Washington, D.C.- Despite repeated statements properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide during his Senate career and a clear pledge stating that “As President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” President Barack Obama issued on Friday an April 24th statement evading the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide. The president instead voiced support for ongoing talks between Armenians and Turkish officials to improve relations between their countries.
His statement sparked furious protests in California as Armenians expressed outrage over his refusal to fulfill his campaign promise.
ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian issued the following statement regarding President Obamaʼs April 24th statement:
“I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obamaʼs failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
“In falling short of his repeated and crystal clear promises, which reflected a thorough knowledge of the facts, the practical implications, and the profound moral dimension of Armenian Genocide recognition, the President chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nationʼs stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey’s threats.”
“The Presidentʼs statement today represents a retreat from his pledge and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how America confronts the crime of genocide.”
“Genocide must be confronted unconditionally at the level of American values and our common humanity. As Americans, we should never allow the prevention or recognition of this crime to be reduced to a political issue that can be traded away, retreated from under pressure, or used to advance a political agenda, of any kind.”
“Today’s statement does not reflect the change the President promised,” stated Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “His failure to affirm the proud chapter in U.S. history, the American response to the first genocide of the 20th century, has needlessly delayed the cause of genocide affirmation and diminishes U.S. credibility with regard to genocide prevention,” added Ardouny.
In January 2008, then-Senator Obama stated: “As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” In October 2008, President Obama reiterated his views, “I believe that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”
“Empty promises are no change at all. Today, as we reflect on the importance of genocide education, affirmation and prevention, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the words ‘never again’ have true meaning – starting with the adoption of H. Res. 252 in the U.S. House of Representatives,” concluded Ardouny.
The Armenian Genocide was acknowledged by Russia, France, Canadian House of Commons, Lebanon, Uruguay, Cyprus, Argentina, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, Slovakia, Netherlandsʼ House of Representatives, Switzerland National Council, Vatican, Lower chamber of Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Polish Seim and 42 US states.
Obama said he still stands by the views he has expressed on the subject as a presidential candidate and a U.S. senator. Then, he called for Turkey to acknowledge the genocide — and promised to do so himself if elected president.
He again pointed to his previous remarks, while avoiding the term many Turks find offensive.
“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” the president said in his statement released this afternoon. “My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”
But Obama said he thinks the best way to advance that goal right now “is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward.”
Today’s commemoration date fell two days after Turkey and Armenia announced movement in ongoing talks to ease relations between their two countries, strained for decades.
The Turkish foreign ministry said Wednesday the two sides have come up with a framework for continued talks, but provided few details on how, exactly, it might work. They have made “tangible progress” toward mutual understanding and come up with a “road map” for how to proceed, according to the statement.
Still, the measure is considered the first breakthrough in talks in more than a decade.
Since Obama took office, Armenian Americans and human rights activists have been asking him to make good on the campaign promise to declare the mass killing a genocide. Advocates hoped the declaration would come today.
But Obama signaled he might take a different route during a trip to Turkey earlier this month, when he refrained from using the word “genocide” to describe the killings. In a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Obama said he hadn’t changed his mind about the historical record but still declined to use the word when asked by a reporter about his position.
“I’m not interested in the U.S. tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having a useful discussion,” Obama said in early April.
In his statement, Obama used the words “Meds Yeghern,” the Armenian phrase for the atrocity.
“Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began,” the president wrote. “Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.”
Dozens of Democratic and Republican Members of Congress joined this evening with over five hundred Armenian Americans from across the United States in Capitol Hill’s historic Cannon Caucus Room in a solemn remembrance devoted to U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), in their remarks to the standing-room only audience, both spoke forcefully of their personal commitment to proper U.S. condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
“It is long past the time for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide,” noted Speaker Pelosi in her remarks. She went on to spotlight the importance of grassroots efforts against Turkey’s multi-million dollar campaign of genocide denial. “How far we can go with the resolution [H.Res.252] this year depends on the outreach that each and everyone of us in this room can do to win on the floor of the House. We can do any amount of inside maneuvering in the Congress and Washington, but what is important is the outside mobilization to bring to bear the voices of people across America.”
The Congressional Armenian Genocide observance was organized by the Congressional Armenian Caucus, with Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL ) serving as Masters of Ceremony. Opening prayers were offered by his Eminence Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States as well as Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern United States.