The Obama administration asked the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to cancel a vote scheduled for today on a bill recognizing the Armenian genocide. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., is going forward with the bill "mark up" and vote regardless.
The bill, H. Res. 252, recognizes as genocide the “systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians” as ordered by the Turkish government from 1915 to 1923. It’s the kind of statement then-Sen. Obama supported; as a candidate for president, he said, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.”
Turkish government officials, who are important U.S. allies, have long objected to the description of those events as genocide.
After speaking to Turkish President Abdullah Gül on Wednesday, the president had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reach out to Berman.
“Secretary Clinton called Chairman Berman yesterday and in that conversation the Secretary indicated that further Congressional action could impede progress on normalization of relations,” said National Security Staff spokesman Mike Hammer.
The conversation took place after the president spoke with President Gül and “expressed appreciation” for his and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “efforts on normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.”
The president also “pressed for rapid ratification of the protocols,” Hammer said, referring to efforts at normalization between Armenia and Turkey.
Describing himself as “very upset,” Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told ABC News that this move” represents an insult on top of injury.
The injury was the broken pledge by the president to recognize the genocide, and he’s taken that a step further by trying to block the Congress from doing the very thing that he pledged to do which was recognize the genocide.”
As senators, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Vice President Biden had all been “very outspoken” in favor of identical legislation.
“Turkey does not get a vote or a veto in the US Congress,” Hamparian said. “The secretary shouldn’t be in the business of helping Turkey impose its gag rule on the representatives of the American people.”
During his trip to Turkey last April, the president disappointed Hamparian and other members of the Armenian-American community who supported his campaign by refraining from using the bold talk he made as a candidate about the genocide.
Standing with President Gül, the president was asked about his position that the Turks need to acknowledge the up to 1.5 million Armenians the Ottoman Empire slaughtered around the time of World War I.
“My views are on the record and I have not changed views,” Mr. Obama said. “What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gül 's leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.”
At the time, Hamparian told ABC News, “We're profoundly disappointed. All the more so because his statements on this in his record before he became president nailed it in terms the facts, the practical side and the moral dimension. He repeatedly talked about this during the campaign, and he was really harsh on President Bush, he said it was inexcusable that Bush refused to acknowledge that this was genocide.” The president “finds himself doing exactly the thing he so sharply criticized the Bush administration for, which is being euphemistic and evasive. It's a bitter thing for Armenian-Americans who really believed him and really worked hard."
As a senator and candidate, Mr. Obama was quite forceful on the matter and quite disdainful of the Bush administration’s tip-toeing around the word “genocide.”
In a January 2008 letter to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Obama said he shared “with Armenian Americans – so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors – a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”
In 2006, Mr. Obama noted, “I criticized the secretary of State for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey's slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that 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.”
Asserted Mr. Obama, back then: “The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.”
Mr. Obama also stated unequivocally that “as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
His position on the matter was so strong, the Armenian National Committee of America had its own Obama File on Armenian Genocide Recognition which included a Youtube clip of the President on the campaign trail saying, “there was a genocide that did take place against the Armenian people. It is one of these situations where we have seen a constant denial on the part of the Turkish government.”
Today Hammer reiterated that the “President’s position on the events of 1915 is well known and his view of that history has not changed.”