April 25, 2010, USA Today - Once again, President Obama stepped carefully into the historic dispute between Turkey and Armenia, but he still got criticized.
Obama issued the annual statement on Armenian Remembrance Day on Saturday, honoring the "horrific events" that took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 -- but declining to label it as "genocide."
Turkey, a key Islamic ally of the U.S. that angrily denies accusations of genocide, attacked Obama's statement as "one-sided."
"The statement distorts the historical facts." said the Turkish foreign ministry. "Therefore, we find it very problematic and deeply regret it ... One-sided statements that interpret controversial historical events by a selective sense of justice prevent understanding of the truth."
In his statement -- issued late Saturday -- Obama said: "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts is in all our interests."
In the meantime, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, Ken Hachikian, criticized Obama for a "disgraceful capitulation to Turkey's threats" and failing to acknowledge what many historians describe as genocide.
"His complicity in Turkey's denials, and his administration's active opposition to congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide represent the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to bring to our country's response to this crime," Hachikian said.
On the other side came this statement from G. Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America:
The president's views of this history and his statements perpetuate a missionary mentality which elevates Armenian suffering while ignoring the massive suffering caused by the ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Muslims from the Balkans, Eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, five million Ottoman Muslims were killed, and five and a half million were expelled from lands which they had lived on for centuries.
TCA believes that without providing equal recognition of the tragedies inflicted on the Ottoman Muslim population during those years, reconciliation between Turks and Armenians will continue to elude us.
The Associated Press reports:
Armenians say that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, which Armenians and several nations around the world recognize as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey denies that the massacres were genocide, saying the death toll is inflated and Armenians were killed in civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Here is Obama's statement in full:
We solemnly remember the horrific events that took place ninety-six years ago, resulting in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.
I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts is in all our interests. Contested history destabilizes the present and stains the memory of those whose lives were taken, while reckoning with the past lays a sturdy foundation for a peaceful and prosperous shared future.
History teaches us that our nations are stronger and our cause is more just when we appropriately recognize painful pasts and work to rebuild bridges of understanding toward a better tomorrow.
The United States knows this lesson well from the dark chapters in our own history. I support the courageous steps taken by individuals in Armenia and Turkey to foster a dialogue that acknowledges their common history.
As we commemorate the Meds Yeghern and pay tribute to the memories of those who perished, we also recommit ourselves to ensuring that devastating events like these are never repeated. This is a contemporary cause that thousands of Armenian-Americans have made their own.
The legacy of the Armenian people is one of resiliency, determination, and triumph over those who sought to destroy them.
The United States has deeply benefited from the significant contributions to our nation by Armenian Americans, many of whom are descended from the survivors of the Meds Yeghern. Americans of Armenian descent have strengthened our society and our communities with their rich culture and traditions.
The spirit of the Armenian people in the face of this tragic history serves as an inspiration for all those who seek a more peaceful and just world.
Our hearts and prayers are with Armenians everywhere as we recall the horrors of the Meds Yeghern, honor the memories of those who suffered, and pledge our friendship and deep respect for the people of Armenia.