By Emil DanielyanPresident George W. Bush has again declined to refer to the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide, speaking instead of “one of the horrible tragedies of the 20th century.”
He at the same time again cited and praised an independent study which concluded that the slaughter of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians fits the internationally accepted definition of genocide.
“This was a tragedy for all humanity and one that we and the world must never forget,” Bush said in his annual April 24 message to the Armenians. “We mourn this terrible chapter of history and recognize that it remains a source of pain for people in Armenia and for all those who believe in freedom, tolerance, and the dignity and value of every human life.”
“It is a credit to the human spirit and generations of Armenians who live in Armenia, America, and around the globe that they have overcome this suffering and proudly preserved their centuries-old culture, traditions, and religion,” he added.
Leading Armenian-American organizations were quick to deplore Bush’s continuing reluctance to use the term genocide in reference to the 1915-1918 massacres. They also accused him of again breaking a 2000 campaign pledge to recognize the genocide.
"While the President once again employed the dictionary definition of Genocide, we are deeply disappointed that he did not properly characterize the attempted annihilation of our people as genocide," Hirair Hovnanian, head of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement.
"Armenian Americans appreciate President Bush's willingness to join with Armenians around the world by speaking out on this solemn occasion, but - sadly, remain deeply troubled by his failure to honor his campaign pledge - and his own promise of moral clarity - by properly recognizing the Armenian Genocide, " read a separate statement by Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
The cautious wording of Bush’s statement reflects the long-standing policy of successive U.S. administrations that have been anxious not to spoil America’s strategic relationship with Turkey. The latter maintains that the mass killings had occurred on a much smaller scale and had not been part of a premeditated government effort to wipe out the Armenian population of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
Bush remained unwilling to antagonize Ankara despite fresh petitions urging him to recognize the genocide which were signed by more than 200 members of the U.S. Congress on the eve of Monday’s commemoration of its 91st anniversary.
Some of those lawmakers were instrumental in the passage of two pro-Armenian resolutions by a key committee of the House of Representatives last September. According to Armenian-American sources, leaders of the Republican majority in Congress assured the White House at the time that they will block further progress of the genocide bills in both the House and the Senate. That might explain why the bills have still not reached the House floor.
Seeking to placate the disgruntled Armenian-American leaders, senior Bush administration officials say Washington is pressing Turkey to address one of the darkest episodes of its history. “We have a policy of seeking to encourage Turkey to reflect more seriously about subjects which have been taboo for generations in that country,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told Armenian Assembly leaders last month.
Incidentally, Bush’s latest April 24 statement again contains a positive reference to a 2002-2003 study that was conducted by the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) at the request of a U.S.-backed panel of prominent Armenians and Turks. It concluded that the mass killings of Armenians “include all of the elements of the crime of genocide” as defined by a 1948 United Nations convention.
Bush described the study as a “a significant contribution toward deepening our understanding of these events.” The Armenian Assembly of America said in its statement that this constitutes an “implicit acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.”
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans likewise pointed to the ICTJ findings when he declared in a February 2005 speech in California that the “Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century.” The Bush administration promptly disowned Evans’s remarks. Senior administration officials now refuse to confirm or refute reports that the envoy will be recalled soon for publicly contradicting Washington’s stance on the sensitive issue.