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

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