EDITORIAL: Armenian genocide; Obama promise is overdue

Obama must risk Turkey's wrath and make good on 2008 promise.

FresnoApril 25, 2014 

A sign displayed Thursday outside Fresno City Hall during a service at the 9th annual Flag Raising ceremony hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America Central California.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

It is past time for President Barack Obama to keep the promise he made during his 2008 campaign and recognize the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire a century ago for what it was — genocide.

We were reminded of Obama's promise again by his omission of "genocide" in the statement the White House released Thursday on the commemoration of the systematic murder of Armenian men, women and children begun by the Ottoman Turks in 1915.

When Obama was courting Armenian support — as well as the support of all people who oppose the evil that can murder people based solely on ethnicity — for his presidential bid, he had no reservation about using the word "genocide."

"The facts are undeniable," Obama said in a statement in 2008. "As president, I will recognize the Armenian genocide."

Yet, on Thursday, he could not summon the courage to risk the wrath of Turkey, our NATO ally, by saying that the crimes committed constituted genocide. Instead, Obama characterized the slaughter "as one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century."

Women and children died because of forced starvation. Cultural leaders were murdered. Thousands of Armenians were asphyxiated in caves that foreshadowed Nazi gas chambers. Add up these atrocities and the most accurate description is genocide.

Obama has a moral obligation to keep his promise. But this issue is about more than Obama's integrity or the anguish carried forward by genocide survivors and the descendants of the massacred. This is also about reminding the world what America stands for. Do right and wrong matter less than strategic imperatives?

Obama isn't the first president to buckle under the weight of not wanting to anger Turkey, which refuses to acknowledge the truth of what was waged against Armenians. In 2007, when members of the House of Representatives were pressing for a nonbinding resolution recognizing the genocide, President George W. Bush — strapped to Turkey in the Iraq War — infamously said, "One thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire."

There is no good or bad time to acknowledge the truth. But sometimes it does require offending friends and dealing with the consequences. Obama should recognize the Armenian genocide and be done with it. The truth is, the president would be doing the Turks a favor because their attempt to whitewash history isn't in their best interest, either.

Know this, Armenians in America and around the world will continue to seek justice until justice is served.

They'll never quit. Nor should they — until the descendants of those responsible for this genocide acknowledge and express remorse for the horror of what occurred.

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