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Armenia-Turkey: Mixed reaction to Obama speech in Ankara

April 24

Having promised to recognize the massacre and deportation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire during WWI as genocide if elected president, the large and influential Diaspora lobby in Washington had hoped that this week's visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Turkey would see a campaign promise fulfilled.

But, mindful of the delicate state of negotiations between Armenia and Turkey to resolve the past, establish diplomatic relations, and to open a shared border closed since the early 1990s, Obama instead avoided using the word itself. While there has been little reaction to the speech from most Armenian bloggers so far, the general response worldwide has been mixed.

Referring to Obama's campaign pledge intended to attract the Armenian-American vote, Enotitan Revolution is less than impressed.

President Obama’s sly diplomatic skills were put to the test while visiting Turkey. Although a firm supporter of recognizing the Armenian Genocide in the United States, he gently tip toed over the subject, careful not to use the word ‘Genocide’, as to not upset his Turkish hosts, yet during his campaign for presidency, then Senator Obama openly declared, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide”. I guess truth, justice, and Human Rights are only good enough for drumming up financial support on the campaign trail.

Conservative Insider agrees.

Interestingly, there are some Americans of Armenian heritage who literally loath the Turks, and who have family members who died at the hands of the Turks, But today, in Turkey, Obama reneged on the genocide conclusion and refered to it as merely a “view”. […]

[…]

If you are Armenian, you can consider yourself officially sold out.

But, if there were bloggers who felt Obama had broken a promise, others such as Gateway Pundit believed the opposite.

This was either brave or foolish…

Inside the Turkish Parliament today, Barack Obama ripped on Turkey for the Armenian genocide of 1915.

This was a brave move for the young president who has shown general weakness in foreign policy.

[…]

This is a very sensitive subject in Turkey.

Pass/Fail also comes to the same conclusion.

One of the key issues brought up during this visit was the killing of over 1 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire after World War 1. During the election campaign, President Obama stayed committed to a view that this mass murder should indeed be recognized as a “genocide”. […] Standing next to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Obama declared that “I have not changed my views” on the issue. […] In his address to the Turkish parliament, President Obama further declared that “the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.”

Comments from Left Field was impressed.

One other thing I was very happy about: Obama’s mention of the Armenian genocide (although he did not use that word). But he did make it clear that history is important, and that when painful events of the past go unacknowledged or unresolved, it “can be a heavy weight.”

I think he got the point across. Moreover, that point was made so much more effective because, before he ever mentioned Armenia, he talked about the painful legacy of our own past. He said the work of democracy is never done.

I am telling you, I am so impressed with Barack Obama. Yes, unquestionably, he has disappointed me in some areas, but overall he is, in my opinion, a visionary and an original, unique voice in our political history. He’s a leader — a real leader. […]

Grand Rants is not of the same opinion.

[…] Obama quickly showed not only his lack of experience as a political leader, but also proved himself to be a statesman who can not be trusted to stand by his words.

In the Armenian blogosphere, or at least among those bloggers who did comment on the speech, the reaction was similarly divided, and seemingly between members of the Diaspora and those from the republic.

For Sevana at Life in the Armenian Diaspora, Obama's words — or the lack of one in particular — were not well-received.

Obama's first chance to openly acknowedge the genocide has come and gone. He struck out. Very, very disappointing. April 24 is his next chance. I hope he doesn't blow that one, too.

Echoing sentiments expressed by the media in his native Armenia, however, The Armenian Observer disagrees.

U.S. President Barack Obama, on his first day of visit to Turkey, said his views on mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, which he has termed genocide, have not changed.

[…]

However, Obama said he prefers not to focus on his views, in an attempt to be more encouraging around the Armenia-Turkey border opening talks.

Global Voices Online author Simon Maghakyan at Blogian concurs.

While some Armenians seem unhappy with Obama’s statement – there is now a SHAME ON YOU OBAMA Facebook group – I find Obama’s words tactfully affirmative. […] Specifically, he stated that 1) […] Turkey committed genocide but I won’t use the word genocide since 2) there seems to be real hope for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations, 3) but Turkey needs to demonstrate that the normalization is process is real […], and (4) the latter should automatically include genocide recognition by Turkey. In Turkish professor Taner Akcam’s words, “[Obama] really pushed the borders, in a very positive and very smart way.”

Moreover, his comparison of the Native American experience – which is clearly an experience of genocide in the eyes of Turks – was also to the point (not mentioning that it was exactly what I had suggested to do in an earlier post :D).

There can be a lot more said about Obama’s handling of the situation. I am personally satisfied with the way he handled the issue given the place and time restrictions.

Regardless, the issue has most certainly not gone away, and many will now be waiting to see what Obama does on 24 April, the day when Armenians worldwide commemorate the massacres. In the meantime, some of the issues which will likely factor into Obama's decision are mentioned on my Frontline Club blog.

[…] sending out the right message from secular Turkey to the Islamic world is vital in order to repair the damage caused by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Moreover, the U.S. continues to need Turkey's help in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the August war between Georgia and Russia, Turkey's potential role as a counterbalance to Moscow's influence in the South Caucasus has also become apparent.

[…]

[…] There are also hopes that normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey will benefit regional stability and contribute to finding a peaceful solution to the long-running Armenian-Azeri conflict.

[…]

Others simply consider that Armenia and Turkey might well be on their way to resolving outstanding grievances on their own […] and it is that fact alone which is likely to influence Obama's decision on whether to support such efforts rather than risk derailing them.

Ultimately, however, the consensus of opinion expressed by bloggers, and regardless of their opinion about Obama's speech, is that Turkey must come to terms with its own past. What they disagree on, it seems, is how.

Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008, Licensed under Creative Commons

30 comments

  • Harry Richards

    Obama has failed to live up to his pledge, and in doing so he has hurt the Armenian people, betrayed the truth, and has demonstrated to the world that he cannot be trusted. He has another chance to speak the truth on 24 April. He needs to stand up, if he wants to think of himself as an honest principled man. What a letdown!

  • Not a blog post, but an interesting update:

    Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has confirmed her role as a mediator between Armenia and Turkey.
    Calmy-Rey met with officials from the two countries along with United States President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a United Nations conference in Turkey.

    It is the first time Switzerland has confirmed it is working to bring the two sides together.

    Obama has called on Armenia and Turkey to normalise relations.

    […]

  • Bedros

    This was a smart and calculated move by President Obama. Tell me, has there ever been an instance in which the “terrible events of 1915” were clearly asserted toward the Turkish parliament, in their own building? Ostensibly, his implication was in line with his ante-presidential campaign promises.

    For those who prefer harsh rhetoric and immediate results, relinquish this foolish approach. If Obama mentioned the g-word, an uproar could have ensued, which would undoubtedly tarnish his visit in Turkey. This would be a terrible diplomatic move, possibly terminating American-Turkish relations. The object of this trip was to strengthen their ties, and while securing a revival of friendly relations between the US and Turkey, he carefully alluded to the Armenian Genocide without “insulting Turkishness.”

    It is far too early for individuals in the worldwide Armenian community to denounce President Obama. He has been in office for just a few months, and furthermore, April 24 has yet to arrive. I urge those of you to drop your premature indictments and allow some time to pass.

    By the way, Onnik, I have been fond of your excellent work since OneWorld.am. Keep up the strong effort!

    • Harry Richards

      You move on with the truth,not with a lie. The barbaric nature of this genocide needs to be noted, not dismissed. That is what is healthy, making sure history is the story of truths, and then healing can begin. Obama quoted MLK in a speech about “the urgency of now” and this recognition is long overdue.

  • Richard

    move on. It’s been almost 100 years. Holding on to the past prevents a full life in the present and denies a future to your children. It’s hard to let go. But it is healthy.

    I have no direct ancestral stake in this and thus am detached.

  • In other related news, Obama has called Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and stressed the need for the normalization of Armenian-Azeri-Turkish relations.

    US President Barack Obama urged a peaceful solution to long-running disputes between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey in a telephone call Tuesday with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

    Obama, who visited Turkey this week before making a surprise stop in Iraq Tuesday afternoon, said the US was committed to “supporting progress” to resolve a long-running conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabah, a region claimed by both countries.

  • Reaction to Obama’s speech has also been greeted positively in Armenia:

    Yerevan Press Club chairman Boris Navasartyan said he welcomed Obama’s remarks in Turkey, but said the real weight of the matter was on Turkish and Armenian leaders.

    “The important thing is the step Armenia and Turkey are willing to take without any pressure. The step needs to be persuasive,” he said.

    […]

    The chairman of the Gyumri Journalists’ Club Asparez, Levon Barseghyan, praised Obama’s statements, saying, “Steps taken by Obama are praiseworthy in terms of the normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relations.”

    Caucasus Institute President Alexander Isgandaryan said it had been apparent that Obama would not risk relations with Turkey […] but added that he found Obama’s statements in Turkey positive. “U.S. support for the opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia and the establishment of relations is crucial,” he said.

  • […] Carpets and Broken Pipelines hails Obama's recent visit to Turkey as a success and says that despite threats from Azerbaijan, a country in an effective state of war […]

  • […] U.S. President Barack Obama's speech in Ankara on Armenian-Turkish relations and the need to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines sums up […]

  • ozer

    Obamas speech is one-sided an insult to a great nation…In that means he is a great fiasco..And a very strange thing is that noone asked any question regarding the armenian invasion of azerbaijan …
    We Turks have lots to learn from these armenians.We shall learn to dictate our interests rather granting empty words or visits more than it is..second why are we negotiating with armenians while all they are doing is chasing hostile intentions as an enemy against us..Let them do their best but I do think that current situation is not our best…we shall work hard…we can correct every mistake by working..Reality is with us and will be with us everytime everywhere!so lets rally against armenian invasion and lets rally for any of possible gestures to our enemy!!!

    • Bedros

      Dear Ozer,

      Insult? It sounded like a positive, pragmatic-thinking speech to me.

      Enemy? As an Armenian, I have nothing but positive feelings towards Turks, in fact I have Turkish friends and they have Armenian friends. We have many things in common.

      I think the “enemy” you speak of is imagined and your real problem is with politicians. For the first time in years, Turks and Armenians have the opportunity to be equal neighbors and benefit each other economically. This is healthy, don’t you think?

      Also, Obama did mention the Nagorno-Kababakh issue, and urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to come to a peace settlement very soon. This was indeed part of his speech.

      Because he wants to correct these problems between Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, I firmly believe this constitutes a fine and constructive policy. We have a bright future, arkadaş.

      • ozer

        hmm,dear Bedros,
        Espionage(especially in eastern nations), adressing your problems to third parties to solve, to rely on big powers, trying scores against turkey are not the correct method for friendly relations with neighbour..All big powers will leave you,you shall look face to face to neighbours…
        If you dont need any neighbours,it is your choice..But with current stance,armenians are winning new enemies among neighbours..
        Second I dont agree with you that it is the politicians..Politicians dont come from mars..It is from your society..One can not get rid of responsiblity by blaming politicians..
        If I were you I will focus my energy to direct face to face relations with neighbours..Other than that nothing will work..
        This is a loose loose game and as much as we loose you will loose as well in long term..
        About the borders,I want to believe that it is only a maneuvre to block 24 April decision,other than that we dont have a ground to negotiate with you anything,no reason to make a gesture.Furthermore the azeris are still living in train wagoons under armenian invasion..sorry..It is not a personal thing…
        Last the current situation is not healthy,if it were healthy we will not talk about Obamas speech…but we will talk with each other…

        • Bedros

          Dear Ozer,

          Thank you for the recommendations, you illustrate genuine grievances, but I am not affiliated with the Armenian government, nor do I have the power to address your points.

          Over the past few months there has been less reliance on third-party countries, since Babacan and Nalbandyan have been meeting so often. Their tete-a-tete developments have been much more productive than one country depending on another country for important decisions. And don’t forget about Erdogan and Sargsyan’s high-profile meetings. Over a year ago, there was no dialogue whatsoever. These are exciting events. Pretty soon, all four will be best friends, devouring döner kebab and sipping on Türk kahvesi!

          I am optimistic in Babacan & Nalbandyan. This situation is healthy because we have the chance to rectify a number of issues. Au contraire, if you prefer that the nations of the South Caucasus reside next to each other in a perpetual state of check-mate, then I feel sorry for you, arkadaş.

      • ozer

        Hey dear Bedros,
        I hope everything would be thatmuch easy…
        This year Russia donated 800 million dollars equivalent weapon to Armenia..The borders and the invasion is protected by Russian soldiers..Do you think Russians give weapons for free?what will you give or your government give in return?
        You or your lobby in America want Obama to speak against Turkey…
        So in this picture what will Turkish and armenian officials speak?
        Or lets say Turkey and armenia agreed on something and Russia didnt want,dont you think with thatmuch deep relations Russia will interwene?…
        In the east you are dependent to Russia in the west what Armenians are dealing with all we know..
        I agree that direct dialogue is good but I am not optimist and in this picture I dont think it is muchly Turkeys fault but armenians…
        You are too much nationalist enough to be blind and too much dependent to follow new initiatives..

        • Bedros

          Dear Ozer,

          You bring light to excellent points. Remember that many Russian weapons were transferred to Armenia recently because they were originally in Georgia. The situation surrounding Saakashvili is controversial to many people so I will not elaborate any further.

          One more thing, I do not believe that Armenians are too nationalistic. It is true that people are proud, sometimes blindly, of their culture, language, and history; but this applies to every ethnic group, whether it be Russian, Uzbek, English, et cetera. Many Armenians, however, become emotional on the topic of Turkey. I do not belong to this group of people and I refuse to subscribe to their thoughts. I love Turks, and my family is from Turkey. Ben Türkleri seviyorum! Sen iyi bir adamsın.

          • ozer

            well Bedros,
            Caucasia is left to Russia..America is not willing to participate anything…Armenians and Azeris love Russian dominance very much..so everyone is happy with situation..so why to bother?
            So Bedros,lets agree that we are enemy:)you support your nationals cases in america thatway you feed that you are part of your nation..And I fight against it in that way I feel that I fight for justice…
            So in here everyone is enemy and everyone is happy…
            so why to bother..
            Take care until next president of US comes to turkey…
            PS:where do you live now? why not come to Turkey? where are you from Turkey?…

             
  • Berge

    Did you listen to Obama’s speech to the Turkish Parliament? I did live on TV. He came as close as he dared by mentioning the genocide issue obliquely. As a good negotiator and seems to be an accomplished negotiator, he did not want to enrage his Turkish audience damaging America’s alliance with Turkey. In affect he tried to crack the door and paved the way to bring the issue up again: open the door wider. If he did otherwise and brought up the Diaspora-Armenian’s burning issue, he would have slammed the door shut and locked it; it is Armenia that would suffer. The next move is Turkey’s. This is a smart move on OHB’s part.

    You don’t poke your opponent in the eye then expect him to react peacefully.

    berge

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