BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The presidents of the United States, France, and Turkey issued statements on April 24, the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Of the three, only the French President Emmanuel Macron had the honesty and courage to call the tragic events by their proper name — Genocide. President Trump avoided using the term genocide, while President Erdogan, not surprisingly, issued a denialist statement!
President Macron stated in his April 24 letter to Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian: “With you, we remember April 24, 1915 and the murder of 600 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople that marked the start of the first genocide of the 20th century. We will never forget those murdered men, women and children who perished on the road to exile, from hunger, cold and emaciation…. Together with Great Britain and Russia, France, as early as May 25, 1915, described those massacres as a crime against humanity and civilization. In September 1915, the French fleet, under fire, managed to save over 4,000 refugees from Musa Dagh.” In his compassionate letter, the French President accurately defined the mass killings of Armenians as Genocide — several times.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, repeated his last year’s statement avoiding the term genocide and using the Armenian words ‘Meds Yeghern’ which is meaningless to most Americans. ‘Meds Yeghern’ (Great Crime), among other terms, was used by Armenians, before the word genocide was coined by Jewish-Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin in the 1940’s. While ‘Meds Yeghern’ is simply a description of the Turkish atrocities against Armenians, genocide is a terminology of international law, according to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the United Nations on December 9, 1948. President Trump used the words ‘Meds Yeghern’ simply to avoid the term genocide in order to appease the Turkish government. It is shameful that President Trump, a non-traditional leader who prides himself on taking unorthodox stands on many national and international issues, would follow the evasive tradition of his predecessors and go along with the denialists in Ankara!
On April 24, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, in response to a journalist’s question, confirmed that President Trump had simply copied the language of his predecessors. Sanders stated: “The resolution that the President signed was consistent with past administrations as well.”
Using verbal gymnastics, President Trump referred to the Armenian Genocide as “one of the worst mass atrocities,” “the horrific events of 1915,” and “painful elements of the past.” President Trump’s advisers are providing a poor service by urging him to replace the term genocide with ‘Meds Yeghern.’ Rather than winning over Armenian-American citizens, this terminology is antagonizing them. If President Trump does not have the courage to use the right word, he should not issue any statement at all on April 24. Previously, President Ronald Reagan had issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981 acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. In addition, the US House of Representatives had adopted two resolutions in 1975 and 1984 recognizing the Armenian Genocide, and the US government had filed a report with the World Court in 1951 mentioning the Armenian Genocide. Consequently, the Armenian Genocide has been repeatedly recognized by the United States government. All President Trump has to do is to reaffirm the U.S. historical record on the Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian National Committee of America denounced President Trump’s “failure to lead an honest remembrance of the Armenian Genocide…. President Trump’s ‘Turkey First’ approach tightens Erdogan’s grip over U.S. policy on the genocide of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other Christians.” Furthermore, the Armenian Assembly of America described President Trump’s April 24 statement as “a missed opportunity to unequivocally reaffirm the Armenian Genocide.”
Not surprisingly, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a press release on April 25, 2018 to counter President Trump’s April 24 statement: “We reject the inaccurate expressions and the subjective interpretation of history in the written statement by Mr. Donald Trump, President of the USA, released on 24 April 2018 regarding the events of 1915. Our expectation from the US Administration is a fair assessment of a period during which all the peoples of the Ottoman Empire suffered tremendously.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement, as expected, contains several major factual errors:
1. It equates the deaths of “500,000 Muslims” during World War I to the murder of 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children. Genocide victims and war casualties are not the same thing.
2. It repeats the same lie that the Turkish government has opened its archives to researchers and offered to establish a ‘Joint Historical Commission.’ In fact, Turkish authorities have cleansed the Ottoman archives of incriminating documents, and the Joint Historical Commission is simply a ruse to delay the Turkish admission of guilt.
3. It boasts about Turkish President Erdogan’s statement sent to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul on April 24, 2018 to commemorate the “Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in the conditions of World War I.” We need to remember that the Armenian Genocide is unrelated to World War I, just like the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust were not casualties of World War II.
We hope that presidents Erdogan and Trump will have the courage to call the Armenian mass killings by their proper name — Genocide. French President Macron has done it, so should Erdogan and Trump!