UPDATE: For the seventh year in a row, President Obama’s statement on the Armenian genocide will not contain the word ‘genocide.’
April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, and this year the day will mark the 100th anniversary of the systematic murder of some one million or more Armenians by the Ottoman government. For its part, Turkey — the Ottoman successor state — denies that any such genocide occurred, and instead insists that the Armenians died in the fighting of World War I, or of starvation. And woe unto those heads of state who use “genocide” to describe what occurred; for they face the wrath of President Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government, and not even the pope is immune.
President Obama has avoided incurring this ire by refusing to use the G-word when this geopolitically inconvenient day pops up on the calendar, lest American ally Turkey clutch its pearls in anguish. He has done so six years in a row, and may do it for a seventh. In 2008, candidate Obama issued a statement on U.S.-Armenia relations in which he recognized the genocide and used the word 11 times. But now, President Obama speaks of the 20th century’s first genocide using mealy-mouthed language, like this line from his 2014 statement, which, as usual, omitted the key word from the day of observance, which was simply called Armenian Remembrance Day:
“We recall the horror of what happened ninety-nine years ago, when 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire… In so doing, we remind ourselves of our shared commitment to ensure that such dark chapters of human history are never again repeated.”
As a presidential candidate, Obama said he “strongly” supported the 2007 Armenian Genocide Resolution, which calls upon the president to recognize the genocide as a “genocide.” Eight years later, that bill remains in legislative limbo thanks to the politicization of the plain truth, aided and abetted not only by Turkey, but by pro-Israel organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League. Officially, the ADL is an organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism; unofficially it’s one of the Israeli government’s pitbulls in the U.S., and it wishes to see American-Turkish relations as strong as possible considering the stabilizing role Turkey has played in the region. Nonetheless, one would think that a Jewish organization would be eager to have genocide condemned whenever and wherever it’s taken place, but one would be wrong.
The strongest statement that’s ever come from the ADL regarding the killings was in 2007 from director Abraham Foxman, who, after an uproar over the ADL’s opposition to the resolution, could only bring himself to say that the deaths were “tantamount to genocide.” It was around this time when President George W. Bush said, “This resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings.” Furthermore, in 2006 Bush may very well have dismissed his ambassador to Armenia under pressure from the Turkish government because the diplomat had been forthright about what happened in 1915.
It’s no surprise that American presidents and pro-Israel groups should find themselves in agreement on a given foreign policy issue, but it’s worth noting another organization that’s thrown in its lot with the recognize-no-evil coalition: the United States Council of Muslim Organizations.
The USCMO is an umbrella group for several Muslim organizations in the U.S., including the ADL’s Islamic foil, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). On Monday, the USCMO issued a statement about the genocide that is an affront to truth, decency, and the Armenian people. That statement declared in part,
“As April 24 comes near, we share the pain suffered by Armenians during this period. We also believe that any acknowledgment by religious or political leaders of the tragedy that befell Armenians should be balanced, constructive and must also recognize Turkish and Muslim suffering.
“In this respect, characterizing the events of 1915 as genocide without proper investigation of these events by independent historians will not only jeopardize the establishment of a just memory pertaining to these events, but will also damage the efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.”
It is my regret to inform the USCMO that a “proper investigation of these events” has indeed occurred and yielded a consensus: the Ottomans planned and carried out the mass extermination of more than 1 million members of the Armenian population. Of course, the consensus is not unanimous, as Turkey has attempted with some success to buy “academic absolution” by donating money to American universities.
Envision for a moment what the reaction would be if the USCMO, the President of the United States, or any other group or person danced euphemistically around the issue of whether a “genocide” occurred in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. It does not take an overly limber imagination to accurately predict what would happen. If it’s unacceptable to deny or downplay the Holocaust, then it’s unacceptable to deny or downplay what the Armenians endured 100 years ago.
Politics may be able to cover up the truth, but it can never change the truth. President Obama would do well to remember this on April 24.