U.S. President Barack Obama again declined to describe the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide on Friday in his final presidential statement marking the anniversary of “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century.”
“Today we solemnly reflect on the first mass atrocity of the 20th century -- the Armenian Meds Yeghern -- when one and a half million Armenian people were deported, massacred, and marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman empire,” Obama said.
“Today we stand with the Armenian people throughout the world in recalling the horror of the Meds Yeghern and reaffirm our ongoing commitment to a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Armenia,” he added ahead of Sunday’s commemorations of the 101st anniversary of the tragedy.
Just like in April 2015, Obama mentioned the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who used the atrocities against Armenians and the Nazi massacres of Jews to coin the term “genocide.” He also cited in that context views expressed by Pope Francis.
Francis declared during an April 2015 mass at the Vatican that the Armenian massacres can be considered “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” Obama reiterated on Friday in an apparent reference to his past statements on the subject.
Obama called the Armenian genocide a “widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence” when he ran for president in 2008. “As President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” he pledged at the time.
The leading Armenian-American advocacy groups pointed to that pledge when they denounced Obama’s continuing refusal to use the word “genocide” and risk angering Turkey.
The Armenian Assembly of America noted that as recently as last month the United States officially recognized as genocide atrocities committed by the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. "Selective acknowledgment, especially at a time when Christians and other minorities are being persecuted is indefensible, sends the wrong message and hurts U.S. credibility," its executive director, Bryan Ardouny, said in a statement.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) criticized Obama in even stronger terms. “This, sadly, is President Obama's legacy -- silence on the Armenian Genocide, complicity in Turkey's denials, and encouragement of Azerbaijani aggression,” said the ANCA’s Aram Hamparian.