New York Times
April 24 2010


Obama Marks Genocide Without Saying the Word

By PETER BAKER
Published: April 24, 2010

ASHEVILLE, N.C. ' President Obama, who as a candidate vowed to use the
term genocide to describe the Ottoman slaughter of 1.5 million
Armenians nearly a century ago, once again declined to do so on
Saturday as he marked the anniversary of the start of the killings.

Trying to navigate one of the more emotionally fraught foreign policy
challenges, Mr. Obama issued a statement from his weekend getaway here
commemorating the victims of the mass killings but tried to avoid
alienating Turkey, a NATO ally, which adamantly rejects the genocide
label.

`On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that 95 years
ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began,' Mr. Obama
said in the statement, which largely echoed the same language he used
on this date a year ago. `In that dark moment of history, 1.5 million
Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days
of the Ottoman Empire.'

When he was running for president and seeking votes from some of the
1.5 million Armenian Americans, Mr. Obama had no qualms about using
the term genocide and criticized the Bush administration for firing an
ambassador who dared to say the word. As a senator, he supported
legislation calling the killings genocide.

`As president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,' he said in a
statement on Jan. 19, 2008, that used the word 10 more times. He said
that `the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion,
or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact.' He added,
`An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical
facts is an untenable policy.'

Two years later, as president, he used none of that sort of language,
though as he did a year ago, he hinted to Armenians that he still felt
the same way. `I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred
in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,' he said. `It is
in all of our interest to see the achievement a full, frank and just
acknowledgment of the facts.'

The issue has been a point of contention in Congress as well. In
March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted narrowly to condemn
the mass killings as an act of genocide, defying a last-minute plea
from the Obama administration to forgo a vote that threatened to
jeopardize the United States-backed efforts toward Turkish-Armenian
reconciliation.

Turkey, which acknowledges the killings but denies that they were a
planned genocide, briefly recalled its ambassador from Washington in
protest.

On Saturday, the Armenian National Committee of America, an advocacy
group based in Washington, condemned the `euphemisms and evasive
terminology' and called Mr. Obama's statement `yet another disgraceful
capitulation to Turkey's threats.'

`Today we join with Armenians in the United States and around the
world in voicing our sharp disappointment with the President's failure
to properly condemn and commemorate the Armenian genocide,' said Ken
Hachikian, the committee's chairman. He added that Mr. Obama's failure
to following through on his campaign pledge was `allowing Turkey to
tighten its gag-rule on American genocide policy.'

Although the president's statement did not use the term `genocide' it
was strong enough to provoke a sharp statement from the Turkish
Foreign Ministry, which called the language a reflection of a
one-sided political perception.

The Obama statement comes as the reconciliation between Armenia and
Turkey has become deadlocked. Armenia announced Thursday that it would
suspend ratification of peace accords with Turkey, apparently because
it was angered that Turkey was making new demands.

Analysts indicated Armenia believed that Turkey was trying to put
pressure on Armenia to reach a separate peace treaty with another
neighbor, Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally.


Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow, and Sebnem Arsu
from Izmir, Turkey.