President Obama, in Turkey, raises Armenian issues
Avoids the word genocide
Asks Turkey to open Armenia border ident-obama-in-turkey-raises-armenian-issues
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Friday April 10, 2009

Washington, - In a first for a U.S. president, Barack Obama used his
visit to Ankara to publicly speak of the need for Turkey to address
its past and improve its present relations with Armenia.

But citing reports of an impending breakthrough in talks between
Armenia and Turkey, Mr. Obama effectively sidestepped his pre-election
promise to clearly recognize the destruction of Ottoman Armenians as
genocide. Mr. Obama also encouraged Turkish and Armenian officials "to
complete an agreement" in an expeditious manner. Armenian agenda
without the G word

In his April 6 speech at Turkey's Grand National Assembly and in a
joint press conference with Turkish president Abdullah Gül earlier
the same day, Mr. Obama became the first U.S. president to publicly
air some Armenian-American concerns on a visit to Turkey. (See

Addressing the parliament, Mr. Obama recalled America's own treatment
of Native Americans and Blacks, and urged Turks to address the
"terrible events of 1915" in a way that is "honest, open, and
constructive." Extolling the benefits of opening the border with
Armenia - which was closed and is kept closed by Turkey - he said the
United States "strongly supports normalization of relations between
Turkey and Armenia." He also invited Turkey to play a "constructive
role" in the Karabakh peace process.

At the press conference, the subject was formally prompted by Chicago
Tribune and Los Angeles Times correspondent Christi Parsons, who
referred to Mr. Obama's comments on the Armenian Genocide as a senator
and his pre-election pledges to recognize the Genocide as
president. Ms. Parsons asked whether the president still held the same
views and whether he asked Mr. Gül to recognize the Genocide.

Mr. Obama responded that he had not changed his views, which are "on
the record." But he then turned to the subject of talks between
Armenia and Turkey that could "bear fruit very quickly very soon" and
which, he said, he did not want to "tilt" in favor of either side,
presumably by speaking more candidly.

In his follow-up, Mr. Gül outlined some of the points of the
official Turkish position, denying the Armenian Genocide, and seeking
to shift it from the realm of law and politics to the realm of
academic history.

The Turkish president did not sound as upbeat as Mr. Obama about the
prospect of a breakthrough in talks with Armenia, noting only that he
"would like to see a good resolution of these discussions," and
adding, "we have a lot of work" to do, including resolving "issues
between Armenia and Azerbaijan."

Talks with Armenia: PR campaign or real progress?

Turkish officials and their supporters have offered contradictory
opinions on the status of talks with Armenia and whether they might be
nearing some kind of a turning point.

On the eve of Mr. Obama's visit, a media blitz sought to play up
progress in talks. Leaks by anonymous, but presumably Turkish and some
U.S. officials to the Wall Street Journal even suggested April 16 as a
day when an Armenian-Turkish agreement could be signed. The story was
picked up by the Washington Times, Financial Times, and others.

Members of the congressional Turkey caucus spun the same story line,
urging Mr. Obama to encourage Armenian and Turkish leaders to reach an

But speaking in London on April 3, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
said Turkey would not concede that the Ottoman treatment of Armenians
was genocide and again linked the establishment of relations with
Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The next day Mr. Gül
dismissed the Wall Street Journal report of the April 16 date as

In a comment for the media late Sunday night, Armenia's Foreign
Minister Edward Nalbandian stressed that there is a "mutual
understanding" between Armenia and Turkey that normalization can have
no preconditions, that there would be no linkages to the Genocide or
Karabakh, and that statements to the contrary "may be regarded as an
attempt to impede the progress reached in the negotiations."

Mr. Nalbandian then postponed by 24 hours his departure for Istanbul,
where he was to attend the Alliance of Civilizations meeting. Upon
arrival in the evening of April 6, he had a brief conversation with
Mr. Obama and then a four-way meeting that included the foreign
ministers of Turkey and Switzerland, which has recently hosted talks
between Armenian and Turkish officials.

An unnamed but senior U.S. official told Reuters that Mr. Obama "urged
[Armenian and Turkish ministers] to complete an agreement with

In the meantime, the Azerbaijani leadership expressed public distress
over Armenian-Turkish talks and President Ilham Aliyev refused to
attend the Istanbul conference - even after being promised a meeting
with Mr. Obama, Turkish media reported.

On April 7, Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan again spoke of
progress made in talks, but a report carried by the Anatolia news
agency referred to no timeline. In a comment that could be seen as
directed to the United States, Mr. Babacan suggested that "third
countries should act sensitively during this ongoing process." Mixed
community reaction

Adding to the week's confusion were the substantially different
interpretations of Mr. Obama's remarks offered by Armenian-American
advocacy groups.

Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)
said in a statement, "President Obama missed a valuable opportunity to
honor his public pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide." At the
same time, he welcomed as "a step in the right direction" Mr. Obama's
"willingness to raise his commitment to recognizing the Armenian
Genocide, even indirectly."

In a comment for the Armenian Reporter, Ross Vartian of the
U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC) said, "President Obama
made it clear that his well-known views on the Armenian Genocide have
not changed and that Turkey needed to face its history. Yet he could
have and should have said the words `Armenian Genocide' at a time and
place perfect for doing so."

"President Obama stands by his pledge regarding affirmation of the
Armenian genocide," ran the headline of the Armenian Assembly of
America statement released to the media. Unlike the ANCA, the Assembly
offered no criticism, pointing instead to Mr. Obama's comment that he
hasn't changed his view.

The Assembly's Bryan Ardouny noted, "For the first time, a
U.S. President has delivered a direct message to Turkish officials in
their own country that he stands behind his steadfast support and
strong record of affirmation of the Armenian Genocide."

The Assembly statement sidestepped the fact that Mr. Obama chose to
sidestep the word genocide.

Incidentally, on April 6 the Hawaii State House of Representatives
passed a measure condemning the Armenian Genocide. Mr. Obama's home
state became the 42nd U.S. state to recognize the Genocide.