I Will Recognize the Armenian Genocide

Promise Broken President Obama has broken the following promise:

"Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term 'genocide' to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. … as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide." — "Barack Obama on the Importance of US-Armenia Relations"

Source: http://www.barackobama.com/2008/01/19/barack_obama_on_the_importance.php

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Updated: April 24, 2009

Armenian genocide not named in statement on the day of remembrance

The last time we checked in on President Obama's promise about the Armenian genocide, he had traveled to Turkey but failed to use the word "genocide" when asked about the historical events. During the presidential campaign, he had said he would recognize the Armenian genocide, and as a U.S. Senator, he criticized the U.S. State Department's aversion to the word.

We wondered if Obama would use the word "genocide" when he was back in the United States. Armenian groups in the United States expected him to make a statement on April 24th, a day of memorial for the Armenian genocide.

The Armenian genocide was carried out by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923, and resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million, according to a proposed resolution considered by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. (That resolution failed due to Bush administration concerns that it would alienate Turkey, which borders Iraq. The issue has long been controversial in Turkey, where leaders have resisted the label "genocide.")

Obama did issue the statement on the 24th, in which he described the "heavy weight" of history and the "terrible events of 1915," adding "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed."

But he did not use the word "genocide."

Obama's promise, and his statements while a U.S. Senator, indicate that he thought the word itself was important. In 2006, a U.S. ambassador was recalled after he used the word "genocide" in reference to Armenia, which spurred Obama to write a letter to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying that he thought the U.S. position on the issue was "untenable." (Read the letter via the Armenians for Obama Web site.)

Obama's April 24th statement still doesn't meet the terms of his promise.


White House Press Office, Statement of President Barack Obama on Armenian Remembrance Day, April 24, 2009

Armenians for Obama, letter from Barack Obama to Condoleezza Rice, July 28, 2006

Congressional Record, Statement by Sen. Barack Obama on the Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, April 28, 2008

Updated: April 6, 2009

Armenian genocide not named during Obama's foreign trip

President Barack Obama said during the presidential campaign that he would recognize the Armenian genocide. But on a recent overseas trip, he seemed to take pains to avoid uttering the word itself.

The Armenian genocide was carried out by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923, and resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million, according to a proposed resolution considered by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. The resolution failed in the face of Bush administration concerns that it would alienate Turkey, which borders Iraq. The issue has long been controversial in Turkey, where leaders have resisted the label "genocide."

Obama addressed the issue in response to a reporter's question at a joint news conference in Ankara with President Abdullah Gul of Turkey.

Obama said his views hadn't changed, but then went on to answer the question without using the word "genocide."

It's a little long, but we think it's worth quoting the entire exchange here so you can read it for yourself. The transcript identifies the reporter as Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune :

Parsons: "As a U.S. senator you stood with the Armenian-American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide and you also supported the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution. You said, as president you would recognize the genocide. And my question for you is, have you changed your view, and did you ask President Gul to recognize the genocide by name?"

Obama: "Well, my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul's leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.

"I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.

"And so what I told the president was I want to be as constructive as possible in moving these issues forward quickly. And my sense is, is that they are moving quickly. I don't want to, as the president of the United States, pre-empt any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the near future. I just want to say that we are going to be a partner in working through these issues in such a way that the most important parties, the Turks and the Armenians, are finally coming to terms in a constructive way."

Parsons: "So if I understand you correctly, your view hasn't changed, but you'll put in abeyance the issue of whether to use that word in the future?"

Obama: "What I'd like to do is to encourage President Gul to move forward with what have been some very fruitful negotiations. And I'm not interested in the United States in any way tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having useful discussions."

Later, in a speech to the Turkish Parliament, Obama brought up the historical events and referred to his previous views, but again he did not declare the events genocide:

"Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive."

There are some who might argue that Obama is using wise diplomacy here, that as a guest in Turkey he was right not to antagonize his host, and that he could keep his promise when he's back in the United States. But we think Obama is trying to have it both ways. He says his views haven't changed, but he clearly avoids stating those views. And he does not use the term "genocide," which was the heart of what his campaign promise was all about. When he made the promise, Obama specifically referred to a diplomat who had been fired for using the word genocide; Obama during the campaign said the diplomat had used the word "properly." The argument that it is undiplomatic to antagonize Turkey is the same argument Bush administration officials used when they successfully opposed the 2007 resolution in the House of Representatives.

Obama will no doubt have other opportunities to address this issue, if he chooses to do so. April 24, for example, is a day of memorial for the Armenian genocide, and Obama could make a specific statement then. But based on what we've seen so far, Obama won't say the word "genocide," even when discussing the events in question. During the campaign, he specifically said he would. So we're rating this promise broken.


Chicago Tribune, In Turkey, Obama avoids the word 'genocide,' April 6, 2009

New York Times, President Obama's Remarks to the Turkish Parliament , April 6, 2009

Time, Transcript of press conference with President Obama and President Gul of Turkey , April 6, 2009

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