Yesterday marked the 94th anniversary of the massacre and deportation of as many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Already divided in their response to a speech delivered by US President Barack Obama in Turkey earlier this month, bloggers react to his statement marking the occasion, but which avoided directly referring to the WWI events as genocide.
Many were already resigned to the inevitable breaking of a campaign promise designed to attract the Armenian-American vote. Indeed, others had already noted Turkey's strategic importance to the West, and a potential breakthrough in efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey which would reportedly involve the latter coming to terms with its own past.
Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008, Licensed under Creative Commons
This view is echoed by Yerevan-based Armenian-American analyst Richard Giragosian in a guest post on Post Global.
[...] any narrow focus on only the genocide issue or President Obama's choice of wording obscures the point, as the burden for addressing Turkey's historical legacy now rests with Turkey itself, which has already embarked on a significant, and at times painful, reexamination of its past and redefinition of its identity.
Thus, given the unique opportunity now before us, we can only hope that Turkey and Armenia will be able to move forward together, coming to terms with the legacy of the past, but based on a shared commitment to the future. [...]
Even so, some Armenian bloggers such as Sevana at Life in the Armenian Diaspora disagree and were furious even before the presidential statement.
So an announcement like this can only mean one thing. It's April 22nd, and Turkey is worried Obama will say GENOCIDE in his April 24th statement. [...]
Will Obama keep his promise, or will the Turkish games win the day? I want to believe that good will prevail, that this time, the campaign promises could be believed, but… the doubt is strong in me.
Barack Obama was unequivocal during the campaign: As president, he would recognize the nearly century-old massacre of Armenians in Turkey as genocide.
In breaking that promise Friday, the president did the same diplomatic tiptoeing he criticized the Bush administration for doing.
Sam Lapena is even more outspoken.
Today the President – my freakin’ hero, one of the few people on the face of this planet who I could say, with a straight face, that they are an inspiration to me – dicked around with his promise, effectively turning vital acknowledgement into a game of semantics and terminology. [...]
I hope that the second Turkey stops being of use, he’ll stand up on international fuckin’ television and say ‘It was a genocide.’ I’m hoping for now, but I won’t hold my tongue. I won’t say I’m not disappointed. I am very, very disappointed and I can’t even imagine what many Armenians and Armenian-Americans must be feeling. [...]
Obama is not impervious to criticism. Well, here’s mine – what the HELL was that bullshit? This crap better be god-damned fixed soon [...]. You cannot sit up there, tout yourself as ‘change’ and ‘different’ and ‘humane’ and ‘for the people’, making vital promises [...], then reneg on those promises when it gets icky for you. If that’s the case, you’re no more ‘change’ than every other privilege-marinated President we’ve had before. [...] There sure as hell has to be a good reason for this. I’m talking ‘avoid loss of life’ reason, not political fucking diplomacy.
Egalicontrarian also believes Obama should have referred to the events of 1915 as genocide.
I am pro-Presidential usage of the term “genocide” to describe the genocide against the Armenians. However, I think I am anti-Congress passing a statement declaring it a genocide. This is because I don’t think determining historical truth should the responsibility of the government. Instead, it should be done by historians. But I think congressmen should, as people who talk about things in the world, use the word genocide freely when it is accurate, just like the President should. In other words, they shouldn’t consciously avoid it as a political strategy.
Ironically, even Talk Turkey was unimpressed by Obama's efforts to appease both Armenians and Turks, but mainly because it believes the president only succeeded in alienating everybody.
[...] here's what I say to Obama. With your statement today, you've actually chickened out of taking a stand. Now, you've pissed off both the Armenians (for not using the term ‘Genocide) AND the Turks (for not using the ‘G-word’ but implying everything else by changing the definition and the application of it).
Shouldn't you have taken a stand, either way, so that we would have admired your courage, and thought of you less a politician, and more a man of conviction and integrity. OR Shouldn't you have said, enough with the tradition of these ‘non-binding’ statements. Let's move on and ‘change’ our attitude. Let's focus on things that unite us, and not divide us.
Or were those broken campaign promises as well? Shame on you!
As the blog notes, what makes the debate more problematic was Obama's choice of words for a statement that few anyway expected would include the word ‘genocide.’ Unzipped, for example, points out that Obama did refer to the genocide in Armenian.
As expected, after that ‘historic Armenia – Turkey normalisation', Obama backed away from his campaign promise, and referred to the Armenian Genocide as “one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century” and “Meds Yeghern”.
In Armenian, Meds Yeghern means genocide, but only in Armenian. Better than nothing, of course, but still not quite the G word. No surprises, though…
Effectively he recognised the Armenian Genocide for Armenians only (who understand the meaning of “Meds Yeghern”) but not to the outside world.
Blogian also noted the language used, but says that it fell short of what many Armenians were hoping for.
In his first statement commemorating the Armenian Genocide, President Obama didn’t say “genocide” but used the Armenian term for the genocide, Meds Yeghern (Great Catastrophe) and said that his views haven’t changed.
Perhaps a partial recognition, but not the change he promised.
Whatever you are be good one agrees.
[...] US president Barack Obama avoided using the word ‘Genocide’ during his annual speech addressed to Armenians of America, replacing it with the Armenian equivalent “Meds Yeghern”. So was it addressed only for Armenians to understand? I'm disappointed. Although, to be sincere, i didn't expect anything else [...].
Armenian Revolutionary Federation — Dashnaktsutyun activist burns the Turkish flag, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008, Licensed under Creative Commons
Ianyan, however, prefers to reflect on the aftermath of the genocide rather than engage in a debate over semantics.
[...] out of my own free will, I will not march down to the Turkish embassy, wave my signs, scream bloody murder and attach flags to the side of my car to parade down the streets with. In fact, when I think of the thousands of Armenians who will be participating in such displays, I suddenly become embarrassed.
Do not misunderstand me. Genocide recognition is important, but to let it define every fiber of your being, to constantly bash Turkey in our newspaper editorials, to instill hate in the minds of Armenian children and to incite blind nationalism does more harm than good.
[...] There are times when I am overwhelmed with pride in my cultural roots, that I feel that the Turks must pay deeply for virtually destroying my nation. There are other times when [...] seeing Armenian newspaper articles demanding that Turkey owes us an apology or that President Obama should be ashamed because he has not yet kept good on his promise that the U.S will recognize the Genocide makes my head spin in frustration.
But I realize that what we need is dialogue.
What we need is to stop playing the victim.
What we need, is to stop using the Genocide as a crutch and focus how we can improve Turkish-Armenian relations, the political and economic standing of Armenia and the discrimination and hostility we perpetuate on other ethnic and marginal groups.
Istanbul Calling agrees and says that the fixation on terminology has taken on a life of its own.
April 24 commemorates the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918. The tragedy of the event itself has become subsumed and obscured by the politics surrounding the issue. It seems like every year more attention is paid to the “will he, or won’t he?” guessing game of whether the American president will utter the word “genocide” in his annual commemoration of the event, than is actually given to remembering what happened.
A day before the annual commemoration on 24 April, the point was not lost on an Armenian blogger at The Harvard Crimson.
So loaded is the term that it can override logic itself. In an official statement last year, President George W. Bush declared that “as many as 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, many of them victims of mass killings and forced deportations.” Ironically, many Turkish activists celebrated this description for its omission of the word “genocide,” despite its overwhelming castigation of the events in all other ways. [...] as long as the word “genocide” was not mentioned, they believed that they had won.
Similarly, at times Armenian activists have allowed their fixation with the word “genocide” to trump their respect for historical fact. In attempts to convince the world that genocide took place, activists rely at times on inflated death tolls and disputable sources to prove their points. [...]
Those of us recognizing Martyrs’ Day tomorrow, then, should not fall into the trap of arguing over whether the events of 1915 should be classified as “genocide.” Instead, we should find people who were there or were affected and speak with these living primary and secondary sources. [...] And, when we do talk to them, instead of asking, “Was it a genocide?”, we should simply ask, “What happened?” That way, instead of feeling the pressure to shape such devastating experiences to a label, we can let the content of history speak for itself.
In a guest post to mark 24 April, The Hub features one such testimony by 96-year-old Alice Shnorhokian.
Whatever their opinion on the matter, however, most bloggers agree that the events of 1915-17 were indeed genocide, a term coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 with the Armenian massacres partly in mind. What they disagree on is the approach taken to resolve the issue. There is no doubt that the debate will continue.