Barak Obama recognize the Armenian Genocide?
The killing of more than 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 by the erstwhile Ottoman Empire rulers in Turkey is one of the biggest mass murders in human history as recognized by many countries. The Turkish rulers intended to drive away all of the Armenians during the time of the first world war to establish their supremacy, especially over the businesses that the Armenians held in the country. In this pursuit, there were mass murders and thousands of Armenians also died when they were forced to march through the desert ostensibly in the pretext of finding them a rehabilitation camp.
While many countries in the world have long recognized this act of cruelty by the Turkish as an act of genocide or mass murders with the intention of wiping out an entire community, there are some that still refuse to officially recognize the incident as an act of genocide. And the United States is one such country where barring on just one fleeting occasion neither the U.S. president who is also the head of the state nor any official communique from the government have termed the killings as genocide. This has happened despite the fact that a large section of American historians and politicians recognize this as a case of genocide by Turkey and many celebrities and community and religious leaders across the world also condone to the term against Turkey.
The issue of the Armenian genocide comes up every year on April 24 during the annual marking of the start of the incidents of killing in Turkey in 1915. And no one has done a more alarming and seemingly clumsier volte-face in the issue as the outgoing U.S. president Barak Obama and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. On 24th April 2016, Barak Obama broke his moralistic campaign trail and did not term the Armenian massacre as ‘genocide’ for the eighth and the final time of his two-term tenure as President of the United States.
However, earlier, against severe objections by the Turkish government, many countries have termed the Armenian massacre as an act of genocide by Turkey. Germany, the home of the Jewish genocide and a country that has accepted its faults long ago, also joined the list to term the Armenian massacre as an act of Genocide. But the U.S. government is yet to officially accept the term for the Armenians. It is interesting to note however that many of the U.S. states that include Minnesota have referred to the Turkish crime against the Armenians as an act of genocide and used the term in official statements.
On just one fleeting occasion did the then U.S. President Ronald Reagan referred to the Armenian massacre as genocide in a 1981 proclamation. However, the U.S. state department had to issue a clarification in the face of severe opposition and criticism by Turkey that the words mentioned by the then President were not reflected in the official U.S. policy. However, Barak Obama seems to be an exception as he had been very vocal about using the term genocide for the Armenian killings in 1915 while he was running for the Presidential election back in 2008.
“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,” he had said in more than one election speech at that time (Jake Tapper, 2016). He also said that it was: “An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy” (Jake Tapper, 2016).
Obama had also promised that after he becomes president, he would see to it that the U.S. government recognizes the Armenian massacre of 1915 as an act of genocide and the U.S. official records would term it as the Armenian Genocide.
However, he has gone back on his words, since getting elected and has not yet kept his promise of calling the Armenian massacre as an act of genocide. With 2016 being his last year in office as President, it can well be said for certain that Obama would not be able to keep his word. The former secretary of state and the present presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton is also an example of a top U.S. politician doing a flip-flop on the issue. Clinton had issued a statement during the preliminary season for the Presidential election in 2008 when she was fighting Obama saying: that she was “alone among the presidential candidates, I have been a long-standing supporter of the Armenian Genocide Resolution” (Wofford, 2015). She also assured, just like Obama, that she would recognize the Armenian massacre as genocide once she was elected president. She said: “Our common morality and our nation’s credibility as a voice for human rights challenge us to ensure that the Armenian genocide is recognized and remembered by the Congress and the president.” (Wofford, 2015).
However, after she became secretary of state in the Obama administration, she also backtracked from her words. She is even reported to have lobbied Congress to prevent the genocide resolution never reaching the House floor. When in 2012 she was asked about the issue, she said that it was more an issue of historical debate than a political one clearly distancing herself from calling the Armenian massacre as a genocide. During her campaign in the latest presidential election has also not seen any reference to the Armenian genocide issue from Hilary hinting that her 2008 comments were more as reactionary statements to her rival Barrack Obama.
But the real question that has been debated and is perhaps more than well-known yet not officially recognized is, why is the U.S. government or the U.S. president not recognizing the massacre of the Armenians as an act of genocide by the then Turkish government. The U.S.’s relationship and close ties with Turkey span a period of over six decades. The relationship and the cordial ambiance shared by the two countries go back years. The two countries became close allies after Ankara joined the NATO in 1952. Barring a period of a few years from around 1975 till about 1981 when the U.S. had placed an arms embargo on Turkey over its military action on the island of Cyprus, both the countries have enjoyed cordial relationships with each other (Hovannisian, 1995).
The reason behind the U.S. paying such attention and attaching such importance to Turkey has its roots years ago. In 1979, there was an Islamist takeover of Iran and hence, Washington had to look for some form of an ally in the Middle Eastern region to maintain its supremacy and influence over the region. Turkey was a natural ally of the U.S. being a member of NATO and hence the relations between the two countries further enhanced since 1981. According to political analysts, the messiness of the neighbors of Turkey is the primary reason why Turkey is strategically so very important to the U.S. Moreover, strategically the Middle East has been important to the U.S. and the latter has tried to exert as much influence as it could in the region. The Iraq was is an example where the U.S. directly got involved in the regional crisis. One of the reasons for the importance of the Middle Eastern region is the abundant oil and maintaining an influence over the region can help America get access to this precious product. And in this quest Turkey becomes strategically very important to the U.S. as it is placed on the Northern tip of East Africa and close to Europe as well (Dadrian, 1992).
In recent years, with the rise of the Islamic state in Syria — neighboring Turkey, which has posed a major global threat to peace and stability, Turkey and the U.S. have become more closely attached to each other militarily. The U.S. is fighting a war against the ISIS from Turkish sold conducting air raids and training camps from Turkey. Very recently sanctions were lifted by the international community against Iran, a neighbor if Turkey and not a genuine ally of the U.S. also entails maintaining close ties with the latter. Hence, U.S. needs to keep Turkey close to itself for international commitments and for maintaining influence in the East African and the Middle Eastern regions (Dadrian, 1992).
The Turkish government has always refused to recognize the Armenian killings as a case of genocide. Instead, they claimed that their deaths occurred due to a bloody war at that time and that the number of dead has been inflated. Turkey even wants to let certain historians discuss, research and prove that it was a case of genocide in an attempt to muzzle all criticisms of the incidents. The country is still trying to establish this after more than a century of the happenings — denying any form of genocide on the Armenians.
In this conjecture, it is but imperative that the U.S. government would not want to antagonize the Turkish government for obvious political reasons. The political gains that the U.S. would stand to make, by holding on to Turkey as an ally, are more important to its objectives than criticizing it for an event that occurred more than a hundred years ago. And the strategic and political importance of Turkey for the has been persistent over the years, especially with the United States obligation to stop the Russian domination in Eastern Africa and the middle East Political analysts say that this political and strategic compulsion has forced the successive U.S. presidents over the years to refrain from antagonizing Turkey by using the word ‘genocide’ for the Armenian massacres by Turkey in 1915 (Hovannisian, 1995).
Why then do presidential candidates rake up the issue during the run-up to the elections? The reason is also simple; it is also political. Outside of Turkey, the largest community of Armenians in anywhere in the world rests in the U.S., and a large section of them have voting right as well. Hence, successive presidents, including Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton just to name a few, have appealed to the sensitive past of the Armenians for the sake of politics and to garner popularity among them (Hovannisian, 1995). However, after they assumed office, be it as President — Obama, or as secretary of state — Hillary Clinton had the further national obligation of maintaining good relations with Turkey and hence refrained from the use of the word genocide for the Armenian massacre of 1915 by the Turks.
Dadrian, V. (1992). Ottoman archives & denial of the Armenian Genocide. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].
Hovannisian, R. (1995). The Republic of Armenia, 1918-1920. Watertown, Mass.: Armenian Review.
Jake Tapper, C. (2016). Obama again breaks a promise on the Armenian genocide. CNN. Retrieved 27 May 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/24/politics/armenia-genocide-obama-broken-promise-jake-tapper/
Wofford, T. (2015). Hillary’s Shifting Stance on the Armenian Genocide. Newsweek.com. Retrieved 27 May 2016, from http://www.newsweek.com/hillarys-shifting-stance-armenian-genocide-324799
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