April 24 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama avoided using the
word genocide on Friday when describing mass killings of Armenians
by Ottoman Turks in 1915 and welcomed efforts by Turkey and Armenia
to normalize relations.

As a presidential candidate, Obama, who took office in January, had
described the killings of Armenians as genocide, but he referred to
them as "atrocities" on Friday.

"Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th
century began," Obama said in a statement released by the White
House. "Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who
were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final
days of the Ottoman Empire."

Despite his careful word choice, Obama said his position on the
killings had not altered.

"I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and
my view of that history has not changed," he said. "My interest remains
the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."

Turkey and Armenia said this week they had agreed on a road map to
normalize ties after a century of hostility that traces its roots
to the 1915 mass killing and deportation of Armenians, which Armenia
says was genocide.

"I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize
their bilateral relations," Obama said. "Under Swiss auspices, the two
governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I
commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise."

Armenian American groups criticized Obama for not keeping a campaign
pledge to stick to the genocide characterization.

"I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment
with President Obama's failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize
the Armenian Genocide," said Ken Hachikians, chair of Armenian National
Committee of America.

"The president's statement today represents a retreat from his pledge
and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how
America confronts the crime of genocide."