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Obama Fails to Recognize Armenian Genocide Citing Progress Between Armenia and Turkey

April 30th, 2009 by

By Daren Djirikian

In the weeks and months leading up to president Barack Obama’s proposed acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide as such, Armenians around the world were hoping he would use his prior statements calling it a genocide that would once and for all state that the Ottoman Empire was responsible for the deaths of at least 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918. Obama’s record on the subject was consistent between the time he was a senator and on his presidential campaign. He even wrote a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice while he was a senator saying that America must speak the truth and call what happened starting 94 years ago in modern day Turkey a genocide. However, there were warning sings in the month of April that Obama might back of his previous forceful and lucid statements.

During his speech to the Turkish parliament on April 6, 2009 Obama did raise the issue of the Armenian Genocide, but did not use the actual term genocide. Rather, he called the events terrible when referring to what took place in 1915. He said at the time that his views on the history of the events had not changed, but that he thought Armenia and Turkey were establishing relations that included establishing a historical commission to bring forth the truth regarding the genocide. However, the historical mission was Turkish president Gül’s idea, and its results, even if it found evidence of genocide, would likely be brushed aside by Turkey. The commission is really just a way to placate Armenia, and is more geared toward establishing a relationship so that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and issue and be resolved, and also that the border between Turkey and Armenia can be re-opened so that Turkey can export its goods into Armenia. There would be little benefit for Armenians if either of these events came to fruition.

Therefore, it was only mildly surprising that Obama did not use the “G” word when he spoke of the events of 1915 during the annual Armenian Remembrance Day on April 24, 2009. Rather, his text read like a movie script, and he even used a derogatory phrase that Turks currently use by calling the genocide a “great calamity.” Furthermore, he said it in Armenian, calling it “Meds Yeghern.”  The Armenian American community reacted adversely to Obama’s statements, with overall sentiments showing feelings of being let down when the history on the genocide is crystal clear. Politically, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation spoke out against a purported deal that Armenian president Serge Sargsyan and Turkey came to. Hrant Markarian, chairman of the ARF stated, “If there were some agreements on forming some commission of historians; and if there was any intention on Karabakh and the recognition of Turkey’s territorial integrity and the existing border, we must abandon all of that.” That article, written by The Armenian Weekly, went on to state that, “Analysts close to the issue have long seen the commission as a Turkish ploy designed to deter more countries, notably the United States, from recognizing the Armenian Genocide.”  The ARF warned about Armenia’s complicity in the commission by Sargsyan last year when he agreed to the creation of the commission. Sargsyan’s internal maneuvering is a sure sign that he believes Armenia and Turkey can move forward, but he fails to recognize that countries and societies that do not recognize their past are likely not to be reliable allies. The fear is that Turkey will continue to take advantage of Armenia’s weak position in world affairs, especially since Turkey is a NATO ally and is critical to America’s exit from Iraq.

While it is understandable that America does need Turkey as a point of exit from Iraq, it is not understandable why U.S. presidents continuously fail to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide. Even Barack Obama, who seemed to be a stalwart on the facts of the Armenian Genocide, seemed to cave to Turkish pressure from both its government and lobby, even after three documented occasions in which he recognized the Armenian Genocide. In his letter to Secretary Rice in 2006 that spoke against the firing of Ambassador John Evan’s following his use of “genocide” that properly characterized the events between 1915 and 1918. Obama then stated “…I believe that the controversy over Ambassador Evans’ use of the term “genocide” underscores the fact that the current U.S. position is untenable. That the invocation of a historical fact by a State Department employee could constitute an act of insubordination is deeply troubling…The occurrence of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 is not an “allegation,” a “personal opinion,” or a “point of view.” Supported by an overwhelming amount of historical evidence, it is a widely documented fact.” Obama also stated, in a letter to ANCA chairman Ken Hachikian, that “We must recognize this [Armenian Genocide] tragic reality. The Bush Administration’s refusal to do so is inexcusable, and I will continue to speak out in an effort to move the Administration to change its position.”[4] Obviously, Obama failed to follow his own words on Armenian Remembrance Day. The only caveat that can come from his statement is that he “will continue to speak out in an effort to move the Administration to change its position.” That being said, Armenians should recognize some rays of hope during his April 24, 2009 speech. He stated, “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts.”  Obama went on to state essentially that he wants to see Armenia and Turkey resolve the genocide and other issues. These statements may signal that he may be willing, in the years to come, to speak properly on the Armenian Genocide and actually call it a genocide. The current political climate in the American congress provides a strong signal that the Armenian lobby is making great progress toward the U.S. finally recognizing the genocide.

On April 23, 2009, during a historical event at the U.S. capitol that was attended by over 500 Armenian Americans and dozens of democratic and republican members of congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “It is long past the time for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. How far we can go with the resolution [H.Res.252] this year depends on the outreach that each and every one 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.”  Pelosi’s comments raised applause from the largely Armenian American crowd, as did other statements by congressmen. Two congresswomen of Armenian descent added their personal stories toward genocide recognition. Overall, these congressmen pointed out that the Armenian lobby is strong and is making progress in the halls of congress and the senate toward a U.S. president properly recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

In spite of their statements, however, these congressmen were not able to persuade Obama to recognize the Armenian Genocide as such. Rather, Obama seemed to be an island among politicians in not recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As he pointed out that his views on the issue haven’t changed, it gives Armenian Americans hope that they can persuade Obama to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide during his term(s), even if Armenia and Turkey are able to establish a lasting relationship. It is this hope, and with vigor, that the writer believes the Armenian lobby and Armenian diaspora, as well as native Armenians, will continue to call on the United States to properly recognize the genocide.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 12:05 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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