The Turkish government has criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for comments he made while commemorating the deaths of 1.5-million Armenians during World War I at the hands of the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.
Obama marked the annual Armenian Remembrance Day over the weekend, by describing the mass-killings one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.”
However, Obama did not describe the killings as tantamount to genocide.
Nonetheless, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu said: Obama's statement is one-sided and it reads history from a single perspective.
Davutoglu went on to say: It is saddening that each year this issue pops up and casts a shadow on our relations with the United States. Lots of pain was endured in the Ottoman territories during the break-up of the empire. We would have expected Mr. Obama to also remember the sufferings of Turks back in those days.
The Turkish-Armenian conflict remains a very delicate issue for the U.S. since Turkey is a rising power in the Middle East and a key strategic ally to the Americans.
The Turkish government has long denied that the mass murder of Armenians was due to state-sponsored plan of extermination.
Ankara also claims that the number of dead Armenians has been exaggerated, and that the deaths occurred during the chaos of a civil war.
Turkey maintains some 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians died during the period, and that just as many Turks died.
The killings of Armenians reportedly was triggered by the Turkish Sultan’s fears that the Armenian population (who were overwhelmingly Christian) would side with the Russians in the event of an invasion.
In his statement Obama also said: “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. It is in all of our interest to see the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”
He also added: “I salute the Turks who saved Armenians in 1915 and am encouraged by the dialogue among Turks and Armenians, and within Turkey itself, regarding this painful history. Together, the Turkish and Armenian people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.”
The Turkish ambassador to Washington also criticized Obama.
We deeply regret that [Obama's] statement on 1915 events reflect an inaccurate, flawed and one-sided political characterization of history, said Namik Tan in a tweeter message, adding that the comments were unacceptable and unwarranted.
The US should encourage normalization and dialogue and not hamper it with one-sided and politically motivated statements, Tan added.
Similarly, the Turkish foreign ministry accused Obama of distorting” the historical facts.
Therefore, we find it very problematic and deeply regret it... One-sided statements that interpret controversial historical events by a selective sense of justice prevent understanding of the truth, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Armenians in the U.S. and elsewhere were also disappointed that Obama failed to describe the deaths of their ancestors as a “genocide.”
The president offered only euphemisms and evasive terminology to describe the murder of over 1.5 million men, women and children -- effectively keeping in place the gag rule imposed by the Turkish government on the open and honest discussion of this crime, said the Armenian Assembly of America in statement.
In Armenia itself, the president of the former Soviet republic, Serzh Sarkisian, said he wants to normalize relations with Turkey, but added: “the true scope and depth of the tragedy is known only to us, and every Armenian in any corner of the world feels devastating repercussions on his or her destiny in every sense. Armenia has been proving through its resolute steps that despite black pages of history, it strives for peace with the neighbors, including Turkey.
Historians (outside of Turkey) generally agree with the assertion that the deaths of Armenians in Turkey represented the first genocide of the 20th century, and likely inspired Adolph Hitler’s plan to exterminate European Jews.