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The US and genocide recognition

US President Barack Obama speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 6 April 2009
US President Barack Obama speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 6 April 2009.
Photo: White House / Chuck Kennedy

Turkey has spent considerable political capital on attempting to block the passage of a genocide resolution in Congress. In September 2007, when the House of Representatives was poised to vote on a non-binding resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, Turkey recalled its ambassador. Turkish warnings also halted the passage of a genocide resolution in Congress in 2008. It was, as Turkish analyst Omer Taspinar called it, a "pyrrhic victory". The failure to adopt the genocide resolution "had nothing to do with the sudden discovery of new historical facts proving correct the Turkish version of history", he noted, and everything to do with purely strategic concerns – i.e., America's dependence on Turkish help and resources in the war in Iraq. Turkey failed to persuade even its allies of its version of history: as Taspinar concluded, "Turkey won an important battle but ended up losing the war."

While a number of recent US presidents have stopped short of using the genocide label to commemorate the events of 1915 – George Bush, Sr. having spoken of "the terrible massacres suffered in 1915-1923 at the hands of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire", Bill Clinton having repeatedly referred to "the deportations and massacres of roughly one and a half million Armenians", and both George W. Bush and Barack Obama having decried "the Great Calamity" (Obama using the Armenian phrase, Mets Yeghern, in 2009) – one did not. On 22 April 1981, Ronald Reagan proclaimed the following:

"Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it – and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples – the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten."

To date, 42 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin), representing 85 percent of the US population, have, by legislation or proclamation, recognized the Armenian Genocide. 8 states (Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, Iowa, Alabama, Mississippi and Indiana) have not.

Following the latest US elections, all the key figures in the new administration – President Barack Obama himself, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi – are on record calling 1915 a genocide. Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell, is a key foreign policy adviser and member of the National Security Council. Obama's campaign website stated:

"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."

"As a senator I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution," Obama announced during his campaign, "and as President I will recognise the Armenian Genocide." During an April 2009 visit to Ankara, intended to launch a new era in US-Turkish relations, Obama told journalists that his views on the Armenian genocide "had not changed and were on the record." Obama's non-use of the "g-word" during the Turkey trip was a polite and judicious way of standing by his convictions without offending his hosts. It seems only a question of time, however, before Obama and others in his administration reaffirm what they have already stated repeatedly.

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