President Barack Obama on Wednesday called the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915 "one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century," but again broke a 2008 campaign promise to label the tragedy a "genocide." Doing so would have angered NATO ally Turkey.
Obama, who called the massacre "genocide" during his 2008 run for the White House and vowed to use the term as president, stopped short of doing so in his statement, as he has in the past. Turkey, a NATO member, fiercely disputes the genocide charge and has warned that formal U.S. steps to use the term will hamper relations. Turkey's ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, sharply criticized a similar statement from Obama in 2011, taking to Twitter to denounce it as inaccurate, flawed and one-sided.
Today we commemorate the Meds Yeghern ["great calamity"] and honor those who perished in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Ninety-eight years ago, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. We pause to reflect on the lives extinguished and remember the unspeakable suffering that occurred. In so doing, we are joined by millions across the world and in the United States, where it is solemnly commemorated by our states, institutions, communities, and families. We also remind ourselves of our commitment to ensure that such dark chapters of history are not repeated.Things were different in California, which has a large Armenian population and whose governor does not have to worry about Turkey. John Ellis writes at The Fresno Bee:
Gov. [Jerry] Brown embraced using the term "genocide," adding in his proclamation that the events were a "deliberate attempt by the Ottoman Empire to eliminate all traces of a thriving, noble civilization."
April 24 is Genocide Remembrance Day and is marked by Armenians worldwide. It has also become a contentious day in American politics as the word genocide is carefully avoided by U.S. presidents.
But it has been a different story in California. Back in 1985, then-Gov. George Deukmejian said it was time for President Reagan and Congress to "stop buckling under to Turkish pressure" on the genocide issue.
Subsequent governors have used the term in annual proclamations.
In Fresno on Wednesday morning, a group of Homenetmen Sassoon Troup 12 scouts raised the Armenian flag in front of Fresno City Hall as part of the annual commemoration.