For the seventh year in a row, President Barack Obama has so far failed to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. This was something he had promised while serving as a U.S. senator and again as a presidential candidate — something he promised to do as both a senator and presidential candidate. Before his election to the presidency, Obama repeatedly used the word “genocide” to describe the horrors visited upon the Armenian people by the Turks. In April 2015, while marking another anniversary of the onset of the genocide, Obama released a statement in which he used the Armenian term, Meds Yeghern, and avoided the use of the word “genocide.” Meds Yeghern is the Armenian for ‘Great Calamity.’
The Ottoman Empire, which then ruled the territory which is now the modern state of Turkey, has long been held responsible for the hundreds of thousands of mostly Christians – ethnic Armenians, Greeks, and Lebanese – who were killed. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated as a result of the First World War. "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed," Obama said in April 2014.
Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as preparations continue in both Armenia and the U.S. to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the genocide. Four members of Congress have invited their fellow congressmen to become original co-sponsors of the “Armenian Genocide Recognition Resolution,” which would declare that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide in 1915 and ask President Obama to pressure the Turkish government to resolve the issue
According to Today’s Zaman, a Turkish daily, Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdoğan believes that President Obama might finally utter the word “genocide” in reference to the Armenian issue. In a March 16 post, the newspaper opined that Erdoğan would also want to use it to mobilize nationalist voters before the June elections and justify a rupture with NATO by accusing the Gülen movement of being behind the shift in the traditional American policy on the Armenian issue. Led by Fethuallh Gulen, a Turkish business and religious leader, the eponymous political movement has been described as a cult by some. It advocates a modern, tolerant form of Islam.
The modern secular state of Turkey arose out of a revolution that overthrew the Ottoman government. It has since rejected the need for an apology and said that the genocide must be urderstood as part of the history of the First World War and aftermath. A nationalist party known as The Young Turks perpetrated the killings in concert with the military. The Young Turks demanded a Turkish state where Armenians and other minorities were not welcome. Even while Turkey did not official exist as a state during the genocide, many refer to the Ottoman Empire as the Turkish Empire because Turkish groups founded the territory, of which a large part became their present-day country. The very word, genocide, was coined by an author to describe the wholesale massacre perpetrated by the Turks.
Leaders in Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have long condemned the Turkish government for its circumlocutions. The Armenian genocide took the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey. Functioning in two phases, the genocidal Ottoman government first enslaved and massacred able-bodied adult and juvenile males. It later deported women, children, and the elderly to the deserts of Syria to die of hunger and thirst.
On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman Turkish h government arrested more than 200 Armenian community leaders and sent them to prison, where they were summarily executed. However, the Young Turks had begun torturing and enslaving Armenians before this date. That first phase of murder continued until 1918. At the end of World War I, peace took hold for little more than a year. In 1920, the Turkish Nationalists — who opposed the Young Turks but shared a common ideology — began persecuting the Armenians once more. The second period of the Armenian genocide lasted until 1923. From 1918 to 1922, Greece and Turkey were at war while Greece tried to seize territory during the period of chaos that ensued after the First World War. The Greeks were eventually routed. During the First World War, Great Britain, France, and Russia all warned the Young Turks of the repercussions for their crimes against humanity. Americans were outraged and the victorious Allies demanded that the Ottoman government prosecute the Young Turks. Relief efforts to save Armenian refugees from starvation sprouted all over the world.
After the Greek military abandoned Smyrna (modern Izmir), Turkish troops slaughtered Greek and Armenian Christians attempting to flee on ships in the port. The modern Turkish state was established in 1923 when Kemal Ataturk rose to power. Persecution of Christians occurred sporadically in the years since then. There was a massacre of Greek Christians in Izmir during the Second World War, followed by murderous riots in Istanbul in the 1950s. Greeks were murdered and their properties destroyed by rampaging Turkish mobs in the Phanariot quarter of the ancient city.
In 2014, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan used words like "inhumane" and "establishing compassion," in a statement released to mark the massacres. Erdogan, like Obama, did not use the word "genocide."
Today there are twenty-one countries that have passed legislation officially acknowledging the killings of the Armenian people during World War I as a genocide. Members of the Armenian diaspora, and human rights activists, have urged Obama to recognize the genocide so as hold governments and their leaders responsible in the growing trend of massacres of religious and ethnic minorities, as is the case with the Islamic State as it expunges Christians and Shia Muslims in Syria and Iraq.