Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Responds to Obama’s Eight-Year Pattern of Missed Opportunities
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, in Turkey, a country whose government officially denies the Armenian Genocide and in a parliament where the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party called for the lifting of the immunity of elected parliamentarians of Kurdish origin, Garo Paylan, a parliamentarian of Armenian origin, had the courage to remind his fellow MPs of the dozen Armenian members of the Ottoman parliament whose tragic fate was decided by a similar policy.
On the same day, in a disappointing step that has become common practice for his administration, news from the White House confirmed that yet again, President Obama would skirt the issue of properly labeling the events of 1915 as a genocide, which he again called by its Armenian designation as the Meds Yeghern.
The courage of a lone parliamentarian speaking up in Turkey stands in sharp contrast with the failure of the leader of the free world to denounce genocide. Thus in the final year of his administration, President Obama again avoided characterizing the systematic murder and ethnic cleansing committed against Armenians in 1915 as genocide, despite promises that “as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” based on “my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.” The president passed up the opportunity to keep his word and failed to set the record straight once and for all.
The missed opportunity is all the more regrettable as it could have made U.S. policy consistent across the board consonant with Secretary Kerry’s endorsement of the Congressional resolution unanimously adopted in March condemning the atrocities committed by ISIS as genocide against Christian, Yezidi, and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria. As the Secretary stated: “We know that in areas under its control, Daesh [ISIS] has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities – destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches…”
Any understanding of the direct link between the genocidal practices of Ottoman Turkey in 1915 and the Islamic Caliphate precisely a century later went missing. Alarm that the deliberately staged attacks upon Armenian targets in Syria, such as the expulsion of the Armenian population of the town of Kessab by Jabhat Al-Nusra and the destruction of the Armenian Genocide memorial in Deir el-Zor by ISIS, both by this point in the Syrian civil conflict demonstrably terrorist surrogates of Turkey, only proves how the conscious ignoring of the lesson of the past merely prepared the ground for future atrocities.
In addition, in this day and age, that the Republic of Armenia has witnessed the arrival of approximately 20,000 refugees from Syria is one further reminder of the lasting consequences of the Armenian Genocide. These are families who were displaced during the World War I Genocide and are being displaced again because of Turkish support to ISIS.
If further proof was needed of the spreading violence across the region inspired by ISIS, the treatment of the remains of Armenian soldiers killed in this month’s 4 day-war launched by Azerbaijan with Turkish support in Nagorno Karabakh arrived as more than disquieting confirmation. The abomination of headless corpses of young men who fell in battle cannot in any shape or form be tolerated and yet again the Obama Administration chose not to see that the pattern of persecutions in Syria and Iraq now has emerged in Azerbaijan.
Today’s statement referenced Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, citing what happened to the Armenians and what happened to the Jews as prototypes of genocide, as well as the courageous leadership of U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau who alerted the world that a “campaign of race extermination,” against the Armenian people was under way. However, President Obama’s inability to unequivocally affirm the Armenian Genocide undermines the proud legacy and example of the extraordinary work of our diplomats at the time of the Genocide, as well as the efforts of those around the world today who risk their lives to shed light on the truth.
In 1981 President Ronald Reagan squarely acknowledged the Armenian Genocide stating that “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it – and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples – the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” This accurately reflects America’s values and record of speaking out against genocide.
While President Obama encouraged and tried to provide a safe harbor for Turks who have come forward in acknowledging Turkey’s genocidal past, the best safe harbor the President can provide is to reiterate the United States’ position as reflected in the 1951 filing before the International Court of Justice, President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Proclamation, as well as the 1993 Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision which found that U.S. policy recognizes the Armenian Genocide.
Last month, the Armenian Assembly called upon the Obama Administration to affirm the Armenian Genocide noting that the absence of proper condemnation only encourages the perpetration of crimes against humanity and their clear designation as such feeds the engines of denial that are always on the ready to distort the truth and obstruct prevention.
President Obama could have strengthened the policy of containing ISIS by invoking the parallels in ideology and implementation between the Young Turk regime and the so-called Islamic Caliphate that persecutes all minorities to the point of extermination and the utter destruction of their historic and cultural heritage, including their places of worship. It is all the more disappointing to see that this lapse is due to Turkish government pressure when there is clear evidence pointing to the same government having long tolerated the conduits that promoted ISIS.
“America deserves a president who speaks truthfully and condemns all genocides,” stated Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Selective acknowledgment, especially at a time when Christians and other minorities are being persecuted is indefensible, sends the wrong message and hurts U.S. credibility,” Ardouny added.
Through a state-of-the-art online museum, the Assembly remains committed to genocide education, awareness and prevention.The interactive site invites visitors to explore the story of the Armenian people and its fateful experience in 1915, and will serve on the frontlines against genocide denial.
Genocide prevention is our obligation and we look forward to the day when America has a president who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides.
The Assembly also expresses strong concern for the safety and well-being of Turkish Parliamentarian Garo Paylan. Turkey needs to guarantee its citizens freedom of speech and must uphold immunity of its parliamentarians in this regards, as well as end its international genocide denial campaign.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501©(3) tax-exempt membership organization.