Philippe Naughton

Times Online
April 6, 2009

Barack Obama found his diplomatic skills tested to the limit today
when he was forced to address the Turkish slaughter of Armenians during
the dying days of the Ottoman Empire without using the word "genocide".

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a
systematic campaign of extermination during the First World War, and
during his campaign for the presidency Mr Obama declared that "America
deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide".

Today, during a joint press conference in Ankara with his Turkish
counterpart Abdullah Gul, President Obama said that his views had
not changed but he took extreme care not to use the word "genocide"
so as not to inflame his hosts, who have always denied the claims.

Instead, he expressed the hope that talks between Turkey and Armenia
could "bear fruit very soon" and he wanted to support that process.

"Well, my views are on the record and I have not changed views,"
Mr Obama said in response to a question about the genocide and his
stance on it.

"I want to focus not on my views right now, but on the views of the
Turkish and Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with
a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should
encourage that."

Responding to the same question, Mr Gul appeared to back Mr Obama
by declaring that it was "not a legal or political issue, but an
historical issue" which was being addressed by a joint commission
of historians.

Even though he took a swipe at members of the Armenian diaspora
who use the issue to "cling to their identity", he also appeared to
suggest that a breakthrough was near.

"Our view is that we should let the historians, the experts, sit down,"
Mr Gul said.

"We are ready to face the reality, the facts. I cannot be the
politicians who decide what happened when, who lost the most lives
and who is right and who is wrong."