By Emil Danielyan
U.S. President George W. Bush again declined to describe the mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide on Friday as he commemorated the 93rd anniversary of “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.”
“As we reflect on this epic human tragedy, we must resolve to redouble our efforts to promote peace, tolerance, and respect for the dignity of human life,” Bush said in his annual address to the Armenian community in the United States. “The Armenian people’s unalterable determination to triumph over tragedy and flourish is a testament to their strength of character and spirit.”
“We welcome the efforts by individuals in Armenia and Turkey to foster reconciliation and peace, and support joint efforts for an open examination of the past in search of a shared understanding of these tragic events,” he added.
The two main Armenian-American advocacy groups were quick to express their disappointment with Bush’s continuing refusal to call the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire a genocide. They both recalled his 2000 pledge to recognize the genocide if elected president.
Bush has avoided using the politically sensitive term throughout his presidency, anxious not to antagonize Turkey, a key U.S. ally which vehemently denies that the 1915-1918 massacres constituted a genocide. He has also strongly opposed the passage of Armenian genocide resolutions by the U.S. Congress.
“This April 24, President Bush's last in office, he completed his eight-year long betrayal of his campaign commitment to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said in a statement. "The President not only failed to honor his promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but used the full force of his White House to block Congress from taking the very step he himself had pledged to undertake as a candidate for office.”
“In his final April 24 statement, President Bush missed the mark, which may account for the ongoing nature and escalation of threats of genocide around the world,” read a separate statement by the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA).
The AAA also criticized Bush for failing to mention an independent study on the issue initiated in 2002 by a group of prominent Armenians and Turks acting under the aegis of a U.S.-backed “reconciliation commission.” In a report released in February 2003, the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) concluded that the mass killings and deportations of Armenians “include all of the elements of the crime of genocide” as defined by a 1948 UN convention.
Bush mentioned and praised the ICTJ study in his past April 24 statements. The AAA considers this an “indirect acknowledgement” of the genocide by the U.S. president.