Turkey criticized on Thursday U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest statement on the Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire, saying that it “distorts the historical facts” and is based on the Armenian version of the events of 1915.
“In his statement issued on 24 April 2013, U.S. President Obama has unfortunately demonstrated this year once again a one-sided approach which reflects the Armenian views regarding the dispute between Turks and Armenians on the painful part of their common history,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
In his message marking the 98th anniversary of the start of the mass killings and deportations of Armenians Obama again declined to term them genocide, using instead the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” (Great Calamity). But he did say that “1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths” in “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
Obama also implied that he stands by his 2008 statements describing the massacres as genocide. “Nations grow stronger by acknowledging and reckoning with painful elements of the past,” he added.
The Turkish government rejected this stance as “problematic in every aspect.” “Issued under the influence of domestic political considerations and interpreting controversial historical events on the basis of one-sided information and with a selective sense of justice, such statements damage both Turkish-American relations, and also render it more difficult for Turks and Armenians to reach a just memory,” read a statement by the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.
The ministry claimed that the United States is thus discouraging the Armenians from being “more realistic and conciliatory.” “It should also be known that the pain experienced during the World War I is a shared one and the memory of that period is as sensitive for the Turkish people as it is for the Armenians,” it added.
Successive Turkish governments have maintained that Armenians died in small numbers and because of internal strife, rather than a premeditated Ottoman government policy. Many historians in the West believe, however, that the killings constituted a genocide. Some two dozen countries -- among them France, Italy and Russia -- have officially recognized the Armenian genocide.
Obama was also criticized by the influential Armenian-American community for not honoring his 2008 pledge to reaffirm his genocide recognition if elected president. “While President Obama's statement builds upon last year's remarks, only by squarely acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, and confronting Turkey's denial, can the promise of [genocide] prevention be realized and truly give meaning to the words 'never again',” Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said on Wednesday.
For its part, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) accused Obama of bowing to “Turkish pressure.” “Sadly, President Obama chose today not to lead, but rather to follow Ankara’s gag-rule on his Administration’s condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide,” Aram Hamparian, the ANCA director, said in a statement.
There has been official reaction to Obama’s April 24 message from Armenia’s government. Earlier this year President Serzh Sarkisian stressed the importance of Obama’s use of the term “Meds Yeghern.”
In a written address to the nation on Wednesday, Sarkisian reaffirmed his government’s commitment to seeking greater international recognition of the Armenian genocide.