April 24th, 2010
03:23 PM ET
13 years ago

Obama avoids labeling massacres of Armenians 'genocide'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/22/art.obama.0412t.gi.jpg caption =" President Barack Obama on Saturday strongly deplored the massacres of Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, but again avoided using the controversial term 'genocide' to describe it."](CNN) - President Barack Obama on Saturday strongly deplored the massacres of Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, but again avoided using the controversial term "genocide" to describe it.

In a statement commemorating Armenian Remembrance Day, Obama solemnly labeled the massacres and death marches as "one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century."

Tackling an issue fraught with political landmines, Obama referred to the event as "the Meds Yeghern," a term that means the "great catastrophe" and one that is used by Armenians to describe the killings.

Turkey, a moderate Muslim state and a strong ally of the United States, fiercely denies that a genocide occurred during the days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Ankara argues that Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians massacred each other on the killing fields of World War I.

Historians have extensively documented the Ottoman military's forced death march of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians into the Syrian desert in 1915. The massacres decimated the Armenian population in what is modern-day eastern Turkey.

Turkey pushes back against this characterization, and Ankara recalled its diplomat from the United States last month to protest the passage of a non-binding resolution in the House Foreign Relations Committee, which calls the 1915 killings a "genocide." Amb. Namik Tan has since returned to Washington.

Despite Obama's avoidance of the term "genocide," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said it regrets the expression of what it believes is a "wrong and one-sided political viewpoint" in the statement.

"Subjective memory records are the biggest enemy of historical facts. No nation can impose its memory records on another nation. Also, third countries do not have the right and authority to make judgments on the history of Turkish-Armenian relations based on political reasons."

Every year on April 24, Armenians around the world observe a remembrance day to honor the victims. For years, the Armenian government in Yerevan and influential Armenian diaspora groups have mounted a campaign to persuade other countries to formally label the events of 1915 "genocide."

The United Nations defines genocide as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Those acts include killings, causing serious bodily or mental harm, or enforcing living conditions on a group of people "calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

In Turkey's largest city of Istanbul on Saturday, people commemorated the event, saying "this pain belongs to all of us. This grief belongs to all of us." The event ended without incident as police circled the group to protect them. Nearby, a rival group waving Turkish flags and shouting nationalist slogans staged a counter protest.

As many as 200 people came out for the sit-in demonstration, led by mostly liberal intellectuals who are active in human rights issues. There were 20 to 25 counter-protesters.

When he was a presidential candidate, Obama said he would label the event a genocide, but like his recent predecessors he has not yet done so. In fact, the Turkish Foreign Ministry noted that "the written statements made by presidents of USA every year on April 24, has been made by President Obama this year."

However, Obama says his characterization of the event has been consistent.

"My view of that history has not changed. It is in all of our interest to see the achievement a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts," the president said in a statement released by the White House.

"The Meds Yeghern is a devastating chapter in the history of the Armenian people, and we must keep its memory alive in honor of those who were murdered and so that we do not repeat the grave mistakes of the past."

Obama praised Turks who saved Armenians in 1915 and said he was "encouraged by the dialogue among Turks and Armenians, and within Turkey itself" over "this painful history."

"Even as we confront the inhumanity of 1915, we also are inspired by the remarkable spirit of the Armenian people. While nothing can bring back those who were killed in the Meds Yeghern, the contributions that Armenians have made around the world over the last ninety-five years stand as a testament to the strength, tenacity and courage of the Armenian people."

Obama said he is joining Armenian-Americans and Armenians from around the world "to remember the awful events of 1915 with deep admiration for their contributions which transcend this dark past and give us hope for the future."

"The indomitable spirit of the Armenian people is a lasting triumph over those who set out to destroy them. Many Armenians came to the United States as survivors of the horrors of 1915. Over the generations, Americans of Armenian descent have richened our communities, spurred our economy, and strengthened
our democracy.

"The strong traditions and culture of Armenians also became the foundation of a new republic which has become a part of the community of nations, partnering with the world community to build a better future."

- CNN's Yesim Comert contributed to this report

Filed under: Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Will.

    The defenition of Genocide:While a precise definition varies among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

    April 24, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  2. art in kingwood

    Hey CNN, how about a page one story on the wide spread violence by Obamists in Phoenix ? The moment the governor signs a bill a riot breaks out amongst the Progressive elements, Obama's people.

    If this had been Tea Party folk CNN would be hysterical. CNN and Obama seem to think violence is o.k., as long it is supportive of their Progressive ideals.

    April 24, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  3. art in kingwood

    Yet the umptenth bait and switch by the God King Obama. After a while CNN you have to start calling this guy a liar and corrupt, not that he is just nuiancing his positions.

    April 24, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  4. aware2u

    You can't keep it from happening again – "genocide" if you refuse to name it!

    Character counts, and courage necessitates telling the truth! Obtuse, obfuscation is manipulative and misleading! 🙁

    April 24, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  5. Moncia

    Just say the word!!!! It's finally time.

    April 24, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  6. Tam

    Ah, what convoluted phrases in order not to offend allies. The truth hurts.

    April 24, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |

    Either Obama continues to be a little sissy wimp who won't stand up to anyone but American taxpaying citizens, corporations and allies; OR he is a Muslim sympathizer; OR both.

    Which is it Barack Hussein Obama????

    April 24, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  8. Obama would never upset a Muslim country....

    Why? Guess.

    April 24, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  9. Victim of GOP Taliban

    Careful...we need Turkey more than ever for a strong Muslim ally. No need to appease the Armenian-Americans by stirring up OLD controversy. Let the U.N. or some other organization get involved.

    April 24, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  10. jm

    Whoever this terry va is. he sounds like a real piece of work , doesn't he. He sound like he just fell off the turnip wagon, and Obummie as you call him is too good to even have you shine his shoes.

    April 24, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  11. Michael

    How could this reflect badly on Turkey? The Ottoman Empire was a different political entity. Blaming this on the modern Turkish nationn would be like holding the USA accountable for atrocities committed by the government of His Majesty's Colony of New York during the French and Indian War.
    Get on down the road!

    April 24, 2010 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  12. jules sand-perkins

    According to the UN definition above, I cannot see the 1915 deaths of Armenians as anything but genocide.
    Armenians survived, of course, but Hitler missed quite a few Jews, too.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    I think that Obama, probably wisely, sees bases in Turkey as beautiful.
    But it was still genocide.

    April 24, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. Pres. Obama

    I do my best not to ruffle any feathers.
    I have learned to get by in this world.

    April 24, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. bennie new york

    If we can even hope to eradicate genocide, we need to acknowledge it. I don't care if calling the mass murder of Armenians during World War I a genocide strains our relations with Turkey because I really don't feel we should be allied to a nation that refuse to acknowledge genocide. More importantly, if the United States and it's government are unable to acknowledge another nation's past atrocities, we will never acknowledge our own slaughter of Native Americans.

    April 24, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  15. Marcus

    The ball is with Turkey.
    They deny that it had happened or try (very poorly) to undermine its importance. They have to face it, and will eventually since their current stand is based in revisionist lies (and anyone, people or country, that bases his/her/its actions on lies is in for a though time when reality checks...).
    Seems like that they are starting to do so.
    Too bad that the POTUS didn't tried to use the USA's position in the world as the leader of the democracies and of the respect on Human Rights to put Turkey on the right path...
    Wait a moment, the current POTUS is rebuilding such position since the last one did everything that he could to destroy it ('you're with us or against us' was soooooo diplomatic!!!)...

    April 24, 2010 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  16. KateHikes

    Once again, the "Chosen people" have a monopoly on genocide. These self-absorbed rats go out their way to control who gets to apply the term, lest it distract from their continuing swindle: accruing millions of dollars in the Holocost [sic] industry.

    April 24, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |