The demonstration, organized annually by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), is a symbolic focal point for the community and represents its year-long struggle to gain proper recognition and justice for the deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.
“But today, the President broke his promise to bring change to the White House on the issue of Genocide,” said one demonstrator, holding a sign that asked why Obama retreated from his pledge. “The President’s failure to accurately characterize the Genocide after having spoken forcefully about ending the Genocide in Darfur will undermine his credibility when speaking about the issue of genocide.”
Many at the demonstration shared this disappointment, angered by the fact that Turkey was again able to coax the United States of America into silence.
Obama’s failure to speak truth to power angered many Armenians this year, who had begun their day optimistic that he would rectify the wrongs of previous administrations, according to Avo Shanlian, who served as a monitor at the demonstration.
“Turkey’s threats to retaliate against us for speaking against genocide tells us more about Turkey and its own domestic problems than it does about the Armenian Genocide, which we all know to be an established fact of history,” said Saro Haroun, a spokesperson for the AYF, who spoke to reporters covering the demonstration about Turkey’s annual attempts to prevent the US from reaffirming its record on the Genocide.
Another demonstrator, Ileen Izekelian, said America’s stand against genocide must be driven by moral values, not political interests. Turkish officials, from the President to the Foreign Minister, had repeatedly warned President Obama to steer clear of the issue or face retaliation by Turkey. Ankara threatened to sabotage US efforts to leave Iraq and break off negotiations with Armenia over the establishment of diplomatic relations and the lifting of its illegal blockade.
Ankara has been using its talks with Yerevan to scuttle international recognition of the Armenian genocide, explained Sarkis Semerjian. “Throughout the entire process, Turkey has been placing preconditions on Armenia, demanding Yerevan drop efforts to recognize the Genocide and agree to establish a historical commission to ostensibly examine the events of 1915-1923.”
Such a commission seeks to question the veracity of the Genocide–a crime widely accepted by historians as a settled and indisputable fact.
Last Friday’s protest came two days after the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministries issued a joint statement announcing the two governments had agreed on a “roadmap” for normalizing bilateral relations. The cryptic statement is seen as a tacit green light to Obama to not recognize the Genocide, a move most in Armenia and its worldwide diaspora have categorically condemned as a diplomatic blunder.
“Given its past practice and the obvious timing of this agreement just prior to April 24th, Turkey’s motive is absolutely clear–to defer, delay, and defeat U.S. recognition of the Genocide,” exclaimed Arek Santikian, another spokesperson of the AYF.
“I am skeptical of Turkey’s willingness to sincerely engage in meaningful dialogue. It’s hard to believe that Turkey has in any meaningful way altered its longstanding belligerence toward Armenians, which it oppresses within its own country by making it a crime to discuss the Genocide,” he said, expressing disappointment both with Obama and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian. “The release of the statement on the eve of the 94th anniversary of the Genocide and right before Obama was expected to recognize the Genocide is a blow to Armenia, the Armenian people and worldwide efforts to end the genocide in Darfur.”
Many at the event described Obama’s April 24 statement as a “retreat” from American values and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring to Washington during his campaign.
Hilton Sorkazian likened the President’s handling of the situation with how the Bush administration tiptoed around the issue every April 24. George Bush repeatedly reneged on his campaign pledge to recognize the Genocide. Placating Turkish interests, Bush personally lobbied members of Congress in 2007 to prevent them from passing a resolution reaffirming the US record on the Armenian Genocide.
“Our struggle does not begin or end with one day; it does not being or end with the Turkish Consulate; and it does not begin or end with any statements by Barack Obama,” exclaimed the Chairman of the AYF, Vache Thomassian, in a speech during the protest.
Thomassian honored the memory of Ghazaros Kademian, a Genocide survivor who regularly attended the demonstration until his death earlier this year at the age of 102. “It is for Ghazaros’ generation as well as our future generations that we fight [for recognition and prevention].”
“The community’s struggle is built on a desire for justice for the lives that were lost, the properties that were taken and the lands that have been occupied,” he continued, stressing that Turkey’s assertion that Genocide recognition will stifle reconciliation with Armenia is a hoax. “No pathetic attempt to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey can be sincere without recognizing the Genocide.”
Speaking to Asbarez after the protest, Thomassian said the AYF, and the Armenian- American community, now look to Barack Obama to end the semantics by speaking truthfully on the issue by properly condemning and commemorating the crime. “We urge our President to make a speedy and public correction to his Administration’s policy on the Armenian Genocide.”
Shunt Jarchafjian, a member of the AYF Central Executive who delivered a speech at the protest in Armenian, told Asbarez he expec ts Obama to work toward the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution introduced in Congress earlier in March.
“The resolution has over a hundred co-sponsors now and the community should redouble its grassroots efforts to ensure that support for the bi-partisan legislation grows to secure its passage,” he said. “Obama missed yet another opportunity and should now give full support to congressional efforts to recognize the Genocide.”
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