Obama and the ‘G-word’

Obama Meets Erdogan Late Saturday night it was revealed that President Barack Obama failed to use the word “genocide” when addressing Armenian-Americans in his annual presidential address on April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Last year Armenians across the US and around the world were immensely disappointed. This year they are outright outraged, and they have every reason to be.

The text of the address was essentially a copy and paste job from last year’s letter, in which vague terminology and even factually incorrect information was written, along with a transliterated Armenian phrase to illustrate the Armenian Genocide. I read today that the Turks were nevertheless upset by the letter, even though there was really no reason to be since no blame was directly pointed at the Turks, past or present. The letter was written in a way to appease both Armenians and Turks, but indeed it proved to be a complete failure.

Particular disturbing was the following sentence for its irony and deception: “Together, the Turkish and Armenian people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.” The “common history” and “common humanity” shared between the Armenians and Turks has always been one of oppression, hatred and brutality. There is no need to present research and cite sources here for anyone to understand that beyond common knowledge. Armenians were always considered second class citizens in the Ottoman Empire and in many ways even in modern Turkey. Today freedom of speech and education for Armenians are suppressed, and they are even being killed for speaking out in public about the genocide (Hrant Dink). Armenian businessmen, community leaders and intellectuals were always scorned in the old days, and when the overwhelming majority of them mysteriously disappeared virtually overnight on April 24, 1915, that marked the beginning of the end of “common humanity.”

There is also this bizarre statement, which appeared just before the one I pointed to above: “I salute the Turks who saved Armenians in 1915 and am encouraged by the dialogue among Turks and Armenians, and within Turkey itself, regarding this painful history.” Indeed, there were Turkish families who hid Armenians from Turkish gendarmes when the death marches, pillaging and raping raged. Yet they were few and far between, and they did virtually nothing (unless I don’t have my facts straight) to demonstrate opposition to government policy. Perhaps President Obama wasn’t briefed of the status of the “dialogue” last week, but something tells me there was no way of him being unaware of the current situation.

This year it became more obvious than ever that guns and money mean infinitely more than morality and honesty. For decades US presidents have refrained from using the “G-word” and although the pass-up was always disappointing to say the least, it was part of State Department policy. US military and strategic ties with Turkey have always been sacred. And now—with two wars waging in Western Asia and a key American air base in Incirlik—the US needs Turkey’s cooperation more than ever.

But this time there was a pertinent, timely issue that had never presented itself before—reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, two centuries-old foes whose mutual animosities have prevented diplomatic relations from being rekindled since 1993 when Turkey closed the line of demarcation to show solidarity with its Turkic brother nation, Azerbaijan, during the Karakakh war. The US was a main player in brokering the two infamous Turkish-Armenian protocols. Both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama worked tirelessly to ensure that they were signed, and even harder to see that they be ratified by both Turkey and Armenia without preconditions. Alas, Turkey could not resist and resumed its insistence that Armenia forget about international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, weaken ties with the Armenian Diaspora, and, even more ridiculous, sign a peace deal pronto with Azerbaijan. Then the president had a tête-à-tête with Prime Minister Erdogan two weeks ago during the nuclear security summit in Washington, D.C. Only days after, Erdogan was reported to have renewed his drive for attaching preconditions before the protocols could be ratified. And then Armenia indefinitely put the protocols on the back burner.

So you have a US presidential administration that has been essentially belittled and undermined by Turkey before the entire world for the sake of guns and money. The US congress was pressing for President Obama to do the right thing this year, and I am sure other world nations were also waiting in anticipation, given the way the recent events have panned out. The entire time during the reconciliation process US State Department officials have been praising Armenia’s cooperation and they even lauded President Serge Sarkisian’s decision to remove the protocols from the National Assembly’s agenda rather than Armenia’s signiture. Concurrently, Turkey the naughty bully had been thumbing its nose at Washington, and Erdogan ultimately got his way.

Given the events of the last 10 days or so, this was certainly the year for the US president to do the right thing, especially after having been defied and essentially mocked by his “friend and ally” before the entire world. There was really no excuse this time, despite the waging wars and the dependence on Turkey. Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu managed very nicely to look both President Obama and Secretary Clinton like naïve chumps. But it seems they are content with that. In the meantime, the Armenians continue hungrily waiting for justice, with hopes ever fading.

Photo credit: EPA