Obama’s nuanced 1915 statement avoids ‘genocide’

Obama’s nuanced 1915 statement avoids ‘genocide’

Obama’s nuanced 1915 statement avoids ‘genocide’

AP photo

U.S. President Barack Obama has refrained from using the word “genocide” in a statement to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass deportation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, while praising two figures who did so in the past.

In a statement issued by the White House on April 23, Obama once again called the tragedy in 1915 as the Meds Yeghern, Armenian for “great calamity.” He referred to it as a “massacre,” a “terrible carnage,” “horrific violence” and a “dark chapter of history.”

“Beginning in 1915, 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,” Obama said in the statement.

Obama mentioned three figures, though: U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who “sounded the alarm inside the U.S. government and confronted Ottoman leaders” in 1915, human rights champion Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” in 1944 and Pope Francis, who said on April 12 that the tragedy was “widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century.’”

Despite the nuanced references, Ankara is not expected to issue a harsh response such as recalling its ambassador, like it has been doing in other foreign capitals in the past few days, because Obama refrained from using the term “genocide,” according to sources speaking to daily Hürriyet.

Currently, Turkey has no ambassadors in Syria, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Yemen, the Vatican and Austria.

Turkey’s ambassador to the Vatican was summoned to Ankara for consultations on April 12 over Pope Francis’ remarks.

Austria was subjected to a similar reaction by Ankara, as Turkey recalled its ambassador in Vienna on April 22 after parties represented in the Austrian parliament signed a declaration recognizing the massacre of Armenians a century ago as “genocide.”

Turkey denies that the killings, at a time when Turkish troops were fighting Russian forces, constituted genocide. It says there was no organized campaign to wipe out Armenians and no evidence of any such orders from the Ottoman authorities.

Ankara's expectations

Earlier on April 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he did not expect Obama to use the word “genocide” in this year’s statement.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama had called “the Armenian genocide…a widely documented fact,” adding that the United States deserved a leader who would “speak truthfully” about it.

As U.S. president, however, he has been avoiding the term since he was elected to the office. Using words nearly identical to those of his statement marking last year’s April 24 anniversary, Obama this year said, “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed.”