(Update: Turkey’s foreign ministry later slammed Trump’s statement, saying it “contained misinformation and false definitions, and were derived from the information pollution created over the years by some Armenian circles in the U.S. by means of propaganda methods.”)
(CNSNews.com) – Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, President Trump on Monday marked the anniversary of Ottoman Turkey’s mass atrocities against Armenians a century ago without using the weighty term “genocide,” prompting some Armenian critics to decry what they called “capitulation” to Ankara.
The president instead described the episode as “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century” and used the Armenian term Meds Yeghern, which is variously translated “great evil,” “great cri
e” or “great calamity.”
“Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire,” the statement said. “I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many.”
Historians maintain that some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in and after 1915, as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. Turkey says that between 250,000 and 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Muslims, died in civil strife and war-related deaths.
It denies the genocide claims and in past years has lobbied hard to ensure that occupants of the White House do not give in to bipartisan congressional pressure to recognize the mass killings as genocide.
Governments of Armenia, a predominantly orthodox Christian former Soviet republic, prioritize the issue, and have welcomed genocide recognition from a number of European and Latin American governments, from Pope Francis in 2015 and 2016 – as well as from 45 states of the U.S., according to data compiled by the Washington-based Armenian National Institute.
In recent weeks, Trump was urged by lawmakers from both parties to recognize the atrocities as a genocide. More than 80 members of Congress signed a letter to the president earlier this month, encouraging him to “properly commemorate the Armenian Genocide on April 24th.”
After Monday’s White House statement, Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian, co-chairmen of the Washington-based Armenian Assembly of America expressed their disappointment.
“At a time when Christians and minority communities continue to be in imminent danger and under constant attack, the president’s statement fails to stand up for human rights and is inconsistent with American values, and represents the same kind of capitulation to Turkish authoritarianism which will cost more lives,” they said.
“President Trump has chosen to enforce Ankara’s gag-rule against American condemnation and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide,” said Armenian National Committee of America chairman Aram Hamparian.
“In failing to properly mark April 24th, President Trump is effectively outsourcing U.S. genocide-prevention policy to [Turkish President] Recep Erdogan, an arrogant and authoritarian dictator who clearly enjoys the public spectacle of arm-twisting American presidents into silence on Turkey’s mass murder of millions of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other Christians,” he said.
Asked about the wording of the president’s statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told a press briefing Monday it was “consistent with the statements that have been put out for at least several of the past administrations.”
A reporter observed that Trump has not been shy in criticizing predecessors from both parties for “missteps” and has “made a point of often bucking convention.”
Spicer repeated that the statement was “consistent with the last several administrations” and added that it was “perfectly in keeping with the language that’s been used over and over again.”
Not since Reagan
The Association of Genocide Scholars in a unanimous 1997 resolution reaffirmed “that the mass murder of over a million Armenians in Turkey in 1915 is a case of genocide which conforms to the statutes of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”
Armenians and Armenian-Americans recall that President Reagan, in a 1981 Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation, referred to “the genocide of the Armenians.”
No U.S. president since then has done so publicly while in office.
(Three years earlier President Carter, without using the word term “genocide,” did refer to “a concerted effort made to eliminate all the Armenian people.” The intent to destroy a group, accompanied by atrocities aimed at achieving that end, amounts to the legal definition of genocide.)
President George H.W. Bush referred to the “terrible massacres” and called them a “crime against humanity.”
President Clinton used the terms “massacres” and “one of the saddest chapters of this century.”
President George W. Bush’s annual statements spoke of an “appalling tragedy” and “one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.”
Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton both intervened to discourage Congress from passing bipartisan Armenian genocide bills. Republican and Democratic secretaries of state and defense advised against the move, citing the importance of the alliance with Turkey.
President Obama used the phrase “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century” and, in later statements, also used the Armenian expression Meds Yeghern.
Unlike some others, however, Obama pledged unambiguously while campaigning for the presidency to call the episode a genocide.
He declared in a 2008 statement his “firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”
“[A]s President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” he said.
Samantha Power, who served as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, was the one high-profile member of his administration to use the word “genocide” in public in relation to the Turkish atrocities – at an event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last December.
On Monday, Power said on her Twitter feed that “Almost every Armenian-American family was touched in some way by the genocide. Ongoing Turkish denial makes the genocide an open wound.”
“I am very sorry that, during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the Armenian Genocide,” she said.