Commemorating Armenian Remembrance Day yesterday, Obama called the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I "one of the worst atrocities" of the 20th century and "a devastating chapter" in history. But he didn't call it genocide.
Obama's statement, issued as he and his wife spent a weekend getaway in western North Carolina, earned him criticism from all corners. The Turkish foreign minister said it was "unacceptable," and activists took issue with the president's tone in marking the 95th anniversary of the start of the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.
It is "a devastating chapter in the history of the Armenian people, and we must keep its memory alive in honor of those who were murdered and so that we do not repeat the grave mistakes of the past," Obama said.
Yet for a second year as president, Obama intentionally eschewed calling it a genocide. For Obama, referring to the killings as genocide could upend pledges to have a closer partnership with Turkey, a vital ally. Steering around the word, however, put him at odds with his own pledges to recognize the slaughter as genocide.
Yesterday, Armenian National Committee of America chairman Ken Hachikian said, "Today we join with Armenians in the United States and around the world in voicing our sharp disappointment with the president's failure to properly condemn and commemorate the Armenian genocide."
The Turkish Coalition of America said Obama's statement does not address "the equally tragic loss of even more Muslim lives in this turbulent period of Ottoman history."