It’s become a frustrating rite for Armenian Americans. Every year, in the days leading up to the April 24 anniversary, advocates have lobbied President Obama to use the word “genocide” to describe the killing of more than 1 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in the political upheaval surrounding World War I. And every year, despite promising as a candidate to do so, Obama has declined to use the word.
But this time, advocates are hoping, it will be different. This year marks the 100th anniversary, a moment of intense interest, increased symbolism and a swirl of activity, including a cross-country race and an international pop music tour. It is also a period of the Obama presidency, its twilight, in which the president has shown a greater boldness on core issues of principle as he begins to consider his legacy.
Advocates say they have been told that the administration is giving its most thorough review to the issue since 2009, Obama’s first year in office. But the Turkish government continues to dispute that genocide took place and has poured millions into lobbying efforts to oppose official U.S. recognition, including bipartisan resolutions in Congress aimed at labeling the killings as genocide.
Despite conclusions by historians that genocide occurred, concerns over upsetting Turkey, a key ally in a crucial region, have won over numerous presidential administrations and members of Congress.
Many Armenian Americans have refrained from criticizing Obama in the hope that this will be the year he breaks that precedent.
“Whether I’m angry or frustrated, I’m looking at it in terms of the issue. And he has an opportunity. When he was a senator, he spoke clearly about the Armenian genocide. When he was a candidate, he spoke clearly about the Armenian genocide,” said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “This is the time for him to not only fulfill his promise, but also, in doing so, help prevent future genocide.”
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