Message from President Obama Once Again Causes Trauma


By Edmond Y. Azadian

American-Armenians were anticipating the failure of the use of the word “genocide” in President Barack Obama’s annual statement about the Armenian Genocide, and they were proven right once again. Despite the repeated calls from the Armenian Assembly, the Armenian National Committee and some legislators, President Obama did not deliver what he had promised during his election campaign. Not only had the president made the pledge, so had one of his most trusted advisors, Samantha Power. Yet both reneged on their promise, angering large masses of American Armenians, who, at this time, are working against his re-election.

The president has extremely difficult challenges ahead of him in his re-election campaign. And in view of those challenges, he chose to take this seemingly calculated risk.

The Armenian media and the public are so incensed that it will be a very difficult task to analyze objectively the political causes behind the president’s stand.

As we carefully review the president’s message, we are convinced that it is a very powerful one, yet he has substituted the word “genocide” with its Armenian equivalent, “Medz Yeghern.”

The message seems to have been crafted by Power, who is more knowledgeable on the issue than many scholars. By the way, the use of “Medz Yeghern” was concocted by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Armenia. As a spiritual leader, he did not need to resort to political diversions. On many controversial issues he had been more blunt, but in our case, he chose to be more political, because he could get away with murder, given Armenia’s weak position on the power chessboard of world politics.

President Obama’s reasoning could not be any more different than the Pope’s. But the president’s message contains every element to make a powerful case for the cause of genocide, except for the use of the actual word. (That is the reason why Turkey’s ambassador to Washington Namik Tan acted angrily, denouncing the president’s message as one-sided.)

In assessing the president’s message, we should also bring into perspective his earlier public stand and especially his reference to Turkey’s past history. In his address to the Turkish parliament, he chose to urge Turkey to come to grips with its dark history. He had a long list of topics to choose from and yet he chose to deal with the Genocide issue, though, of course, again without using that word. Once elected, Obama faced the entrenched State Department personnel who prevailed upon him to not fulfill his pre-election pledges, like many other elected officers.

The president this year has de-emphasized Armenian-Turkish relations, which had always been a convenient cop-out to avoid the main issue. Almost all presidential messages in the past focused on Armenian-Turkish relations, or ongoing negotiations between the parties. But this time around, in view of the Protocols’ fiasco, the president has avoided that topic; instead there is a tacit reprimand to Turkey that “contested history destabilizes the present and stains the memory of those whose lives were taken.”

Turkey and its apologists always maintain that a reference in a presidential message may jeopardize relations between Armenia and Turkey. Since there are no relations nor ongoing talks, that excuse can be safely shelved.

Also, not using the “G” word has not brought Turkey any closer to the US. Turkey defied the US during the Iraq war by banning troop movements through its territory. And today Turkey is a major dissenting voice in NATO Alliance’s policies in Libya. Therefore, non-usage of the G-word has not made anyone grateful to the US and the opposite may not antagonize or alienate Turkey any more than Turkey has chosen its independent course of action.

The very same reason that forbade the Pope from using the word “genocide” applies to the president’s position, too.

There are two components in the administration’s policy towards Armenians: one is domestic and the other one international.

We pride ourselves that we command a million votes in the US. The administration has more effective and correct methods of assessing our voting power. Many Armenians are indifferent and not active politically. Whether the president makes a reference to the Genocide or not, that will not motivate those people to vote. There are also staunch Republicans among Armenians who vote with their pocketbooks and don’t give a damn about the Genocide issue. Therefore, the Obama camp can easily write them off. There is only a hardcore, politically-active force, which is motivated by the president’s position and actions. Unfortunately that is not a critical mass to scare the election planners, who seem to have decided to take the risk.

The other component is Armenia’s strategic value in the Caucasus. Despite all the sweet talk in diplomatic circles, Armenia is considered a strategic liability for the US, because it is firmly in Russia’s camp, unlike its neighbors, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Additionally, Iran provides an economic lifeline to the outside world for Armenia, much to the chagrin of US policy makers. Those are all reasons why our threats and bravado do not carry much weight in the president’s camp.

While the Genocide issue is a matter of principle, there are more pressing life-and-death issues, which can affect Armenia’s well being, and Washington has been treating them in a cavalier manner. The US Embassy recently discontinued extending Millennium Challenge grants to Armenia, disrupting agricultural projects meant to develop rural areas. That is a blow to Armenia’s economy as well as the rural areas, which can expect to lose more population. This is supposed to be in response to Armenia’s lack of progress towards democracy, whereas Azerbaijan gags the press, jails opposition leaders, yet receives more assistance from the US than Armenia. Additionally, President Obama continues his predecessor’s policy of ignoring Chapter 907 of Freedom Support Act to give military aid to Azerbaijan.

Had Armenia been in a stronger position, none of this would have happened.

Returning back to the president’s Martyr’s Day message, we can view it in the general scheme of American-Armenian relations and see that the president is a hostage to the system. The Genocide pledge is not the only one he did not fulfill. He had also pledged to close down the Guantanamo detention camp, which had given a black eye to the legacy of the Founding Fathers, and he failed. Additionally, he allowed his progressive stances on healthcare, as well as the budget and other major issues to be watered down and compromised.

To hold rallies and protests to drive home a case are legitimate; to hurl insults is not. After all, the president delivered more than half of his pledge and Samantha Power is waiting in the wings to replace Hillary Clinton and to deliver the other half of the message, should a second term be realized.

As much as President Obama’s message causes us trauma, we have to understand the overwhelming causes behind that stance.