Much like the previous Democratic inhabitant of the White House, President Barack Obama appears to be stuck on a word that impels action: genocide.
In Bill Clinton’s case, the failure to declare the massacre of Tutsis by Hutu extremists starting in April 1994 contributed to the massacre of 800,000 Rwandans in just 100 days during what Philip Gourevitch called a low-tech genocide.
Clinton’s hesitation to invoke the term that Holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin fought tirelessly to coin appeared to be based in the understanding that to do so would mean that he, other world leaders and the United Nations would have to intervene against the murderous interahamwe.
To their everlasting shame, they did not.
With Obama, the genocide that has no name is that of the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Turkish regime.
Today marks the 97th anniversary since that atrocity began.
The ironies in Obama’s refusal for the fourth consecutive year to fuflfill his campaign pledge are many.
Consider the following from ABC News:
On Oct. 2, 2008, the paper published a letter from then-candidate Obama in which he trumpeted “my firmly held conviction that 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,” Obama wrote. “As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
But today that recognition did not include the forthright recognition he had pledged.
Instead, he said the following in a written statement:
“We honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire…A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past.”
That this statement came just a day after Obama’s visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum only added further salt to the proverbial wound, I imagine, for many Armenians and Armenian-Americans. A further indignity for the community is that Obama, while at the Holocaust museum, announced the creation of an Atrocity Prevention Board aimed to prevent the next genocide.
The reason of course is Turkey, one of our country’s largest trading partners and a fellow NATO member.
To this day, Turkey has maintained a policy of denial that the genocide occurred.
In fact, the public affirmation that the genocide happened is treated as a crime in Turkey.
This is not a toothless policy.
In March, Nobel Prize winner Orham Pamuk was fined close to $4,000 for giving an interview in a Swiss newspaper that mentioned it.
Others had far less trepidation than Obama in saying what had happened.
At Hoy we created a gallery of commemorations in five countries throughout the world that forthrightly stated what had happened without any of the linguistic nuance previously associated with Clinton.
And, here at home, Kim Kardashian, who is not generally known for her social conscience, Tweeted without ambiguity.
“Today lets all stand together & remember the 1.5 million people who were massacred in the Armenian Genocide. April 24th, 1915. #NEVERFORGET,”she wrote to her 14.5 million followers.
The president has retreated from or broken many campaign promises-check out Politifact’s Pulitzer Prize-winning site to get all the details-so in some ways this latest development does not come as much of a surprise.
Still, with his soaring campaign rhetoric leading to centrist governance and a positioning of himself as a moderate for his re-election campaign, Obama is coming more and more not to resemble FDR, to whose transformational presidency he initially aspired, but that of the man who told the nation in 1992 he still went home to a place called Hope.