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Michael J.W. Stickings Headshot

Anything but Genocide: Obama, Turkey, and the Armenian Holocaust

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I appreciate the fact, reported by Laura Rozen, that President Obama used the proper Armenian term, Meds Yeghern ("Great Catastrophe"), when referring on Saturday to the Armenian massacre at the hands of the Turks, which took place between 1915 and 1917, but it is telling that he refused to call it what it was: genocide.

"On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that ninety-five years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began," Obama said in a statement. "In that dark moment of history, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire."

"I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed," he said. "It is in all of our interest to see the achievement a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."

"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 said.

Yes, it was "one of the worst atrocities" of the last century. Yes, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Yes, it was "a devastating chapter in the history of the Armenian people." Yes, "we must keep its memory alive."

But that's not good enough. As Laura explains:

Obama's use of Meds Yeghern "is an elegant dodge to avoid using the 'g-word' -- but the substance of what he states about what happened gives no comfort to those who cling to the Turkish official version," says Harvard University's Andras Riedlmayer. "1.5 million Armenians were rounded up and massacred or marched to their death. Despite the passive construction, that assumes intentionality."

Nevertheless, such nuance was not appreciated by the Armenian American lobby group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which rapped Obama for "disgraceful capitulation to Turkey's threats" and of "offering euphemisms and evasive terminology to characterize this crime against humanity," in a press release Saturday.

I have written about this issue a couple of times:

-- Genocidal denial: Bush, Turkey, and the Armenian Holocaust (Oct. 2007); and
-- Genocide is genocide: Exposing the truth about the Turkish massacre of Armenians (Mar. 2010).

I was critical of Bush, but I've been critical of Obama, too:

I wouldn't describe Obama and those in his administration as deniers, but they're certainly doing much the same thing the previous administration did, namely, refusing to acknowledge publicly that what happened in Armenia was genocide, and all because of those ever-so-delicate, ever-so-important American-Turkish relations, which apparently couldn't survive an admission of truth.

For its part, Turkey has been waging a decades-long campaign to deny the genocide, a shameful refusal not just to take responsibility for one of the most horrendous massacres in history but even to admit that it really happened. And its reaction when challenged, this time as always, suggests a level of collective national immaturity that is truly appalling.

In other words, while I suspect that Obama knows full well that it was genocide, and that the Turks are, on this issue, a nation of collective revisionists (and liars), he is effectively contributing to the Turkish campaign, perpetuating Turkey's massive lie, taking Turkey's side against efforts in Congress to call it genocide, and all because he wants to avoid annoying the Turks and risking... what?

Yes, what exactly? Is he afraid that Ankara won't return his phone calls? Is Turkey such an essential ally that it must be appeased no matter what? Would Turkey really refuse to do business with the U.S. and/or support U.S. foreign policy if Obama actually took a firm stand and called it genocide? Sure, the Turks would whine and complain and threaten to sever diplomatic ties, as they've done before (even over non-binding committee resolutions in the House of Representatives), but so what? Does anyone honestly think Turkey can do without America? Please.

Honestly, I wish the president would pull a Jon Stewart and tell the Turks to go ..., well, you know.

Diplomatically, of course.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)