(AA) – President Barack Obama is expected to stop short of describing the deaths of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as “genocide” on the centenary of the tragedy on Friday – marked as a day of remembrance in the U.S.
The decision, revealed this week, has sparked anger among Armenian-Americans, with Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Council of America, calling it a “national disgrace” and a “betrayal of truth.”
Despite his pledge when running for office in 2008 to recognize the “genocide,” Obama is yet to do so – largely following the lead of predecessors who avoided the phrase out of respect for NATO ally Turkey, which refutes the description.
The annual run-up to Armenian Remembrance Day – initiated by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 – is marked by efforts by the Armenian diaspora in the U.S. to have the events of 1915, when the relocation of Armenians resulted in casualties, recognized as “genocide”.
“On this 75th anniversary of the massacres, I wish to join with Armenians and all peoples in observing April 24, 1990, as a day of remembrance for the more than a million Armenian people who were victims,” Bush said.
Before Bush, other U.S. presidents also recognized the events of 1915 but not on a regular basis.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan referred to 1915 as “genocide” in a statement primarily concerning the World War II Holocaust.
Since Bill Clinton took office in 1993, U.S. presidents have released annual statements on Armenian Remembrance Day but none has used the word “genocide.”
Clinton’s statements emphasized a “massacre” during the relocation of Armenians and referred to 1.5 million Armenian deaths, a figure put forward by Yerevan and the Armenian diaspora but disputed by Turkish historians.
George W. Bush adopted similar language and tone as his predecessor, urging the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.
When Obama took office, Armenians expected that he would honor his promise but he has so far failed to do so despite pressure from the Armenian lobby. He did, however, use the Armenian term Meds Yeghern, meaning Great Calamity, to refer to 1915.
The influence of the Armenian lobby can perhaps be better seen in Congress. The House of Representatives’ first resolution on the 1915 “genocide” came in 1975 and was followed by others. In addition, the majority of U.S. states – 43 out of 50 – recognize 1915 as “genocide.”
References to an “Armenian genocide” or “Armenian massacre” have risen dramatically in recent years, according to Michael Bobelian, an Armenian-American author and journalist.
Speaking at the Washington D.C.-based Armenian Assembly of America, Bobelian said that between the 1950s and beginning of the 21st century these phrases were found in 22 print articles.
Between 2000 and 2007 the number jumped was 254.
Turkey, which does not dispute casualties among both Armenian and Turkish communities during World War I, has called for the establishment of a joint commission of historians and the opening of archives to study and uncover what happened between the Ottoman empire and its Armenian citizens.
The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman empire sided with the invading Russians and revolted.
The relocation by the Ottomans of Armenians in eastern Anatolia following the revolts resulted in numerous casualties. Turkey does not dispute that there were casualties on both sides, but rejects the definition of “genocide.”