“Any acknowledgment by religious or political leaders of the tragedy that befell Armenians should be balanced, constructive and must also recognize Turkish and Muslim suffering,” the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) said in a statement, issued ahead of Friday’s 100th anniversary of the beginning of the atrocities.
“Characterizing the events of 1915 as genocide without proper investigation of these events by independent historians will not only jeopardize the establishment of a just memory pertaining to these events, but will also damage the efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation between Turks and Armenians,” it said.
Turkey reacted angrily this month to comments by Pope Francis and a European Parliament resolution using the term genocide in relation to the killings of up to 1.5 million orthodox Christian Armenians as the Ottoman Empire crumbled during World War I.
How the White House will word this year’s annual April 24 statement is now being keenly anticipated. Obama made a campaign pledge to recognize the atrocities as a genocide, but for the past six years has not done so.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, visiting Washington, is expected to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday. Officials cited in Turkish media say the visit aims to influence the wording the administration will use in Friday’s statement.
USCMO, a one-year-old umbrella group whose members include the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Muslim American Society (MAS), highlighted the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and NATO ally Turkey.
“As Americans, we are concerned about alienating a key ally, Turkey, through one-sided declarations that political and religious leaders have made on this subject,” it said.
“As the only Muslim-majority member of NATO and current president of the G-20 summit, Turkey has taken on a unique regional and global leadership role in ensuring peace and prosperity for all.”
Muslim Americans expect U.S. leaders to act “to ensure that American-Turkish strategic relations are not damaged by a one-sided interpretation of the 1915 events,” it added.
The relationship between Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been described in past years as close, although strains have arisen over Turkey’s human rights record and differences over how to deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) threat and the civil war in Syria.
The State Department continues to stress Turkey’s importance to U.S. interests in the region, however.
“Turkey is a key member of the anti-ISIL coalition,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf reiterated on Friday. “We work very closely with them as a NATO ally and partner on this and other issues.”
‘Full, frank, and just acknowledgement’
Earlier this month Harf declined to comment on Obama’s unkept campaign pledge to term the atrocities against Armenians a genocide, referring queries to “the 2008 Barack Obama campaign.”
As for the administration’s policy, she said, “the president and other senior administration officials have repeatedly acknowledged as historical fact and mourned the fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, and stated that a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all our interests, including Turkey’s, Armenia’s, and America’s.”
Turkey’s Islamist government acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of people died in 1915 and the years following, but attributes the loss of life to strife, disease and famine, and says that Christians and Muslims alike were affected.
In a statement Monday, Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu said that Turkey “believe[s] that facing the past in an honest way is as important as commemorating those who lost their lives in order to lighten our pains.”
“It’s possible to identify the reasons and perpetrators of what happened during the World War I. However, demoting everything to a single word and to put the responsibility solely on the Turkish people and associating it with hate speech is consciously and legally problematic.”
Much harsher language was used by his foreign ministry in response to last Wednesday’s European Parliament resolution, which labeled the mass killings a genocide and called on Turkey to end a policy of denial.
The ministry accused European lawmakers of being driven by “a religious and cultural fanaticism and indifference towards others regarded as different,” and of being in “partnership with those who have nothing to do with European values and feeding on hatred, revenge and the culture of conflict.”
The statement went on to advise members of the European Parliament to remember their own countries’ “roles and responsibilities in the most abhorrent calamities of humanity such as World War I and World War II.”