Monday, April 27, 2009

Obama Avoids 'Genocide' Term, Sparking More Debate

The Hill
By Bridget Johnson

President Obama avoided using the word "genocide" when addressing "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century" on Armenians' remembrance day for those killed by the Ottoman Empire in 1915."

Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man’s inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House on Friday afternoon. "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."

Obama said the rapprochement announced Thursday between Turkey and Armenia was key to the two countries moving forward. Turkey and Armenia agreed in principle to opening a long-shut border crossing and normalizing relations, but have not said whether they would reach any agreement on genocide recognition.

"I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open and constructive," Obama said. "To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself."

Obama said he stood with the diaspora "and with Armenians everywhere with a sense of friendship, solidarity and deep respect."

Before the statement had even been issued, Turkish President Abdullah Gul hinted that he knew Obama would avoid the contentious term, telling reporters Friday that Obama had left his early-April Turkey visit "now better informed."

Obama had promised early in his presidential campaign that he would call the mass killings genocide if elected. "The facts are undeniable," Obama said in a Jan. 19, 2008, statement. "An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."

Obama avoided use of the word genocide when asked about his campaign promise during a press conference in Turkey.

“We applaud President Obama for deferring to historians to settle the longstanding debate over the events of 1915-1918," Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America, said in a statement. "This tragic period in history led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians alike."President Obama has sent a clear message to America and the world that his administration will not sacrifice long-term strategic allies for short-term political gains,” McCurdy said.

Armenian-American organizations saw Friday's statement differently.

“Today’s statement does not reflect the change the president promised,” Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said in a statement. “His failure to affirm the proud chapter in U.S. history, the American response to the first genocide of the 20th century, has needlessly delayed the cause of genocide affirmation and diminishes U.S. credibility with regard to genocide prevention.

"Empty promises are no change at all," Ardouny said.

Armenian National Committee of America Chairman Ken Hachikian had similarly harsh words for the president's decision.

"I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama's failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide," Hachikian said in a statement.

"In falling short of his repeated and crystal-clear promises, which reflected a thorough knowledge of the facts, the practical implications, and the profound moral dimension of Armenian Genocide recognition, the president chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nation's stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey's threats."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), sponsor of legislation that would recognize the killings as genocide, said he would press forward with his bill, which is still in committee. "Although the president today acknowledged the deaths of a million and a half Armenians during the Armenian Genocide, I am deeply disappointed by his decision not to use the word 'genocide' in his statement," Schiff said in a statement. "Nonetheless, our work will go on undaunted. We will not become complicit in Ankara's campaign of denial."

Armenian and Turkish demonstrators faced off Friday outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, with Turkish demonstrators beginning a 24-hour candlelight vigil Thursday evening on the embassy's Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk.

Gunay Edinch, president-elect of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, told The Hill that the Turks and Azeris were demonstrating "for victims of Armenian terrorism and the 1.1 million Muslims and Jews killed in the 1880-1919 Armenian independence movement."

Edinch said Armenian demonstrators began showing up after the release of Obama's statement. Before 4 p.m., three busloads of Armenians had arrived to join the handful of people demonstrating for Armenia and Greece, he said.

"We expected that the president would not use the word 'genocide' because that is a criminal accusation which carries very important legal and international relations implications," Edinch said, adding that he would have liked to see Obama also recognize the deaths for which the Turkish associations were holding their vigil.

"We would have liked a more well-rounded statement for both communities," Edinch said. "Could that have been done on the 24th of April? Maybe not ... maybe another date."

On Anniversary for Armenians, Obama Avoids the Word Genocide

The Washintgon Post
By Michael A. Fletcher

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama said 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."

But as president, he has avoided using the word "genocide" to describe the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians in Turkey during the fall of the Ottoman Empire. During his recent visit to Turkey, he refrained from using the term "genocide," and instead referred to the "terrible events of 1915." And he avoided using the explosive term again today in an official statement marking the 94th anniversary of the massacres.

"Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire," Obama said. He went on to say, "History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight," also without invoking the word "genocide."

Obama defended the change in rhetoric, saying it does not reflect any shift in his views, but rather his desire not to cool warming relations between Turkey and Armenia. "My view of that history has not changed," Obama said. "My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts. The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as part of their efforts to move forward."

Earlier this week, Turkey and Armenia announced that they had agreed in principle to normalize relations, a possible breakthrough in a bitter dispute over century-old massacres. U.S. officials said the Obama administration had been quietly working to push the agreement forward, with the American president meeting privately with leaders of the two countries during his trip to Istanbul earlier this month, and Obama acknowledged the progress in his statement. Just yesterday, Vice President Biden called Armenian President Sargsian to applaud the progress and reiterate the administration's support for the process.

While President Ronald Reagan issued a statement recognizing genocide, Obama has followed the path of other presidents who promised to describe the killings as a genocide, only to abandon that pledge once elected.

The issue is sensitive for both Turks and Armenians. Turkey's position is that the number of killings have been overstated and that the Armenians who died were victims of a civil war.

"History is replete with examples of false narratives born from bigotries that advance a political agenda rather than the truth," read a letter sent to Obama by a coalition of 53 Turkish-American organizations. "The Armenian claim of passive victimhood stands on such shaky historical footing."

Armenians, meanwhile, say the killings were planned by Turks and they have long sought formal recognition of what they see as a genocide.

A resolution recognizing the killings as genocide is pending in Congress. Still, most American leaders have deferred to strategic interests, since Turkey is a key majority-Muslim ally.

"Political considerations -- whether Turkish threats, prospects for Turkey-Armenia dialogue, or in any other form -- should never stand in the way of America's willingness to condemn the Armenian Genocide, or any genocide, and to stand up for the truth," said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

By contrast, Turkish American leaders were happy with Obama's statement.

"We applaud President Obama for deferring to historians to settle the long-standing debate over the events of 1915-1918. This tragic period in history led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christians alike," said Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America. "President Obama has sent a clear message to America and the world that his administration will not sacrifice long-term strategic allies for short-term political gains."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Turkish Businessmen Abroad Urge Effective Cooperation with Homeland

April 13, 2009
Hurriyet Daily News

ISTANBUL - More 2,000 Turkish businessmen working abroad came together in Istanbul on Friday urging for more effective cooperation between the state and the Turkish entrepreneurs active all over the world.

The two-day, World Conference of Turkish Entrepreneurs, organized by the Council of Foreign Economic Relations, or DEIK, began Friday with inauguration speeches by prominent businessmen and representatives of the government.

While there are 12 Turkish firms among Europe’s 500 biggest enterprises and 24 among the 100 enterprises of the Islamic world, there are no Turkish firms among the world’s biggest 500 enterprises, said Nazim Ekren, deputy prime minister responsible for the economy.

“We want to increase the number of Turkish firms which will rank among the biggest 500 firms in the world,” he said. The government will pursue production and growth friendly monetary and fiscal policies, according to Ekren. He reiterated the government’s aim to make Istanbul a regional and global finance center. Rifat Hisarciklioglu called on Turkish businessmen working abroad however to cooperate more among themselves and not see each other only as rivals. He also asked the gathering to think big saying “there is not just Germany, there is Europe; there is not just Europe but the world.”

Hisarciklioglu encouraged the younger generations to learn not just English but other languages like Russian or Chinese, and also asked Turkish businessmen abroad to participate in local politics. “There are elections for European Parliament in June. You should run for these elections. You should make your weight felt in Europe,” he said. The representatives of the Turkish business community abroad have in their turned asked to have more coordinated policies between the state and the business world.

“I don’t know what the policies of my government are in Central Asia,” said Zeki Pilge a businessmen active in Kazakhistan.

Concerned about the absence of a communication network among the business community abroad, Vural Oger, a German member of the European Parliament, underlined the need to develop strategies to use the potential of the Turkish diaspora abroad.

Tuzmen: “There are talks about Turkey being a super power” State Minister Kursat Tuzmen claimed that there is talk in the international community that Turkey will be a super power in the new world order and therefore, the world’s attention turned to the nation.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama Avoids Saying 'Genocide' While in Turkey

Los Angeles Times
By Christi Parsons and Laura King

The president reiterates that his views on the Armenian genocide in Ottoman times have not changed, but doesn't use the term as he focuses on helping normalize Turkey's ties with Armenia.

Reporting from Istanbul, Turkey, and Ankara, Turkey -- President Obama, steering a delicate course on an explosive issue, said Monday his views on the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century have not changed since he declared it a "genocide" last year, but he avoided using that term in front of his Turkish hosts.

Instead, Obama emphasized the need to improve relations between Turkey and Armenia, and pointed to hopes for a breakthrough to ease long-standing tensions.

"If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, I think the whole world will encourage them," Obama told reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital.

By refraining from calling the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians beginning in 1915 a genocide, Obama for the moment avoided offending a country whose help U.S. officials need in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. At the same time, he avoided infuriating his Armenian American supporters.

But Obama also contributed to the suspense surrounding a likely presidential proclamation expected in time for April 24, the annual Armenian remembrance day.

U.S. presidents usually issue statements deploring the mass killings without calling them genocide. Armenian American organizations are urging Obama to make good on his campaign pledge.

"We fully expect President Obama to honor his commitment and reaffirm the Armenian genocide," the Armenian Assembly, a U.S. Armenian advocacy group, said in a statement.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul emphasized that Turkey was willing to open its archives to historians investigating the subject and allow a joint commission to draw conclusions.

"It is not a political but an historic issue," he said. "That's why we should let historians discuss the matter." Obama administration officials said delicate talks are continuing between Turkey and Armenia over normalizing relations. Late in the evening at Istanbul's Dolmabahce Palace, the president met with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia to urge a quick agreement.

Obama's remarks Monday, issued as he stood beside Gul, appeared carefully calibrated. Though he didn't utter the word "genocide" or press Gul to address the issue, he pointedly reaffirmed previous remarks on the subject.

In 2008, Obama said "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.

"The facts are undeniable."

Three years ago, Obama criticized the Bush administration for firing John Evans, then-ambassador to Armenia, after Evans used the term "genocide" to describe the slaughter.

After a private meeting with Gul in Ankara, Obama said at the news conference that he hadn't changed his views.

"My views are on the record and I have not changed views," Obama said. "What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul's leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of long-standing issues, including this one."

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic ties. Gul last year became the first modern Turkish leader to visit Armenia, attending a World Cup qualifying match between the teams of the two countries. Other events in recent years, though, have brought wrenching reminders of the two neighbors' historic enmity.

In January 2007, a prominent Armenian editor, Hrant Dink, was gunned down outside his newspaper's office in central Istanbul, a killing that shocked the country. The assailant was a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist.

Before the assassination, nationalistic websites had expressed outrage over Dink's repeated calls for Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide and ensure that its Armenian minority did not face persecution.

U.S. Armenian groups expressed disappointment over Obama's comments in Ankara, but did not criticize the president. Obama "missed a valuable opportunity to honor his public pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide," said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

The Turkish Coalition of America said it was "encouraged" by Obama's remarks concerning Turkish-Armenian relations, but didn't comment on the genocide issue.

In Istanbul, Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Bilgi University, said he thought Obama had handled the Armenian issue deftly.

"He expressed the view that problems arising from the past can be resolved, and in a clear way," he said.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lincoln McCurdy on Washington Journal Discussing Obama's Trip to Turkey

To view the rest of the program please visit TCA's YouTube Channel


Turkish Coalition of America Commends President Obama for Statements in Turkey

Washington, DC – Following President Obama’s speech in Turkey, Lincoln McCurdy, President of the Turkish Coalition of America, made the following statement:

“President Obama’s trip to Turkey, this early in his administration, is a clear sign that the strategic relationship between the two nations has never been more cherished by both sides. Additionally, the inclusion of Turkey in the President’s trip to other European nations signals that Turkey will continue to be a bridge between the East and the West.

“TCA is encouraged by President Obama’s statements in Ankara today and view his message of dialogue between civilizations as a welcomed beginning to this new administration. Both the historical legacy of Turkey’s secular democracy as envisioned by Ataturk, as well as the today’s growth in education and scientific ties between the US and Turkey were critical aspects of the President’s message to the people of both nations.

“TCA extends its thanks to President Obama for highlighting the importance of Turkish Americans in helping to bring together our cultures. TCA encourages all Turkish Americans to engage in citizens’ diplomacy to further the growing commercial, cultural and political ties between Turkey and the United States.”