YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Official Yerevan on Monday praised U.S. President Barack Obama’s April 24 statement, despite the President’s betrayal of a campaign pledge to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide in his annual address to the Armenian-American community.
In a written statement on Friday, Obama used the Armenian phrase Mets Yeghern, or Great Catastrophe, to mark the 94th anniversary of Genocide. As a Senator and presidential candidate, he had pledged repeatedly to properly 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.”
Obama’s failure to keep his campaign pledge was immediately met with disappointment and sharp criticism by Armenians across the world. In a statement released shortly after Obama’s statement, Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, said the President’s statement “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.”
Armenia’s Foreign Minister, Edward Nalbandian, was, however, upbeat Monday, calling Obama’s statement “a step forward from relevant statements made by other U.S. presidents.”
Speaking to the Armenpress news agency, Nalbandian said he believed the “statement contains very strong points. President Obama said that he has repeatedly spoken out on the events of 1915 and that he has not changed those views.”
On January 19, 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said, “The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”
In a sharp reversal, Obama’s April 24 address avoided the term “genocide,” instead characterizing what occurred in 1915 as a “view” rather than “a widely documented fact.”
“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” the President said in his April 24 address.
“President Obama used the phrase Mets Yeghern. We Armenians ourselves use both the terms genocide and Mets Yeghern,” Nalbandian said. The English translation for Mets Yeghern is great calamity.
“But of course the Armenians expected that the U.S. president will use the word genocide,” added Nalbandian.
In his April 24 message, Obama implied that he will not recognize the Genocide to avoid antagonizing Turkey and setting back its ongoing rapprochement with Armenia. He cited and welcomed in that regard the announcement by the Turkish and Armenian governments that they have agreed on a “roadmap” for the normalization of bilateral ties.
The announcement came less than two days before Armenians around the world were set to commemorate the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Many in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora were furious with what they considered a betrayal by the Armenian government, saying that that the timing gave the U.S. president a perfect pretext to backtrack on his campaign pledge.
Several thousand protesters took to the streets in Yerevan on April 23 to protest the announcement by Yerevan and Ankara, condemning the move as a betrayal of national interests. The demonstrations came during an annual march through the capital holding flaming torches on the eve of the national commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation said on Monday, that Armenia’s government is “at least indirectly” responsible for Obama’s failure to reaffirm genocide recognition. “Those U.S. congressmen who have supported Armenian resolutions are now saying that if wasn’t for that [Turkish-Armenian] agreement, Obama would have had great difficulty avoiding uttering the word genocide,” he said.
Nalbandian denied any connection between the timing of the “roadmap” announcement and the genocide remembrance day.