For the sixth year in a row, President Obama has failed to acknowledge the Armenian genocide — something he promised to do as both a senator and a presidential candidate.While his statement Thursday invoked the Armenian term for the atrocity, Meds Yeghern, it avoided the word “genocide” entirely.
Obama might have avoided this term so that he doesn’t offend Turkey, which sits on much of the same land as the former Ottoman Empire, where the genocide against the Armenians occurred.
“[Obama] has made unambiguous statements as a senator and in his presidential campaign to fully recognise the genocide … But he has avoided using the actual word for obvious reasons: pressure from Turkey, whom the U.S. considers an important ally,” Rouben Adalian, director of the Armenian National Institute, told Business Insider.
Considered one of the first mass killings in the 20th century, the Armenian genocide took the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians living in present-day Turkey. It occurred in two phases: enslaving and massacring able-bodied males and deporting women, children, and the elderly to the Syrian Desert to die of thirst and starvation.
The Young Turks, a Turkish nationalist party in the Ottoman Empire, perpetrated the killings. These radical leaders wanted a separate Turkish state, free of Armenians and other ethnic or religious minorities. While Turkey didn’t technically exist during the genocide, many refer to the Ottoman Empire as the Turkish Empire because Turkish groups founded the territory, of which a large part became their present-day country.
The genocide officially began on April 24, 1915, now a day of worldwide commemoration. Then, the Turkish government arrested more than 200 Armenian community leaders and sent them to prison, where the majority were summarily executed. Even earlier, though, reports of the Young Turks torturing and enslaving Armenians began circulating.
That first wave of killings lasted until 1918. At the end of World War I, peace took hold for little more than a year. In 1920, the Turkish Nationalists — who opposed the Young Turks but shared a common ideology — began persecuting the Armenians once more. The second period of the Armenian genocide lasted until 1923.
Despite the escalating war, the international community responded almost immediately. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia all warned the Young Turks of the repercussions for their crimes against humanity. A strong public outcry took place in the U.S., and the victorious Allies eventually demanded that the Ottoman government prosecute the Young Turks. Relief efforts to save Armenian refugees from starvation sprouted all over the globe.
The Turkish government not only refuses to label the event as a genocide but it also ignores many of the historical facts. In a statement Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used words like “inhumane” and “establishing compassion,” The Globe and Mail reported. But Erdogan, like Obama, didn’t use the word “genocide.”
“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” Obama said today. As a senator and a presidential candidate, he labelled the event a “genocide” multiple times. But as soon as Obama took office, that word disappeared from his statements.
Currently, 21 countries have passed legislation officially acknowledging the killings of the Armenian people during World War I as a genocide, according to the Institute. Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “embraced the truth,” as her statement today urged others to do. Most important, virtually all the Armenian communities worldwide stem from survivors of this genocide. But it’s important to continue spreading international awareness that the atrocity was indeed a genocide.
“The worldwide occurrences of these mass atrocities is incredibly worrisome … [Obama’s acknowledgment] is an important step because it would hold government leaders responsible for their actions, especially when there have been gross violations of human rights,” Adalian said.
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