(CNSNews.com) – In early 2008, Samantha Power, later to become ambassador to the United Nations, urged the Armenian American community to support Sen. Barack Obama’s White House bid by highlighting his pledge to recognize long-ago atrocities against Armenian Christians as genocide.
In a video message to the community days before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primaries, the then-senior foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign spoke of his pledge as president to acknowledge the genocide and his willingness to “to call a spade a spade and to speak truth about it.”
“I know him very well and he’s a person of incredible integrity, and he’s not going to focus-group his way to making very important policy decisions. He’s a true friend of the Armenian people, an acknowledger of the history,” Power said, describing Obama as “a person who can actually be trusted.”
For the past six years Armenian American leaders have been waiting for President Obama to honor his campaign pledge that “as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Their anticipation mounted this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government is highly sensitive about the issue, and responded irately to recent “genocide” statements by Pope Francis and European lawmakers.
At a meeting Tuesday with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, Armenian American leaders said they were told that Obama would not use the term “genocide” in his customary April 24 statement on Friday.
Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) chairman Ken Hachikian responded angrily.
“President Obama's surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace,” he said in a statement. “It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust.”
“With the world's attention drawn this April 24th to worldwide Armenian Genocide centennial commemorations, President Obama will, tragically, use the moral standing of our nation not to defend the truth, but rather to enforce of a foreign power’s gag-rule,” Hachikian said. “He has effectively outsourced America's policy on the Armenian Genocide to [Turkish President] Recep Erdogan.”
In early February 2008 ANCA widely circulated a video message from Power, a Kennedy School of Government professor and foreign policy advisor to Obama.
Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, recalled in the video that the junior senator from Illinois had met with her in 2005 to discuss the issues raised in her book.
“He was the only member of Congress, the U.S. Senate, to reach out to me having read that book, in which I documented what had been done to the Armenians in 1915.”
She referred to Obama’s “unshakeable conscientiousness about human rights,” and praised his “understanding the cost of denial and the degree to which that fuels further cycles of violence.”
Power also lauded the candidate’s “willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and conventional Washington.”
“As your community knows better than anybody, business as usual in Washington leads to certain bad habits that are destructive for human rights and for human dignity.”
She cited Obama’s “very forthright statement on the Armenian genocide, his support for the Senate resolution acknowledging the genocide all these years later, his willingness as president to commemorate it and certainly to call a spade a spade, and to speak truth about it.”
Power expressed the hope Armenian Americans would “take my word for it,” or if not then that that they would pay attention to everything Obama had to say, “because he’s a person who can actually be trusted.”
‘Hoping to hear different language this year’
Administration officials have not said directly that the decision to avoid the term “genocide” was made in response to Turkey’s sensitivities, but they implied as much by citing what they say is a crucial role played by Turkey in confronting today’s atrocities in the region.
Taking reporters’ questions on the Turkey/Armenia issue on Air Force One on Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz spoke of Turkey playing “a critical role as we confront the horrific atrocities that occur today in both Iraq and Syria.”
“Do you believe that the relationship with Turkey is so fragile that just to use the word ‘genocide’ would create such problems for all the things you’ve just talked about?” a reporter asked.
“I know there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year, and we understand their perspective even as we believe that the approach we’ve taken in previous years remains the right one, both for acknowledging the past and for our ability to work with these regional partners in the present,” Schultz replied.
At the State Department daily briefing, spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked to respond to Armenian Americans’ leaders claim that the administration was submitting itself to a Turkish “gag order.”
“I hadn’t seen that,” she said. “But we make decisions on our own about what we say and how we talk about things.”
Harf confirmed that the issue had come up – “briefly” – during a meeting in Washington on Tuesday between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.