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.
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.