slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey that began on April 24, 1915.
Obama pledged to do so when he ran for president in 2008. He has still not honored that pledge, however, mindful of negative reaction from Turkey, which vehemently denies that the mass killings and deportations constituted genocide.
In his annual April 24 statements issued to date, Obama has used instead the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” (Great Calamity) to remember the victims of “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.” He has also implied that he stands by his 2008 statements recognizing the genocide.
Obama’s April 2013 statement was criticized by official Ankara. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that it “distorts the historical facts” and is based on the Armenian version of the events of 1915.
The ministry reacted angrily after the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate passed on April 10 a draft resolution recognizing the genocide and urging Obama to do the same.
Heffern also announced that he will visit the Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial in Yerevan on Thursday together with several visiting pro-Armenian members of the U.S. Congress. “I will be at the remembrance ceremony with some visitors from Washington, some congressmen, who are strong supporters of Armenia, and I look forward to it,” he said. “It’s a very important day for the Armenian people and a very moving day for Armenia’s partners and friends.”