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Obama’s annual statement satisfies neither Turkey nor Armenian diaspora

US President Barack Obama’s annual statement on April 24, the day on which the deaths of Anatolian Armenians killed during World War I are commemorated, has disappointed both Ankara and the Armenian diaspora, as he called the killings nearly a century ago a “horrific” slaughter, but once again topped short of branding it “genocide.”

In a written statement released on Saturday, Obama said the 1915 killings represent “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.” But for the third straight year, he failed to use the word genocide to describe the events. As a candidate for president, Obama repeatedly vowed to recognize “the genocide” once in office, vowing “principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide.” But since 2009, Obama has declined to use the word in the face of furious resistance from Turkey, a key NATO ally. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” the president said in a White House statement on April 23. “A full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts is in all our interests.”

Taking into consideration the critical reactions from both Ankara and the Armenian-American diaspora, Obama has appeared to put himself between a rock and a hard place with the wording of his statement. Turkey’s reaction came at noon on Sunday in a written statement by the Foreign Ministry, while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu himself separately criticized Obama in remarks delivered on Sunday in Çanakkale. “President Obama’s statement issued on April 23, 2011, takes a one-sided approach reflecting Armenian views regarding the dispute between Turks and Armenians on the painful part of their common history. This statement distorts the historical facts. Therefore, we find it very problematic and deeply regret it,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement.

“Issued by domestic political considerations, such statements serve no purpose but making it difficult for Turks and Armenians to reach a just memory. One-sided statements that interpret controversial historical events by a selective sense of justice prevent understanding of the truth. We expect the United States not to render difficulty but to facilitate the normalization process between Turkey and Armenia, and the studies on the historical dimension. Holding a partisan view on historical pains, such statements do not serve peace or the common future of peoples,” the ministry said.

Turkey and Armenia signed two protocols in October 2009, but parliaments of the two countries have yet to ratify the documents.

Turkey has kept its border with neighboring Armenia closed since 1993 in a show of solidarity with Azerbaijan, as Armenia advanced to occupy some 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories. Azerbaijan fiercely opposed the protocols, saying opening the borders was “against Azerbaijan’s national interests.”

“Despite all attempts to interfere with the writing of history based on the calculation of current political interests, we will maintain our determination to reach a just memory and to build our common future with Armenia on that basis,” the ministry statement concluded.

At the same time, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu spoke with TRT news while on the Gallipoli Peninsula (Gelibolu) where he attended ceremonies marking the 96th anniversary of the Çanakkale Land Wars. “The statement by Mr. Obama is a statement which is one-sided and which reads history from only one perspective. We hoped that grief could be shared,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency in remarks delivered to TRT news. The minister recalled that a generation of people of Anatolia suffered on various fronts during World War I.

“We had hoped that the president of the friendly and ally US would have shared the grief of Turks, too, and, for doing this, he would have presented a message with a new perspective letting us share common grief,” Davutoğlu said. “But we will, in a determined way, continue efforts to together remember the grief we went through during the World War [I] via a fair memory,” he said, while calling for “empathy in order to understand each other’s grievance and, for everybody, in order to share all grief.”

In Ankara, meanwhile, responding to questions from reporters on Sunday afternoon, Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin said: “I start to consider the fact that this issue [Armenian genocide allegations] is being carried onto the agenda in the parliaments of some certain countries every April 24 in a nasty manner.”

In Washington, D.C., an influential Armenian diaspora organization has harshly slammed Obama for his statement in which he refrained from using the term genocide to describe the killings of Anatolian Armenians. In a written statement released as early as Saturday, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said, “Obama again betrayed his pledge to properly condemn and commemorate this crime against humanity.”

“Despite his repeated, detailed and unambiguous pledges to recognize the Armenian Genocide, the President offered only euphemisms and evasive terminology to describe the murder of over 1.5 million men women and children – effectively keeping in place the gag rule imposed by the Turkish government on the open and honest discussion of this crime. In refusing, under foreign pressure from Turkey, to his honor his pledge, he again fell far short of his own view, as voiced during his campaign, that America deserves a President who uses the term ‘genocide’ to convey the full factual, moral, legal and contemporary political meaning of this crime against all humanity,” ANCA chairman Ken Hachikian said in the statement.

“President Obama’s disgraceful capitulation to Turkey’s threats, his complicity in Turkey’s denials, and his Administration’s active opposition to Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide represent the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to bring to our country’s response to this crime,” Hachikian said. “Instead of standing up for the truth, and standing by the extensive US record on the Armenian Genocide, President Obama is today, under threat from an increasingly unfriendly foreign power, standing in the way of the broad-based American civil society consensus for a truthful and just resolution of this crime,” he added.

History is one of the most sensitive aspects of Turkish-Armenian ties. Armenia says 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Turkey rejects the charges, saying the death toll is inflated and that there were deaths on both sides as the Ottoman Empire tried to quell an Armenian revolt in eastern Anatolia for independence in collaboration with Russian forces who were then invading the region.