Barack Obama

Obama Again Breaks Promise to Call Armenian Genocide a 'Genocide'

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Yeah, this stuff IS pretty hard, isn't it? |||

Another April 24 has come and gone, which means that for the fifth year in a row, President Barack Obama has broken his solemn promise to call the century-old Armenian genocide a "genocide" on Armenian Remembrance Day.

In January 2008, describing historical events by their accurate names had been one of candidate Obama's fiercest urgencies of now:

I […] share with Armenian Americans—so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors—a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history. As a U.S. Senator, I have stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term "genocide" to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Genocide, sadly, persists to this day, and threatens our common security and common humanity. […] America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.

In case his position on the "untenable policy" wasn't clear enough, Obama sent his chief foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, whose influential 2002 book A Problem From Hell: American in the Age of Genocide book pivoted in part on the Armenian recognition question, to give a plaintive YouTube appeal to the Armenian-American community:

So what happened this April 24? The same thing that happens every April 24, regardless of the Oval Office occupant: The president realized that it's a real pain in the neck to piss off Turkey. Here's his careful verbiage:

Today we commemorate the Meds Yeghern 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.

I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed. 

That was then. |||

Well, except for the whole "untenable policy" part. Lest you think the president's words sound indistinguishable from condemning a "genocide," here's the headline at Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse: "Turkey Relieved Obama Did Not Use 'G' Word." A snippet from that:

For at least the past three decades, since the White House decided to release a statement in recognition of the Armenian Remembrance Day, one of the main missions of the Turkish ambassadors and Turkey's lobbying firms in the US capital have been to prevent the US president and Congress from uttering the word "genocide" on this day. The last time the House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted in favor of a resolution on the subject in March 2010, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Washington. In 2006, when a similar resolution was discussed, Ankara even threatened the US administration that if they were to recognize what had happened to Armenians as "genocide," they would end the US use of Incirlik air base, which served as a crucial supply line to the troops on the Iraqi battlefield. Whatever the US presidents' personal opinions on this issue have been, none have used the "g" word in their official capacity. Ronald Reagan used it once in 1981, but he refrained from citing it again while in office.

It's good to be a strategically important country, is one lesson here. The other, as I put in 2011, is that

The more that the Samantha Powerses of the world use military force to halt even pre-genocide, the less able they are to speak the noble truth-telling language of anti-genocide. Put more simply, if your anti-genocide crusade requires a drop of logistical or diplomatic support from Johnny Turkey (or anyone else in any kind of denial business), you can kiss your haughty truth-telling principles good-bye.

A U.S. foreign policy that isn't constantly flying war planes from the Incirlik air base might be one that doesn't let foreign governments dictate its language about century-old events.

I wrote a couple of pieces for the L.A. Times about this issue back in 2007.

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24 responses to “Obama Again Breaks Promise to Call Armenian Genocide a 'Genocide'

  1. What difference, at this point, does it make? It’s not like it’s seared into anybody’s memory.

    1. You have no fucking idea….

      I, a half-turk, live at the outskirts of one of the largest Armenian enclaves in the country. These guys still have posters prominently displayed in their businesses that bring to mind the racist anti-Japanese posters from WW-II.

      Turks on the other hand grow up being taught in school that the whole affair was an evacuation to get civilians out of the war zone so pro-Russian partisans couldn’t commit attrocities while hiding among the population.

      Their reaction to being accused of genocide is, well, like John’s visceral reaction when someone points out – dispassionately – Lincoln’s tyranny.

      Both ethnicities have been propagandizing each other with divergent versions of history that neither group can accept the other might have a point – that would mean questioning the truthfulness of trusted mentors.

      What is needed is for the Turkish Republic to say that the Ottoman Empire did systematically drive Armenians out into the wilderness to die of exposure and starvation, but as they aren’t Ottomans, and as the Ottomans were entirely conquered and occupied by the Allies in WW-1 to seek reparations from them. And the Turkish govt needs to lose the stick up its butt about the word genocide.

      1. Both ethnicities have been propagandizing each other with divergent versions of history that neither group can accept the other might have a point – that would mean questioning the truthfulness of trusted mentors.

        Tarran,

        Is this part true, as I have no idea.

        One and a half million Armenians were killed, out of a total of two and a half million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

        1. When I dug into this to put together a lecture, the number I came up with was about 1 million our of 1.8 million.

        2. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands died, but it was a huge number.

          Part of the problem is that there are no records. The Turks aren’t Germans who love to make lists and monitor process efficiency. It’s like trying to estimate how many marsh arabs Saddam slaughtered.

      2. It has always seemed odd to me that the Turkish government didn’t do just what you suggest from the beginning. Why not just say that the Ottomans treated the Armenians very poorly and Turkey is better and doesn’t do shit like that.

      3. What is needed is for the Turkish Republic to say that the Ottoman Empire did systematically drive Armenians out into the wilderness to die of exposure and starvation, but as they aren’t Ottomans, and as the Ottomans were entirely conquered and occupied by the Allies in WW-1 to seek reparations from them.

        tarran, I’m having trouble parsing this. Are you saying the Armenians should seek reparations from the countries that were the “Allies” side in WWI?

        1. Yep! 🙂

          The allies took over the Ottoman empire and partitioned it among themselves. That implies taking over the debts and obligations as well.

          I am being somewhat assholish about this because I am tired of being yelled at for something I didn’t do, that my parents didn’t do, that my grandparents certainly didn’t do.

          Of course, the Turks are being asses because it’s one of those Republics built according to Woodrow Wilson’s racist notion that each ethnicity should have its own country, hence there are no ARmenians of Kurds, their Mountain or Hill Turks, etc. Also Turks are fucking insanely stubborn to the point where many will harm themselves rather than being humiliated.

  2. Its not just Turkey, but there are some Jews who object as well.

    “”””However, we must also be vigilant and oppose the mischaracterization of historical events, other than the Jewish Holocaust, as genocide.”””

    http://njjewishnews.com/articl…..-to-decide

    1. The careless and inappropriate use of the term “genocide” outside the context of the Jewish Holocaust diminishes the significance and uniqueness of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people.

      So copyright the term then. Jeez. I guess they don’t want anyone horning in on their turf.

      1. Of course, “holocaust” has essentially already been monopolized and means only the Holocaust. It’s crazy that any Jews want to monopolize “genocide” as well.

    2. Lots of parallels though. Including genocide denial:

      http://www.tallarmeniantale.com/

      And, bonus creepy points for invoking Goebbels to defend your denial perspective.

    3. I rather suspect that you’ve hit the nail on the head there.

      Sure, not pissing off the Turks might explain why the US govt is reluctant to call genocide.

      But why the reluctance elsewhere, like the Cambodia, Rwanda, and Balkans? The only time the US State Department declared an ongoing conflict to be “genocide” was Colin Powell’s use of the term to describe Darfur.

    4. The fuck? It’s their actual position that there has never been a genocide other than the Holocaust?

      This would be a nicer world if that were true. Goddamn, my people are dumb sometimes.

      1. The author’s position is that Israel should not designate non-Holocaust atrocities as genocide, even if they are, because that would detract from the uniqueness of the Holocaust and interfere with good relations with countries like Turkey.

    5. It’s their actual position that there has never been a genocide other than the Holocaust?

      Yep. The only thing worse than denial of genocide is the monopolization of genocide. You also see this in USA with some black leaders claiming that the suffering of non-black groups in the US doesn’t count. It’s basically trying to monopolize victim status.

  3. is an unkept Obama promise, at this point, news? And how many of his supporters have a clue what an Armenian is, or why calling it a genocide or something else even matters?

    1. “And how many of his supporters have a clue what an Armenian is”

      They know Kim Kardashian…

      1. zing!

  4. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed.”

    Has anybody else noticed that whenever Obama says that he is going to be “clear” or “consistent” the next words are anything but clear and consistent.

    I really thing that Obama thinks that “transparent” means Orwellian. If that is the case, his is the most transparent administration ever.

    1. It’s as if he channels Nixon:
      “Let me be perfectly clear here” followed by more bafflegab than anyone can parse.

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  6. The problem is that he promised to use the g-word and he didn’t, because of the power of the Turkish lobby (and possibly the influence of certain Turkish allies).

    But the whole genocide thing is ridiculous. Certain kinds of mass murder are designated as genocide, and some aren’t, based on whether the mass-murderers were trying to wipe out an ethnic or religious group. It’s like the hate-speech laws – there’s regular murder, and there’s the really bad kind of murder motivated by racism.

    Once your mass murder passes the one million mark, I don’t think the killers should be allowed to mitigate their offense by saying, “gosh, at least I’m not a *racist!*”

  7. The armenians were targets of increasing oppression from their Moslem overlords for a period of time before it became outright genocide. If you look at the progression of policies from the Ottoman govt, it’s pretty clearly a trial run for Hitler’s final solution.

    Apparently, Kurds acted as guards for some of the desert concentration camps, so I’m guessing the Armenians may have a bit of resentment for them as well.

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