In his initial 2008 run for office presidential candidate Barack Obama said this to the Armenian community: “Two years ago, 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. … As president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
In a transcript posted on his own website (it’s now deleted and only viewable on the internet archives) Obama states:
Genocide, sadly, persists to this day, and threatens our common security and common humanity. Tragically, we are witnessing in Sudan many of the same brutal tactics – displacement, starvation, and mass slaughter – that were used by the Ottoman authorities against defenseless Armenians back in 1915 … America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.
This was Obama’s great paean to morality and human rights back in 2008 – Prior to him officially taking office.
Before I break down why this is one of the biggest letdowns of the Obama legacy (yes, bigger than Obamacare), here’s a quick history lesson.
As of 301 A.D., Armenia became the first Christian nation in history. For centuries, the country flourished and grew. Things took a turn for the worse roughly around the 15th century, when Armenia was absorbed by the Islamic Ottoman Empire.
As the Ottoman empire crumbled through the 1800’s, Armenians grew weary living as second-class citizens under the Islamic regime. As they pushed for independence, the Ottoman Turks objected violently. In the mid-1890’s, the Sultan unleashed an armada, massacring some 300,000 Armenians in what would be called Hamidian massacres.
Years later, during the early 20th century, Ottoman reformers known as the Young Turks ousted the Sultan. Eventually, a trio of Islamists from the Young Turks, known as the Pashas, seized power. Perceiving the resilient Christian Armenian population as a threat, they set out to exterminate them. On April 24, 1915, 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were rounded up and shipped off to be executed. Through the First World War, the Ottoman Turks carried out what became the first genocide of the 20th century, wiping out 75 percent of the Armenian population – a million and a half human beings.
Being masked by the scope and scale of the First World War, the unspeakable Ottoman atrocity was not instantly known to the rest of the world.
The phrase “Armenian genocide” did not even appear in the New York Times until 2004. (The New York Times taking 89 years to accurately report something is actually better than their usual record.)