White House Again Resists Calling 1915 Massacre of Armenians a Genocide

Image: President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Champions of Change event.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Champions of Change event.Win McNamee / Getty Images, file

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/ Source: NBC News

The White House is stopping short of the term “genocide” to describe the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians a century ago.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will attend a ceremony in Armenia on Friday to commemorate the anniversary, and the National Security Council on Tuesday urged a “full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts.”

President Barack Obama, since taking office, has not used the term “genocide” to describe the killings, and the White House indicated last week that it has no plans to change that policy.

Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in 1915, and scholars generally label it genocide. Last week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution commemorating the massacre and urged Turkey to acknowledge the scope of Armenian deaths.

Turkey, a U.S. ally, objects to the term and says that the toll is inflated.

Obama used the term as senator and as a presidential candidate in 2008. In one statement from January of that year, he used the term 11 times.

Pope Francis caused a diplomatic rift with Turkey earlier this month by calling the massacre “the first genocide of the 20th century.” He said: “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Wednesday that he would not want Obama to use the term, “and I would not expect such a thing.”

Both Turkish and Armenian leaders have long lobbied members of Congress on the issue.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who has sponsored a bill labeling the killings a genocide, said Tuesday that he was disappointed with the White House.

“How long must the victims and their families wait before our nation has the courage to confront Turkey with the truth about the murderous past of the Ottoman Empire?” he said in a statement. “If not this president, who spoke so eloquently and passionately about recognition in the past, whom? If not after 100 years, when?”


— Erin McClam with The Associated Press