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Obama won’t use term ‘genocide’ at 100th anniversary commemoration of Armenian massacres

Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial
People lay flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia, on Tuesday.
(Karen Minasyan / AFP/Getty Images)

White House officials have decided that President Obama will not use the word “genocide” to describe the killings of more than 1 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks when he commemorates the deaths  Friday, the 100th anniversary of the massacres.

The decision, revealed Tuesday in a meeting with Armenian American groups, backs down from a previous Obama pledge and sparked anger from activists.

“The president’s surrender represents a national disgrace,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America. “It is a betrayal of the truth, and it is a betrayal of trust.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who has led efforts in Congress to recognize the genocide, said before the announcement that now was the time to recognize the genocide officially.


“Every year it comes up, there’s a different reason given why this is not the right time,” Schiff said during a meeting with Times reporters and editors in  Washington.

“It’s the 100th anniversary, the president made a commitment to recognize the genocide, the pope just did and if this isn’t the right opportunity, then when will it be the right opportunity?”

White House officials released a statement after the meeting with Armenian American groups which did not use the word “genocide.” The statement from National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. would use the anniversary of the massacres to “urge a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts that we believe is in the interest of all parties.”

Hamparian said he and other Armenian American leaders learned the news at the White House meeting, which was attended by Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, and Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor.


During the meeting, which lasted just short of an hour, he said, the group was told that the U.S. would send a delegation to Armenia this week, led by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

Whether to use the word “genocide” to describe the killings has been a fraught political issue for years. U.S. administrations of both parties have resisted using it out of deference to Turkey, a NATO ally that has consistently rejected the label and has spent millions of dollars lobbying U.S. officials on the issue.

But activists had hoped Obama would break with the past this year, particularly after Pope Francis referred to genocide in a statement just over a week ago.

Obama, as a senator and a candidate for president, supported using the term to describe the killings committed during the political upheaval surrounding World War I.

-- Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times