04/25/2009, 00.00
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Obama recalls Armenian genocide, but avoids using the word, disliked by the Turks

by Geries Othman
On the day recalling the extermination of the Armenians, the American president avoids using the word that Turkey does not want to hear, but praises and supports the effort of normalization taken by the two countries.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - For 94 years, April 24 has brought the same tension between Turkey and Armenia: while Armenians all over the world remember the extermination of one and a half million of their relatives and countrymen on the part of the Ottoman Turks during the first world war, the Turkish government staunchly opposes recognizing the events of 1915 as  genocide. In fact, the Turkish and Armenian versions of what really happened continue to be so different as to be irreconcilable.

And until yesterday evening, everyone remained in suspense over Obama's dilemma, curious and concerned, awaiting his remarks on the question. As candidate, last year he maintained 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."

But many things have changed since his candidacy, and the president of the United States has found himself between a rock and a hard place, determined not to raise diplomatic problems with the Turkish capital, especially now that, after his visit to Turkey, relations between Ankara and Washington have been strengthened, and it has become very clear to all that Turkey is a fundamental NATO ally on the chessboard of the Middle East, to be viewed favorably.

An added difficulty for Obama is represented by the fact that agreements are under way between Turkey and Armenia for the institution of normal diplomatic relations. Last September, Turkish president Abdullah Gul made an historic official visit to Yerevan, and now, thanks to the mediation of Switzerland, the two capitals are designing a "road map" so that the border between the two countries - closed by the Turks in 1993 because of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, over the Nagorno-Karabakh (an Armenian majority region in Azeri territory, occupied militarily by Yerevan) - can soon be reopened thanks to the future energy corridor crossing the Caucusus, from which Armenia certainly does not want to be left out.

Yesterday, as he had announced during his visit to Ankara, on April 6, demonstrating that he has no intention of getting in the middle of a debate that has been going on for almost one hundred years, Obama chose to follow the path of his two predecessors Clinton and Bush (only Ronald Reagan used the word "genocide"), carefully omitting the word from the annual declaration for the commemoration "of the day of the Armenian victims," the use of which could have raised new tensions, and replacing it with Meds Yeghern (Great Evil), used by the Armenians themselves to characterize the atrocious events of 1915.

"Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people," Obama said. "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts. The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward," the president continued. "I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise. Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity," Obama concluded.

But the powerful Armenian-American lobby felt betrayed, and, deeply unhappy with these remarks, is accusing the president of not keeping that promise he made during his candidacy, and of playing the game of the Turks. And yesterday in Yerevan, during various demonstrations commemorating the genocide, Armenian nationalists did not hesitate to burn Turkish flags. Many Armenians of the diaspora are wondering why economic and political interests must once again cover up the pain and wounds of their humanity.

72-year-old Arpi Gleçiyan asks bitterly, "Every year, the genocide brings us great pain in our hearts, sharpened by the suffering of the injustice of silence. How can this profound evil find peace thanks to the opening of a border? How can that be enough to create friendship?"

22-year-old student Varduhi Varanyan agrees: "Of course, given our geographical position, we also understand the importance of normal economic relations with Turkey, and this will bring advantages for both the Turks and the Armenians. But it can't be pretended that we will see ourselves as brothers one day for that reason alone."

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