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Friday, April 24, 2015

Obama, Reagan, and the Armenian Genocide

Linda Feldmann reports at The Christian Science Monitor:
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama promised, if elected, to refer to the Turkish mass killing of Armenians that began in 1915 as genocide.
But on this anniversary, the 100th, President Obama has once again avoided the word. In a statement released Thursday night, he referred to the genocide only as “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century."
“Beginning in 1915, the Armenian people of the Ottoman Empire were deported, massacred, and marched to their deaths,” Obama said. “Their culture and heritage in their ancient homeland were erased. Amid horrific violence that saw suffering on all sides, one and a half million Armenians perished.”
The reason for Obama’s reticence: Turkey, and its role as a key ally in NATO and in the conflicts of the Middle East. Armenia, a nation of 3 million people in the Caucasus, pales in geostrategic importance.
President Reagan did use the word in a 1981 proclamation:
Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it—and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples—the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.
He did not do it again, however.  At a 1983 public event, he sidestepped:
 Q. Mr. President, my name is Keshishian from California. I would like to know if the American Government has a stand on the Turkish genocide of the Armenians of 1915.
The President. The genocide of
Q. The Armenians in 1915.
Ms. Small. The Turkish and Armenian genocide.
The President. Oh. I—the only official stand that I can tell you we have is one opposed to terrorism on both sides. And I can't help but believe that there's virtually no one alive today who was living in the era of that terrible trouble. And it seems to me we ought to be able to sit down now, an entirely new group of people who know only of that from reading of it, to sit down and work out our differences and bring peace at least to that segment of humanity.
In 1985, in response to a question from a Turkish newspaper, he not only declined to use the word, but actually opposed a congressional resolution on the genocide.
Q. Turkey, like the U.S., faces constant international terrorist attacks. Armenian terrorist groups claim responsibility for Turkish victims. However, Congress is about to vote on an Armenian resolution-referring to the so-called genocide in 1915. Do you approve congressional action on such a sensitive issue?

The President. I know this is a deeply emotional issue, and I sympathize with all those who suffered during the tragic events of 1915. I also profoundly regret that Turks and Armenians have so far not been able to resolve their differences. Nevertheless, there is no question regarding my opposition to terrorism. On those grounds alone, my administration opposes congressional action on the kind of resolution to which you refer. We are concerned such resolutions might inadvertently encourage or reward terrorist attacks on Turks and Turkish-Americans. We also oppose them because they could harm relations with an important ally.

I hope the Turkish people understand that in our form of government the Executive can only seek to persuade the Congress and does not control congressional actions. Therefore, these resolutions, if adopted, would only express an opinion of the Congress. They would not and could not change my policy toward Turkey or my commitment to the fight against international terrorism.