White House avoids calling Armenian deaths ‘genocide’
Tolga TANIŞ - WASHINGTON
REUTERS PhotoThe White House avoided referring to the World War I killings of Armenians as genocide on April 21, as a diplomatic row raged ahead of the tragedy’s 100th anniversary.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and one of President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy advisors hosted Armenian American leaders at the White House to discuss the centennial.
McDonough and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes “discussed the significance of this occasion for honoring the 1.5 million lives extinguished during that horrific period,” the National Security Council said in a statement.
Sticking to the White House’s avoidance of the term, the statement said the United States would “use the occasion to urge a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts.”
Armenian leaders who met with the administration officials said they were told Obama would not use the term.
“His failure to use the term genocide represents a major blow for human rights advocates and sets the clock back on genocide prevention,” Armenian Assembly of America director Bryan Ardouny told AFP.
A senior administration official also confirmed in a statement to daily Hürriyet that "the President will make a statement that marks the historical significance of this centennial, and — as in past years — mourns the senseless loss of 1.5 million precious lives in the atrocities known as the 'Meds Yeghern,'” an Armenian term meaning “great calamity.”
"We know and respect that there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year. We understand their perspective, even as we believe that the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one—both for acknowledging the past, and for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the present," the official said.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and encouraged him to “improve relations with Armenia” as well as have an open dialogue in Turkey about the “atrocities of 1915,” according to a statement.
During his 2008 campaign for the White House, then senator Obama had pledged to “recognize the Armenian genocide,” but preferred the term Meds Yeghern throughout his presidency.
The White House announced that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will lead a presidential delegation to Armenia on April 24, when the country will commemorate the anniversary of the killings.
The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, and four lawmakers will also be included in the delegation.
Congressman Chris Smith, a long-time supporter of the cause, appealed to Obama to “recognize the genocide of the Armenians.”
“I also appeal to the Turkish government to recognize the genocide and issue a genuine apology,” the New Jersey Republican said.