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Political Landscape:

Obama stops short in Turkey

April 11, 2009

President Obama stopped short of officially acknowledging the Armenian Genocide during his recent trip to Turkey, telling the press corps Monday that he did not want to “preempt any possible arrangements or announcements that might be made in the near future.”

As a presidential candidate, Obama made it clear that the death of roughly 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915 was genocide, “not an ‘allegation,’ a ‘personal opinion’ or a ‘point of view,’” as he wrote in a 2006 letter to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

On Monday, Obama told reporters at a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul that he had not changed his views, but was encouraged by “a series of negotiations, a process in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of long-standing issues, including this one.”

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Turkey has so far refused to acknowledge the genocide, despite findings to the contrary from scores of historical scholars and human rights leaders the world over. The European Parliament, 20 national governments and 42 state governments have already passed resolutions recognizing the genocide.

Past attempts in Congress to pass a similar resolution have stalled repeatedly amid political pressure to avoid harming relations with a key NATO ally, but given Obama’s popularity abroad, supporters of the genocide resolution have held out hope that this time will be different.

Rep. Adam Schiff, who reintroduced a bipartisan resolution in March calling on the U.S. to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, said he was disappointed that Obama did not take a firmer position on the matter, but hoped that he prepared Gul in private for an official statement later this month, when Armenians commemorate the mass killings.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to get him to make a statement for April 24,” Schiff said.

He warned against the Obama administration buying into Turkey’s “old, failed concept” of a historical commission to mediate the issue.

Gul pushed for the commission Monday, arguing that while his country was “ready to face the realities,” the matter of genocide should not be left to “the politicians and legal experts.”

“It is not a parliamentarian, a politician, who can make a decision on this without knowing the circumstances to the situation,” Gul told reporters.

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