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Trump declines to use the word 'genocide' in describing Armenian deaths

President Trump prides himself on speaking bluntly on the international stage and, at times, breaking with diplomatic norms. But he continued a tradition on Monday that has infuriated many Armenian Americans -- refusing to use the word "genocide" in describing the killings of more than 1 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

Trump issued a statement on Monday, the 102nd anniversary of the massacre, commemorating "one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century." 

"Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire," he said. "I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many."

The language was similar to that of President Obama and other Trump predecessors who were concerned with upsetting Turkey, which disputes that a genocide took place, and potentially impacting U.S. foreign policy priorities in the Middle East.

The Turkish government has spent millions lobbying Congress on the issue, succeeding in persuading Obama to reverse a campaign promise to label the killings a genocide. Trump has forged a close relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, becoming the first Western leader to congratulate him by telephone after a referendum last week granted him sweeping new powers. Trump drew heavy criticism from human rights and pro-democracy groups for the move.  

Activists in the United States continued to voice frustration over the omission of the word "genocide" in marking the history. It is a particularly sensitive issue in California, which is home to the country's largest population of people of Armenian descent, with more than 200,000 living in Los Angeles County.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement that "President Trump is effectively outsourcing U.S. genocide-prevention policy to Recep Erdogan, an arrogant and authoritarian dictator who clearly enjoys the public spectacle of arm-twisting American presidents into silence on Turkey's mass murder of millions of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other Christians.”

Trump's spokesman, Sean Spicer, was asked twice about the omission during Monday's briefing with reporters. "It is perfectly in keeping with the language that’s been used over and over again,” Spicer said.

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