The leading Armenian-American advocacy groups have praised the U.S. government for declaring that the so-called Islamic State has committed genocide in Syria and Iraq, but said Washington must also use the same term to characterize the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the extremist group, also known as Daesh, is “responsible for genocide” against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic groups. “We must hold the perpetrators accountable," he told a news conference in Washington.
Kerry also said: “We know that in areas under its control, Daesh has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities, destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches.”
The two main lobby groups representing the Armenian community in the U.S. were quick to welcome the development.
“Today, Secretary Kerry responded to the unspeakable crimes carried out by ISIS,” said Bryan Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “We call upon the Obama administration to also unequivocally affirm the Armenian Genocide,” he added in a statement.
A separate statement by the Armenian National Committee of America described Kerry’s statement as a “positive step.” “We are working to ensure that today's action will serve as a wake-up call -- for both Congress and the White House -- that we must, as Americans, finally reject Ankara's gag-rule against open, honest official discourse concerning the Armenian Genocide,” it quoted Aram Hamparian, the ANCA executive director, as saying.
Hamparian referred to the current and previous U.S. administrations’ failure to publicly describe as genocide the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Both Kerry and Barack Obama vowed to ensure an official U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide when they ran for president in 2004 and 2008 respectively. Obama failed to honor that pledge after becoming president, fearing a furious reaction from the Turkish government.
Obama reportedly came very close to recognizing the genocide in an April 2015 statement on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. While avoiding the politically sensitive word, he implicitly praised Pope Francis for referring to the 1915 mass killings as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” The U.S. president 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.”
The carefully worded statement followed a reportedly heated debate within the Obama administration. The Associated Press reported in April 2015 that an explicit recognition of the Armenian genocide was advocated by administration officials who deal more directly with human rights issues. Those included Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was said to be among them.
Power famously recorded in 2008 a five-minute video that urged Americans of Armenian descent to vote for Obama because of his clear stance on the genocide issue.
Other State Department and Pentagon officials were said to have warned Obama against angering the Turks now that Washington needed their help in fighting the Islamic State. According to the Associated Press, they also voiced concerns over the safety of U.S. diplomats and troops in Turkey.