APRIL 21, 2015
White House Acknowledges Armenian Genocide, but Avoids the Term
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON -- The White House urged on Tuesday "a full, frank and just acknowledgment" of the Armenian genocide a century after the deaths of as many as 1.5 million people, but once again refused to use the word genocide.
Although President Obama vowed during his 2008 campaign to use the term once he got to the White House, he has consistently not followed through in the six years since he took office out of concern about angering Turkey, a NATO ally that has long rejected the description.
The president's continued resistance to the word stood in contrast to a stance by Pope Francis, who recently called the massacres "the first genocide of the 20th century" and equated them to mass killings by the Nazis and Soviets. The European Parliament, which first recognized the genocide in 1987, passed a resolution last week calling on Turkey to "come to terms with its past."
Armenians and others will observe the 100th anniversary of the start of the genocide on Friday, and many had hoped that Mr. Obama would finally fulfill his promise. The Ottoman Turks ordered the roundup and deportation of Christian Armenians, resulting in wholesale deaths, out of fear that they would align themselves with the Russian enemy during World War I.
The Turkish government has denied that the killings amounted to genocide, arguing that many people were killed in a time of war, including Turks.
Mr. Obama announced on Tuesday that he would send his Treasury secretary, Jacob J. Lew, to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, to commemorate the anniversary. Two top presidential aides -- Denis McDonough, Mr. Obama's chief of staff, and Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser -- met on Tuesday with leaders from the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Committee of America.
"They pledged that the United States will use the occasion to urge a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts that we believe is in the interest of all parties," the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
Susan E. Rice, the president's national security adviser, met separately with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey and, according to another statement, urged "an open and frank dialogue in Turkey about the atrocities of 1915."
Armenian leaders and their congressional allies expressed disappointment with Mr. Obama. "His failure to use the term genocide represents a major blow for human rights advocates," said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America.
Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said the president had succumbed to foreign pressure. "President Obama's surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace," he said. "It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust."
While running for president, Mr. Obama criticized President George W. Bush's administration for recalling an ambassador who used the word genocide, and as a senator, he supported a measure using the word. "The Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact," Mr. Obama said in a statement on Jan. 19, 2008.
Members of both parties have introduced resolutions commemorating the anniversary. Such measures have provoked angry responses from Turkey, an ally that Washington wants to play a larger role in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria.