Despite Campaign Pledge, Obama Won’t Call 1915 Killings of Armenians ‘Genocide’

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John Hudson writes: Putting geopolitics above a longtime campaign promise, President Barack Obama will refrain from using the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. The decision came after a senior delegation of Turkish diplomats traveled to Washington to meet with White House officials and three days before the 100th anniversary of the mass killings.

“President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace. It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust.”

— Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America

U.S. officials speaking to Foreign Policy said the White House had contemplated recognizing the genocide and alerted State Department officials who deal with Turkey to prepare for the potential diplomatic blowback.

“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. As president I will recognize the Armenian genocide.”

— Senator Barack Obama

In the end, though, the White House decided against using the term. Administration officials relayed the decision to a group of Armenian-American leaders Tuesday afternoon, prompting an immediate backlash from those who have spent decades trying to get Washington to recognize what many historians describe as the first genocide of the 20th century.

“Is this the time to kick Turkey in the balls given everything that’s going on in the region?”

— Former congressional aide with years of experience working with Washington’s highly active Armenian lobby

“President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace,” Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement. “It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust.”

Many officials at the State Department opposed the decision for fear of losing Turkey’s cooperation on a host of key issues, most notably the war against the Islamic State militant group, which has seized control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq. Turkey hosts a training camp for anti-ISIS fighters and owns an air base the United States wants more access to.

“Is this the time to kick Turkey in the balls given everything that’s going on in the region?” said a former congressional aide with years of experience working with Washington’s highly active Armenian lobby.

To date, no sitting U.S. president has ever verbalized the word “genocide” when referring to the atrocities committed against Armenians in the early years of World War I. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued a written proclamation about the “genocide of the Armenians,” but subsequent diplomatic headaches prompted his administration to reverse course and drop all explicit references to that term.

Successive administrations have made hedged statements about the genocide, but the Obama administration had come under particularly intense pressure to make a firm declaration given a campaign promise that candidate Obama made in 2008.

“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,” then-Sen. Obama said in a statement. “As president I will recognize the Armenian genocide.”

That promise remains unfulfilled as the president juggles the impulses of idealism and realpolitik at a time of intense tumult in the Middle East….(read more)

ForeignPolicy.com



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