Friday, April 24, 2009

Genocide: "Business as usual."

April 24th is Armenian Remembrance Day, a day of remembering and mourning the 20th century's first genocide, the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians as targets of a state-planned and state-administered policy of "extermination" by the Ottoman Turkish government. To this day, the Turkish government adamantly denies this historical tragedy, exerts enormous energy in fighting any attempts by the United States government (and other governments) to formally acknowledge the genocide. Candidate Barack Obama strongly denounced the Bush administration's equivocations and policies in this regard, and pledged to speak out quite clearly on the Armenian Genocide, and not shy away from the word whatsoever. American presidents have traditionally released statements on Armenian Remembrance Day, song and dancing their way around one small 8-letter word. Candidate Obama pledged to retire the dancing shoes. Today, President Barack Obama slid into the dance line right beside the predecessor he had so vociferously excoriated.

Why such a big deal about one 8-letter word? Take an even shorter word: murder. Say, your grandparents were brutally murdered, but everyone around you insisted that there was nothing brutal about their deaths (all physical evidence and documents and pictures to the contrary), that they were old, they starved, what have you. The way of the world. Take another word: Holocaust. Strip the Jewish people of the world of the word, equivocate, suggest that committees should be convened to look at the issues from all sides, turn a blind eye when governments refuse to acknowledge the horror that is historical fact.

Armenians are not the only victims of this denial. The Turkish people, for whom it is a crime to say that the genocide was a genocide, are barred from their own healing. Turkish intellectuals have fled their own country, in order to speak to the truth of genocide. Criminal charges were brought against Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his outspoken comments regarding the truth of Armenian Genocide. He is now living in the United States.

My wife is an Armenian American. Her maternal grandmother survived two death marches through the desert, but lost three children along the way. This is my shrine to her, to her grandmother, to her grandmother's babies, to my wife's family, to Armenians everywhere, and to Turkish people everywhere. May we all speak to the heart of things as they are, and through such acknowledgement, heal.

Despite Campaign Pledge, President Obama Refuses to Use Word 'Genocide' When Describing Slaughter of Armenians

from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper

April 24, 2009 2:26 PM

Despite a campaign promise that he would boldly use the word "genocide" as president when describing the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the early part of the last century, President Obama deliberately avoided use of that word in his statement today on Armenian Remembrance Day.

"We're profoundly disappointed," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told ABC News. "All the more so because his statements on this in his record before he became president nailed it in terms the facts, the practical side and the moral dimension. He repeatedly talked about this during the campaign, and he was really harsh on President Bush, he said it was inexcusable that Bush refused to acknowledge that this was genocide."

Hamparian says President Obama "finds himself doing exactly the thing he so sharply criticized the Bush administration for, which is being euphemistic and evasive. It's a bitter thing for Armenian-Americans who really believed him and really worked hard."

In a July 28, 2006, letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Obama protested her decision to recall U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John for using the G-word.

“That the invocation of a historical fact by a State Department employee could constitute an act of insubordination is deeply troubling,” then-Sen. Obama wrote. “When State Department instructions are such that an ambassador must engage in strained reasoning -- or even an outright falsehood -- that defies of common sense interpretation of events in order to follow orders, then it is time to revisit the State Department's policy guidance on that issue."

Obama told Secretary Rice that the “occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 is not an 'allegation,' a 'personal opinion,' or a 'point of view.' Supported by an overwhelmingly amount of historical evidence, it is a widely documented fact."

But Mr. Obama’s statement today does not use the word. He calls the genocide “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century” and mentions the “1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.” He uses the Armenian term for “The Great Atrocity” -- The Meds Yeghern -– and he calls for “a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”

But he does not use the word.

“He made it so clear throughout the campaign that that word mattered,” the ANCA’s Hamparian says.

That is indisputable. Mr. Obama said that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.”

In a January 2008 letter to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Obama said he shared “with Armenian Americans -- so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors -- a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”

He stated unequivocally that “as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Earlier this month when President Obama visited the critical U.S. ally Turkey –- whose leaders forbid in law calling the genocide a “genocide”—Mr. Obama refrained from using it.

Standing with Turkish president Abdullah Gul, President Obama said that “my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul's leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.”

Saying he wants to “be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.”

The Armenian National Committee of America at the time expressed disappointment, but held off on judging the president, waiting to see what he said today.

“We figured that he may have had one formula for visiting Turkey,” Hamparian said. He no longer believes that to be the case.

Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 775-1918 * Fax. (202) 775-5648 *


For Immediate Release ~ 2009-04-24
Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian ~ Tel: (202) 775-1918


April 24th statement avoids “genocide” characterization

WASHINGTON, DC -- Despite repeated statements properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide during his Senate career and a clear pledge stating that “As President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” President Barack Obama today issued an April 24th statement evading the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s April 24th statement:

“I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama’s failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

“In falling short of his repeated and crystal clear promises, which reflected a thorough knowledge of the facts, the practical implications, and the profound moral dimension of Armenian Genocide recognition, the President chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nation’s stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey's threats.”

“The President’s statement today represents a retreat from his pledge and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how America confronts the crime of genocide.”

“Genocide must be confronted unconditionally at the level of American values and our common humanity. As Americans, we should never allow the prevention or recognition of this crime to be reduced to a political issue that can be traded away, retreated from under pressure, or used to advance a political agenda, of any kind.”

“We urge the President to act quickly to correct his Administration’s stand on the Armenian Genocide by properly condemning and commemorating this crime, removing Turkey’s gag-rule on its recognition by the United States, and working publicly toward the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution before Congress,” concluded Hachikian

As a Senator and presidential candidate, President Obama pledged repeatedly to recognize the Armenian Genocide and promised “unstinting resolve” to end the Darfur Genocide, stating, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.” View his record on the issue at:

President Obama’s complete statement is provided below.



Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 24, 2009

Statement of President Barack Obama on Armenian Remembrance Day

Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.

History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man’s inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.

The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward. I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise.

Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.

Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern. But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last ninety-four years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them. The United States of America is a far richer country because of the many Americans of Armenian descent who have contributed to our society, many of whom immigrated to this country in the aftermath of 1915. Today, I stand with them and with Armenians everywhere with a sense of friendship, solidarity, and deep respect.



Blogger anno said...

I'm so sorry, Paschal. Obama's response is deeply disappointing and erodes some of the hope I had felt with his election. I am, however, still hopeful, if only because I can find no other satisfactory place to be. My sympathies to your wife & family.

8:27 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thanks for your words and thoughts, Anno.

I, too, have hope for this issue: while government officials refuse to call spades spades, individual people and groups are meeting this head on in building reconciliation via acknowledgment.

You'll note that BHO's song and dance casts the massacres in a vacuum: there are no perpetrators, just "final days of the Ottoman Empire," as if a big wind just blew in.

I was not surprised. The visit to Turkey and the subsequent weeks were full of indications that he would beg off on that particular commitment.

9:02 PM  
Blogger San said...

The most salient issue you've called attention to is the fact that the Turkish people are not allowed to heal, thanks to their being disallowed to recognize the truth of the genocide. And yes, it isn't easier when those who purportedly have their eyes wide open do not acknowledge what's clearly visible.

This is how history comes to be edited on the page. I can't watch all of the videos, since I'm at the gallery with a molasses-speed DHL connection. I'm allowing the first to load right now and will watch it.

Blessings to Tina.

12:38 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

I agree with you, San. The idea is not mine about the healing: it is Tina's, and I applaud her in her own life's journey, working through her own anger and rage, to seek out Turkish folk for dialogue and reconciliation, in a manner I thought BHO was fully capable of...

Obviously, I went overboard with the videos and text: it's a bit of a mini-symphony: starting with Samantha Power's now ludicrous statements, BHO's slippery jive in the next montage (he seemed slippery even then, not just in context), Balakian with some fuller story, and ending with Isabel's sublime voice...

Blessings to you, mi hermana...

12:55 PM  
Blogger San said...

Paschal, you're not overboard with the videos. It's just that my DSL connection isn't up to snuff. At home I'm on cable, and videos can be watched right away.

Your blog always loads quickly, even with the DSL. It's the individual videos that have to load. Some blogs, those full of bells and whistles and widgets, actually shut down my internet connection at the gallery. Really annoying.

I just noticed in the earlier comment I said DHL. We shipped with DHL before they closed down their domestic operation. I am always confusing DHL and DSL. Duh.

2:19 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: I wasn't worried about your DSL when I mentioned overboarding; I just meant that plowing through a bunch of videos and text is not everyone's blog-surfing cup of tea. I've a little more fussing to do, before I can put this one down again, but what's a blog for, if not to fill up the black pages, eh?

Peace and love: pascual

5:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home