As he has for the last six years, President Obama on Thursday marked the day set aside to commemorate the mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire without using the word “genocide.”
In a statement issued by the White House on the eve of the 100th anniversary of what he called the Meds Yeghern, Armenian for “great calamity,” Obama referred to it as a “massacre,” a “terrible carnage,” “horrific violence” and a “dark chapter of history.”
The statement, previewed throughout the week in administration meetings with disappointed Armenian-Americans and press briefings, was again a bow to NATO ally Turkey, which has denied what took place was genocide.
Earlier this week, on a visit to Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that any use by Obama of the term would have a “detrimental effect” on U.S.-Turkish relations. Cavusoglu noted that “we have a lot invested in this relationship” with the United States.
Turkey, the democratic successor to the Ottomans, has long denied what took place during the early days of World War I constituted a genocide. The word was first coined in 1943, at least partly referring to the Armenian tragedy but most commonly associated since then with the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.
Armenians, minority Christians among the Muslim Ottomans, were accused by the Turks of supporting enemy forces of Russia during the war. “Beginning in 1915,” Obama’s statement said, “the Armenian people of the Ottoman Empire were deported, massacred and marched to their deaths. Their culture and heritage in their ancient homeland were erased. Amid horrific violence that saw suffering on all sides, one and a half million Armenians perished.”
Armenian advocacy groups in this country, and critical lawmakers, have noted that Obama, during his 2008 campaign, called “the Armenian genocide…a widely documented fact.” He said that the United States deserved a leader who would “speak truthfully” about it.
Using words nearly identical to those of his statement marking last year’s April 24 anniversary, Obama this year said that “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed.”
Without mentioning Turkey, Obama said that this year’s centennial “is a solemn moment. It calls on us to reflect on the importance of historical remembrance, and the difficult but necessary work of reckoning with the past.”