President Barack Obama will not use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in his annual statement commemorating the historic atrocity
President Barack Obama will not use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in his annual statement commemorating the historic atrocity later this month.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes informed Armenian-American activists of the decision in a meeting at the White House on Tuesday.
Obama will send Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to Armenia this week to represent the United States at a commemoration of the genocide, a years-long slaughter traditionally observed on April 24. Historians mark 1915 as the start of the genocide, making this year the 100th anniversary.
The Armenians were slaughtered during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, largely in what is modern-day Turkey, at the end of World War I. Today’s Turkish leaders are infuriated by charges that the founding fathers of their nation committed genocide.
As a candidate in 2008, Obama issued a statement promising to describe the plight of the Armenians as a genocide, but in his previous five statements he has not done so — mainly to avoid a rupture in diplomatic relations with Turkey, a NATO ally and key partner in addressing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
Armenian-American leaders, hopeful that the 100th anniversary and recent support for their view from Pope Francis, were dejected on Tuesday.
“This is a betrayal of the truth, a betrayal of trust, a disgraceful national surrender to a foreign gag order being imposed by the government of Turkey,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, who attended the White House meeting.
A statement from the White House noted that McDonough and Rhodes “pledged that the United States will use the occasion to urge a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts that we believe is in the interest of all parties.”
“I’m deeply disappointed that the president, once again, will fail to properly describe the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 for what it was — genocide,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “How long must the victims and their families wait before our nation has the courage to confront Turkey with the truth about the murderous past of the Ottoman Empire? If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?”
The White House did not say who else might travel with Lew to Friday’s event at the Dzidzernagapert Memorial in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan. But Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she will be part of the delegation.
“It’s thrilling and humbling to represent the United States and the Armenian-American community on this trip. From an early age, my mother instilled in me the importance of recognizing the genocide and the anxiety that the Armenian people feel about the need to acknowledge it. It’s long past time for our government to speak clearly about history,” Speier said in a statement.
Sources familiar with the issue say the White House also considered sending U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who has written in detail about the Armenian genocide, but that she is not expected to join the trip.