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Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

Posted April 7, 2009 | 12:14 PM (EST)

Obama Undermines His Credibility by Not Saying "Genocide" in Ankara


For several months now, the Turkish government's has created the false impression that Ankara is engaged in serious negotiations to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan. Turkey has been exploiting the illusive promise of opening the border in order to pressure Armenia into making concessions on a host of issues, while simultaneously subverting Pres. Obama's pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Turkish officials have been repeatedly warning Pres. Obama not to issue a statement on the Armenian Genocide, claiming that such a step would disrupt the on-going negotiations between Armenia and Turkey. Regrettably, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian's decision to travel to Istanbul this week to participate in the meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations served to substantiate the Turkish government's contention that all is going well between the two countries.

Azerbaijan's President, on the other hand, was determined to stick to his guns in safeguarding his nation's interests. When Pres. Aliyev learned that Ankara was contemplating opening the border with Armenia, he viewed it as a betrayal of Azerbaijan by "fraternal Turkey." He promptly canceled his planned trip to Istanbul. Aliyev even threatened to block the sale of natural gas to Turkey should it proceed with its announced plan to open the border. He wanted the Turkish border to remain closed in order to force Armenia into making territorial concessions on Artsakh (Karabagh). The Azeri Press Agency reported that Aliyev turned down a personal invitation to Istanbul by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Turkey's President and Prime Minister. Aliyev remained unmoved even when he was offered a private meeting with the President of the United States.

It is not clear if Pres. Obama was deceived by the Turks' warnings to third parties not to interfere in the Armenian-Turkish negotiations. It could well be that he found it expedient to heed the Turkish objections in order to maximize the concessions he wanted to extract from Turkey on Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a press conference in Ankara on Monday, this is how Pres. Obama responded when asked if he had changed his view on the Armenian Genocide:


My views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under Pres. Gul's leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one. I want to be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly, very soon. And so, as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now, but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them. And so what I told the President was I want to be as constructive as possible in moving these issues forward quickly. And my sense is that they are moving quickly. I don't want, as the President of the United States, to preempt any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the near future. I just want to say that we are going to be a partner in working through these issues in such a way that the most important parties, the Turks and the Armenians, are finally coming to terms in a constructive way.

When the reporter pressed him for not using the term genocide, Pres. Obama repeated the deceptive arguments advanced by Turkey:


What I'd like to do is to encourage Pres. Gul to move forward with what have been some very fruitful negotiations. And I'm not interested in the United States in any way tilting these negotiations one way or another while they are having useful discussions.

Pres. Gul then took the floor, and in a lengthy response, repeated the standard Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide.

Later that day, while addressing the Turkish Parliament, Pres. Obama again carefully avoided using the term genocide:


Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.

In view of these developments, the Armenian government may decide to terminate at once all negotiations with Turkish leaders in order to limit the damage caused by the continued exploitation of the illusion of productive negotiations. Moreover, the Armenian leadership should denounce in the strongest possible terms Pres. Gul's shameful denial of the Armenian Genocide during the Ankara press conference which was broadcast live by TV networks worldwide.

Meanwhile, all people of good will should inundate the White House Comment Line with phone calls to inform Pres. Obama that his statements on the Armenian Genocide in Ankara did not go far enough and do not fulfill his solemn promises on this important issue. Please call: 1-202-456-1111 and leave a message. Unless the White House hears immediately from a large number of concerned citizens, Pres. Obama and his aides might think that everyone is satisfied with his remarks in Ankara. The President may then not issue a statement on April 24 or he may repeat the same unacceptable words he used in Turkey.

Finally, Pres. Obama should understand that the significance of keeping his word on the Armenian Genocide goes beyond this issue and has a direct bearing on his overall credibility. Within hours of the President's remarks in Ankara, the Politifact.com website questioned his integrity, having concluded that he had broken his promise on the Armenian Genocide -- one of the 511 campaign promises that the website keeps track of, to verify his trustworthiness.