Lebanese-Armenian protesters tear a Turkish flag. (Hussein Malla/AP)
One day after paying a solemn visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915 "one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century" but again broke a 2008 campaign promise to label the tragedy a "genocide."
"We honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire," Obama said in a written statement on Armenian Remembrance Day.
"A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past," Obama said in an implicit appeal for vital American ally Turkey to move closer to recognizing the massacre.
Turkey, a NATO member, fiercely disputes the genocide charge and has warned that formal U.S. steps to use the term will hamper relations. Turkey's ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, sharply criticized a similar statement from Obama in 2011, taking to Twitter to denounce it as inaccurate, flawed and one-sided.
The issue is also a powerful one for Armenian-Americans. The Armenian Reporter news site has repeatedly and forcefully condemned what it mockingly calls "amnesia" on the part of Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who as senators co-sponsored a resolution calling for the use of the term "genocide" when discussing the tragedy.
On Oct. 2, 2008, the paper published a letter from then-candidate Obama in which he trumpeted "my 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."
"The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy," Obama wrote. "As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."
The chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Ken Hachikian, issued a blistering denunciation of Obama's latest statement, saying it made a "stark lie" out of his 2008 campaign pledge and charging it "represents the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to Armenian Americans and to all the citizens of our nation."
Armenian-American celebrity Kim Kardashian marked the event on her official Twitter feed, @kimkardashian. "Today lets all stand together & remember the 1.5 million people who were massacred in the Armenian Genocide. April 24th, 1915. #NEVERFORGET," she wrote.
ANCA, which has a list detailing Obama's pre-White House support for labeling the massacre a "genocide," recently condemned Clinton for saying that whether to call it that "has always been viewed, and I think properly so, as a matter of historical debate."
More than 20 countries have recognized the events of 1915 as genocide, and 42 U.S. states have done so as well, either by legislation or proclamation. Congressional resolutions aimed at doing the same at the national level have never become law. Successive presidents have objected on grounds that doing so risks angering Turkey.
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