Despite pressure from activists and lawmakers, President Obama on Saturday again refused to declare the 1915 mass killings of Armenians a genocide.
In a statement to mark Armenian Remembrance Day, Obama described the killings of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks as “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
He referred to it as a “devastating chapter,” and said that “we must keep its memory alive in honor of those who were murdered so that we do not repeat the grave mistakes of the past.”
Yet for the second year in a row, Obama avoided describing the episode as a genocide.
Armenian American groups and their allies in Congress have been pushing for use of the term, and as a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama promised he would.
But Turkey, a key U.S. ally, has been warning that it would badly damage relations if the U.S. government tried to “politicize history.” Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Washington last month after the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a nonbinding resolution calling the killings a genocide.
Obama’s statement referred to the episode as “Meds Yeghern” an Armenian phrase that translates roughly as “great calamity.” Obama appeared to be trying to draw a parallel with Shoah, used by Jews to refer to the Holocaust.
He also referred to his past statements that the killings amounted to genocide. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” he said.
Fourteen U.S. senators, led by Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.) recently wrote to Obama to urge him to use genocide in his annual address. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) made a similar plea in a letter sent to Obama two days ago.
The United States relies on Turkey as a transit point for equipment for U.S. troops in the region. Turkey is also currently a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council, and the Obama administration badly wants its vote of support for a pending resolution to impose additional sanctions on Iran to limit its nuclear activities.
Armenian American groups held out hope that Obama would change his language this year, though he did not use the term in his first official statement, issued last year, on the subject.
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, said earlier this week that he hoped that Obama would be giving more emphasis to human rights concerns this year. Hamparian noted that Obama met with the Dalai Lama this year, after sidestepping a meeting which would have angered Beijing last year.
The Armenian National Committee of America issued a statement Saturday describing Obama’s declaration as “yet another disgraceful capitulation to Turkey’s threats, offering euphemisms and evasive terminology to characterize this crime against humanity.”
Obama also said in his statement that he saluted the Turks who saved Armenians in 1915, and that he remained “encouraged by the dialogue among Turks and Armenians, and within Turkey itself, regarding this painful history.”
He expressed “deep admiration for [the Armenians and] their contributions which transcend this dark past and give us hope for the future.”