Barack Obama: Genocide denier

The White House announced that, despite promising during the 2008 campaign that President Obama would describe the slaughter of more than 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish government beginning 100 years ago as "genocide," the president will leave that word out of his official statement on the anniversary of the atrocity on April 24.

To be fair, no American president except Ronald Reagan has stood up to the Turkish government and said what morally and ethically needed to be said about the planned, deliberate, and careful elimination of the Armenian people by first the Ottoman Empire and then the government of post-World War I Turkey.  The facts are undeniable, contained in government documents of the time and numerous eyewitness testimonies.  But to date, no recent American president except Reagan has dared enrage the Turkish government by accusing the country of genocide.


As a candidate in 2008, Obama issued a statement promising to describe the plight of the Armenians as a genocide, but in his previous five statements he has not done so — mainly to avoid a rupture in diplomatic relations with Turkey, a NATO ally and key partner in addressing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

Armenian-American leaders, hopeful that the 100th anniversary and recent support for their view from Pope Francis, were dejected on Tuesday.

“This is a betrayal of the truth, a betrayal of trust, a disgraceful national surrender to a foreign gag order being imposed by the government of Turkey,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, who attended the White House meeting.

A statement from the White House noted that McDonough and Rhodes “pledged that the United States will use the occasion to urge a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts that we believe is in the interest of all parties.”

“I’m deeply disappointed that the president, once again, will fail to properly describe the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 for what it was — genocide,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “How long must the victims and their families wait before our nation has the courage to confront Turkey with the truth about the murderous past of the Ottoman Empire? If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?”

NRO's Patrick Brennan defends the president's decision, partly based on the realpolitik notion that we can't afford to offend Turkey:

During the Iraq War years, conservatives argued it was incredibly irresponsible to for the U.S. to speak out on this question because it would anger Turkey, whose cooperation we needed. The stakes are definitely lower, though not negligible, now, but that doesn’t make recognition obligatory.

What the Turkish government and local militias did to the country’s Armenian Christians in 1915 and following was horrific — a great evil. But it is also a matter of legitimate historical dispute whether it amounted to state-directed genocide.

The Turkish state maintains a great deal of baseless historical fictions, including some about its brutal treatment of Armenians during World War I and in decades prior. But the idea that the Armenian deportations did not amount to state-directed genocide is not one of them. Indeed, there are a number of eminent historians who believe that the horrors either did not amount to genocide or that the evidence is too unreliable to say. (And this doesn’t even get into the worry that putting it on part with the Nazi Holocaust doesn’t make sense and risks cheapening the term.)

The U.S. president’s view of history shouldn’t be dictated by the Turkish government. But it seems quite reasonable for a president to refrain from pronouncing on a complicated, controversial historical question in a way that would offend an ally, and instead just stick to offering his sympathies to the Armenian people over the great suffering they endured. President Obama is sending a relatively high-level official (Treasury secretary Jack Lew) to the commemorations in Armenia this week — maybe there’s more he could do, but it shouldn’t have to involve arbitrary historical categorization.

The semantics employed to describe the deliberate elimination of 1.5 million human beings of a particular ethnic group are beside the point.  No one disputes the body count.  Few dispute that the Turkish government knew that hundreds of thousands would die in their forced march – deliberately marching the Armenians without food or water – into the Syrian desert.  And the unmistakable, targeted killing of Armenian men and boys, leaving the bodies to rot in the streets, is not up for debate, either.

Instead, the entire defense of Turkey rests on the idea that calling the slaughter "genocide" is not 100% historically accurate and cheapens the word when applied to the atrocity against Armenians.  That just doesn't cut it, and it says something very brave about President Reagan that he would risk the wrath of the Turks to refer to the crime as genocide.

The Turks got over Reagan's acknowledgement, as they would probably get over a President Obama recognition of Armenian genocide.  Transient political considerations pale when placed against the moral necessity of naming names, and calling the killing of Armenians 100 years ago what it was.

Genocide has 1.5 million faces.  And they beckon from their shallow graves for justice.