Why The U.S. Won't Acknowledge This Historic Tragedy

Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Today, the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Memorial events are scheduled in countries across the globe, formally honoring the estimated 1.5 million people systematically killed by the Ottoman Turks. But, the U.S. isn't one of them — not officially, anyway. In the United States, the "genocide" is still in quotes. 

Many sources do count the U.S. as one of the 25 sovereign nations that recognize the Armenian Genocide as of April, 2015. But, the truth is more complex and murky: A number of government documents acknowledge the genocide; 43 states officially recognize it; and, in 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives almost passed the Armenian Genocide Resolution that would formalize U.S. recognition. In response, Turkey yanked its U.S. ambassador out of the country, President Bush urged Congress to back off, and support crumbled. The bill has been in limbo ever since.

But, Bush was not the only president to balk at this topic. Though many have promised to acknowledge the genocide, only Ronald Reagan has ever done so. Before his presidency, Barack Obama was a champion of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, openly criticizing those who failed to name the genocide as such. While campaigning in 2008, he published the following statement:

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. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Despite this impassioned pledge, President Obama has just broken this promise for the seventh year in a row. In his official statement last night, Obama commemorated the "terrible carnage" and the "horrific violence" of this "dark chapter of history." Acknowledging that his own view on the event "has not changed," he even referenced Raphael Lempkin — the scholar who coined the term "genocide" based on this very massacre. But, he declined to use the word himself. 

Obama's statement is as clear as it can be without actually spelling it out. Some might even call this a win. Okay, so he called it a "mass atrocity" instead of a "genocide" — isn't that close enough?

Certainly not. In this same official statement, Obama called for "a full, frank, and just acknowledgment." We grow stronger, he said, by "reckoning with painful elements of the past." That means using "frank" words, not diplomatic synonyms. What if we could never use the word "Holocaust?" What if the millions murdered by the Nazis were whitewashed into "casualties"? It's not quite the same as denial, but isn't it close enough?

The Armenian Genocide was indeed a "dark chapter of history" as the President calls it. And, until we stop denying it — and all such genocides — we will never be able to move on.
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