In the days preceding the annual observance of the severe persecution of Armenians living under the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, there was some hope that President Donald J. Trump would break with recent precedent and use the term “genocide.” After all, President Trump has gained a reputation for speaking his mind and at times seeming to ignore diplomatic niceties.
The president’s statement on Monday marking the 102nd anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide kept with recent precedent, however.
“Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century,” Trump’s statement began. “Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many.”
Trump’s avoidance of the term genocide is in keeping with the policy of his four immediate predecessors, Presidents George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, apparently to avoid offending Turkey, a U.S. ally.
Turkey’s reaction to the use of the word “genocide” was on full display two years ago, when Pope Francis commemorated the centennial of the massacre of Armenians, calling it “the century’s first genocide.” Ankara recalled its Vatican ambassador in protest.
Prior U.S. presidents, including Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, did use the expression “Armenian genocide” however, but then the expression was dropped from White House statements.
Trump, in his statement, seemed to allude to a hope that even Turks would come to acknowledge the genocide.
“We must remember atrocities to prevent them from occurring again,” Trump said. “We welcome the efforts of Turks and Armenians to acknowledge and reckon with painful history, which is a critical step toward building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future.”
He also paid tribute to the “resilience of the Armenian people” and the contribution made to the United States by those fleeing their homelands and building a new life in America.
“As we reflect on this dark chapter of human history, we also recognize the resilience of the Armenian people,” he said. “Many built new lives in the United States and made indelible contributions to our country, while cherishing memories of the historic homeland in which their ancestors established one of the great civilizations of antiquity.”
The Turkish government has maintained that the events took place in the midst of the First World War and that many Muslims suffered as well. Turkey has also claimed that Armenians planned to side with the Ottomans’ enemy, Russia.