U.S. President Barack Obama again declined to refer to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as genocide on Thursday, essentially repeating carefully worded annual statements on the subject made during his presidency.
Obama used instead the Armenian phrase Meds Yeghern, or Great Calamity, to commemorate the 99th 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 in a statement issued on Armenian Remembrance Day. “We recall the horror of what happened ninety-nine years ago, when 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, and we grieve for the lives lost and the suffering endured by those men, women, and children.”
“Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Armenians everywhere, as we recall the horror of the Meds Yeghern, honor the memory of those lost, and reaffirm our enduring commitment to the people of Armenia and to the principle that such atrocities must always be remembered if we are to prevent them from occurring ever again,” added Obama.
Obama also seemed to reiterate 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.
In a January 2008 statement to the influential Armenian community in the United States, Obama 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.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) was quick to condemn Obama’s latest statement. "President Obama continues to outsource his policy on the Armenian Genocide, effectively granting Turkey a veto over America's response to this crime against humanity," said the ANCA director, Aram Hamparian.
The Armenian Assembly of America, another lobbying group, reacted more cautiously, saying that Obama “fell short of fulfilling his 2008 presidential campaign pledge.” An Assembly statement quoted its chairman, Hirair Hovnanian, as saying, "In 1981 President Ronald Reagan squarely acknowledged the Armenian Genocide … This accurately reflects America's values and record of speaking out against genocide, and I welcome this approach."
In a related development, a member of the Assembly’s board, Van Krikorian, praised the influential American Jewish Committee (AJC) for urging Turkey to “address the realities” of the Armenian genocide. “This statement is truly significant considering the timing, and reflects the painful experience shared by the Armenian and Jewish peoples in the last century, reminding us today that the failure to address genocide and its denial is to condone it,” Krikorian said.
Krikorian referred to a statement that was released on Wednesday by David Harris, the AJC’s executive director. “We stand in solidarity with people of good will everywhere in marking the 99th anniversary of the onset of the Meds Yeghern - the first, and not the last, instance of ethnic massacre and genocide of the 20th century,” Harris said.