President Barack Obama was so adamant about his view on the Armenian Genocide. He said, in Turkey, that he is on the record and he has not changed his view. On Thursday, April 23, in his Holocaust Remembrance speech, he asked: “How do we ensure that ‘never again’ isn’t an empty slogan, or merely an aspiration, but also a call to action?” He answered, “by bearing witness, by fighting the silence.”
Armenian Americans felt assured that the next day he will bear witness to and fight the silence on the Armenian Genocide. We all believed the President of change was about to bring change to a White House that for so many years has — at the last minute — traded away the Armenian Genocide. This was the change we needed.
Then, he failed us. On April 24, in his Armenian Remembrance Day Statement, he creatively avoided the term genocide — thus signaling that he has changed his view, after all. And this is a change Armenian Americans did not need.
He claimed in his statement, “I have consistently stated my view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” yet he took every care to bypass the word genocide. He promised, “My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts,” but he missed the point that his statement could have fulfilled his interest for the acknowledgment by adding genocide to “Meds Yeghern”.
Without excusing the withholding of the term genocide from the presidential statement, it should be noted that this year the President — unlike his predecessors — encountered an extremely tough decision. In previous years, it was relatively easy for the American president to decide against using the word genocide in his statement. Until Obama’s presidency, application of the genocide terminology to the Armenian case was perceived in terms of American values and moral principles that were outweighed by arguments of geopolitical and strategic realities, coupled with the military-industrial interests of certain U.S. corporations. As such, the choice was easy — the so-called strategic-economic interests trumped the moral principles.
But this year, perception of the Armenian Genocide terminology underwent a qualitative change in the presidential calculus. First, there was the President’s unequivocal pledge for the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide when elected president — a pledge that was reiterated over and over again.
Second, during his visit to Turkey at the beginning of this month, the President’s statements elevated the Armenian Genocide recognition issue to a political level as opposed to Turkish efforts of confining it to a historical context.
Third, Washington developed a gradual realization of Armenia’s strategic importance in the Caucasus region. Despite numerous studies lavishly hyping Turkey’s strategic importance to the Omaba administration, Armenia’s relative importance was not going unnoticed. In this respect, it is now becoming discernible that Armenia’s geographic setting complements Turkey’s geopolitical importance. (Hopefully, the Foggy Bottom analysts would soon arrive at the reckoning that eastern Turkey – which used to be better known as Western Armenia – constitutes the natural continuation of the present-day tiny Armenia.)
Amidst this landscape the issue of Armenian Genocide recognition spread beyond its moral context to acquire political importance in the eyes of the Obama administration. This issue now opened new vistas for its use as political leverage for or against a given country in the region.
It was no surprise that Turkish authorities, led by President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan, not only expressed their utter dissatisfaction at the content of the President’s statement; they were also concerned over the U.S. administration’s use of the recognition issue as political leverage.
In the final analysis the fact remains that as the President was facing a tough decision over the use of the word genocide, his administration managed this year to derail the pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Editor’s Note: Seto Boyadjian is an attorney and member of the national board of the Armenian National Committee.