Saturday, April 24, 2010
Obama avoids saying "genocide" when discussing massacre of Armenians
On the day Armenia has chosen to mark the mass killing of its people by Ottoman Turks at the end of World War I, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged "one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century," but didn't say the term "genocide." The careful choice of words was no accident -- Turkey is overly sensitive about what others think of it, and the United States is trying to keep Ankara engaged in the treacherous world of Middle East peacemaking, where it has been an asset . "On this solemn day of remembrance, we pause to recall that 95 years ago one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century began," Obama said in a statement issued Saturday by the White House, according to the Reuters international news service. "In that dark moment of history, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire." The remarks took on even more significance in light of Thursday's collapse of a deal to have Turkey and Armenia establish diplomatic relations and open their shared border for the first time. The deal, designed to ease tensions in the strategic south Caucasus region, apparently hung up over Turkey's demand that Armenia work out its differences with nearby Azerbaijan as a condition of the agreement, Reuters said. The region has taken on new strategic importance since the breakup of the Soviet Union because it is crossed by new pipelines shipping energy to Europe. Seen in this context, Obama's remarks were conciliatory towards Turkey, even if historically inaccurate. During his campaign for the U.S. presidency in 2008, Obama used the word "genocide" when describing the killings by the Ottoman Turks. Maybe diplomatic outreach really isn't as easy as he likes to describe it. Turkey, as we know, was angry and withdrew its ambassador to Washington in March after the House of Representative passed a nonbinding resolution that called the killings "genocide." The full body has not yet voted on the resolution and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama administration opposes it, Reuters said.