President Serzh Sarkisian will fly to Washington next week to take part in a religious ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey and possibly hold talks with senior U.S. officials.
An Armenian-American “steering committee” coordinating commemorations of the genocide centennial in the United States has announced Sarkisian’s participation in an ecumenical memorial service that will take place at Washington’s National Cathedral on May 7.
According to the committee, the service will be led by the two supreme heads of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II and Catholicos Aram I, and attended by members of the U.S. Congress and U.S. diplomats.
“Descendants of those who offered vital assistance during the time of the Genocide will also attend, providing an opportunity for Armenians to express their gratitude to these people and institutions they represent,” reads a statement posted on the committee’s website.
“We will remember those lost in the Genocide and show gratitude for the regeneration of life that the survivors worked so hard to create,” it says.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), confirmed late on Thursday that Sarkisian will be in Washington on May 7. Sharmazanov said Sarkisian will also “have meetings” during the trip but could not specify whether he will hold talks with President Barack Obama or any other senior U.S. officials.
Sarkisian’s office did not reveal details of the visit as of Friday evening. Nor has the White House made any statements to that effect yet.
Obama’s first and, so far, only meeting with Sarkisian that took place in 2010 on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in Washington. Obama praised the Armenian leader’s “courageous” policy of rapprochement with Turkey at the time.
The U.S. president was strongly criticized by Armenian-American leaders last week for again not describing the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey as genocide in his annual statement released on April 24.
While avoiding the politically sensitive word, Obama implicitly praised Pope Francis for referring to the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians as “the first genocide of the 20th century” on April 12. He also paid tribute to Henry Morgenthau, America’s First World War-era ambassador in Constantinople who tried to stop what he saw as a “campaign of race extermination.”
In another gesture to the Armenians, Obama sent U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to the April 24 commemoration of the genocide centennial in Yerevan.
Obama reportedly considered publicly recognizing the genocide in the weeks leading up to the centennial events. Some officials in his administration, notably U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, are said to have urged him to do so during heated debates in the White House. Other senior U.S. officials warned, however, of serious damage to Washington’s relations with Turkey, a major NATO ally.
According to some sources privy to those discussions, Obama made a final decision on the wording of his statement after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s April 21 talks in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Susan Rice, Obama’s chief national security adviser.