For the eighth and final time, President Obama this year will break his unambiguous 2008 campaign promise to declare that the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915 and 1916 amounted to “genocide,” a leading Armenian-American activist told Yahoo News on Thursday.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, at least 664,000 and perhaps as many as 1.2 million Armenians “died in massacres, in individual killings, or as a consequence of systematic ill-treatment, exposure, starvation and disease.”
But officially designating the Ottoman Turks’ actions as “genocide” would have deeply angered Turkey, a NATO ally and a pivotal player in the coalition Obama has assembled to wage war on the Islamic State in neighboring Syria. Turkish governments have sharply disputed the figures of Armenian dead and categorically rejected the “genocide” label.
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told Yahoo News shortly after a briefing from Obama aides at the White House that the president would once again stop short of using the term “genocide” in his annual statement about the tragedy.
“We took from today’s meeting at the White House that the president will end his tenure in office as he began it, caving in to Turkish pressure and betraying his own promise to properly recognize the Armenian genocide,” Hamparian said by telephone.
Hamparian told Yahoo that Obama’s annual statement, usually issued on April 24, was not finished yet but that the officials were very clear that it would not deviate from past years in which he has shunned the term “genocide.” White House officials declined to comment.
Hamparian said this year’s decision carried a special sting because the Obama administration recently applied the “genocide” label to atrocities carried out by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“There’s absolutely no excuse” to withhold the same designation in the Armenian case, he said.
As a senator, Obama supported but did not co-sponsor a 2007 resolution calling for the use of the term “genocide” when discussing the Armenian tragedy. (Hillary Clinton, then a senator, co-sponsored the measure. As secretary of state, however, she did not use the term. Aides to her presidential campaign did not return emails seeking her current position.)
And when he was running for the presidency in 2008, Obama could hardly have been clearer.
“My firmly held conviction [is] 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,” he said in a statement. “As president I will recognize the Armenian genocide.”
Once in office, however, Obama’s grip on that conviction apparently loosened, and he joined other presidents like George W. Bush in saying one thing during the campaign and another from the Oval Office.
In 2015, the 100th anniversary of the tragic events, Obama’s statement referred to “Meds Yeghern,” Armenian for “the great calamity.” He also included a reference to Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the term “genocide” during World War II.
Pope Francis referred to the same events as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” In 1981, then president Ronald Reagan referred to “the genocide of the Armenians.”
Forty-three U.S. states have recognized the Armenian genocide. Twenty-four countries and the European Parliament have done so as well.