Et Tu Obama? Letter from a Former Admirer

By Harut Sassounian, Publisher, The California Courier, 29 April 2009

Mr. President, how could you!

Your candidacy was a breath of fresh air. You stood for change. You made wonderful promises and the Armenian-American community put its trust in you.

We are now terribly disappointed because you acted not much differently than your predecessors on the Armenian Genocide issue. Your April 24 statement fell far short of your solemn pledge to recognize the Genocide.

By Harut Sassounian, Publisher, The California Courier, 29 April 2009

Mr. President, how could you!

Your candidacy was a breath of fresh air. You stood for change. You made wonderful promises and the Armenian-American community put its trust in you.

We are now terribly disappointed because you acted not much differently than your predecessors on the Armenian Genocide issue. Your April 24 statement fell far short of your solemn pledge to recognize the Genocide.

As a Senator and presidential candidate, you left no doubt about your intentions on this issue. You spoke about it eloquently and passionately.

Yet, when the time came to issue your April 24 statement, we were surprised to find out that “genocide” had been replaced by "Meds Yeghern," a clever ploy, no doubt suggested by one of your ingenious aides.

You may want to know that "Meds Yeghern" does not mean genocide; it means "Great Calamity." Armenians used that term before the word "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in the 1940’s. "Genocide" in Armenian is "Tseghasbanoutyoun," which is a much more precise term than "Meds Yeghern," in case you decide to use it in the future.

Not only did your aides come up with the wrong Armenian word, but they failed to provide its English translation, so that non-Armenians could understand its meaning. What was, after all, the point of using an Armenian word in an English text? Did your staff run out of English euphemisms for genocide?

Just in case your resourceful advisors think that they were the first to devise the clever ploy of replacing "genocide" with "Meds Yeghern," let me inform you that several previous leaders have employed that same trick. Pope John Paul II used that term in 2001 during his visit to Armenia. The BBC observed that the Pontiff had said "Meds Yeghern" in order not to offend Turkey. Your immediate predecessor, Pres. George W. Bush, used the English translation of that same tricky word in his April 24, 2005 statement — "This terrible event is what many Armenian people have come to call the ‘Great Calamity.’"

Mr. President, last year when you were seeking votes and financial support from Armenian-Americans, you did not promise them to recognize the "Meds Yeghern!" You actually told them: "As President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide." Moreover, you did not state that your acknowledgment of the Genocide is contingent upon Armenian-Turkish negotiations, opening Armenia’s border, war in Iraq or anything else. You made a flat out promise, with no ifs or buts.

There are also two sets of serious contradictions in the words you used before and after your election to the presidency. In your April 24, 2009 statement, you said: "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed." Yet, on January 19, 2008, as a presidential candidate, you had said: "The Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view." Furthermore, on April 24, 2009 you stated: "My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts." Yet, as a candidate, you stated that the Armenian Genocide is "a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable."

Mr. President, twice in one month, both in Ankara and Washington, you made a reference to your past statements on the genocide, in order to avoid using that word as president. This is an old trick that was also utilized by Pres. George H. W. Bush (Senior). In his presidential message of April 20, 1990, Bush stated: "My comments of June 1988 represent the depth of my feeling for the Armenian people and the sufferings they have endured." In order to avoid saying genocide, Pres. Bush, like you, made an indirect reference to that word, by mentioning his earlier remarks as Vice President and presidential candidate: "The United States must acknowledge the attempted genocide of the Armenian People in the last years of the Ottoman Empire, based on the testimony of survivors, scholars, and indeed our own representatives at the time, if we are to ensure that such horrors are not repeated."

Dear Mr. President, there was no need for your staff to waste their valuable time trying to come up with such ploys and verbal gymnastics. If you did not want to say genocide, you did not have to say anything at all. The Armenian Genocide has already been acknowledged by another U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, who signed a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981, in which he referred to "the genocide of the Armenians.”

Armenians actually gain nothing by having one more U.S. president reiterate what has been said before. As you know, presidential statements, just as congressional resolutions, have no legal consequence. Pres. Reagan’s proclamation and the adoption of two House resolutions on the Armenian Genocide in 1975 and 1984 have brought nothing tangible to Armenians in terms of seeking reparations for their immense losses in lives and property.

By not keeping your word on April 24, however, you have only succeeded in undermining your own credibility in front of the American people and world public opinion. Already, the Obameter website (politifact.com) has labeled your April 24 statement as “a broken promise.” This week, as you complete the first 100 days in office, major TV networks and the press are widely reporting your broken promise on the Armenian Genocide, thus undermining the trust of the American public in your other promises.

Finally, Mr. President, it was improper for you to exploit Turkey’s “make- believe” negotiations with Armenia by using it as a pretext for avoiding the "genocide" word in your April 24 statement. Given your high position, you must know that the Turkish government’s intent all along has been to create the false impression that its discussions with Armenia are proceeding smoothly, making everyone believe that the border would be opened shortly. Turkish leaders have been dangling that carrot in front of Armenia for many years. The fact is that, once you were elected president, Turkish officials took seriously your campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide and were told by your close aides that unless Ankara made a friendly gesture towards Armenia, you could well carry out your promise to the Armenian-American community.

While Turkish officials, with their fake diplomatic initiatives, managed to deceive the rest of the world, including Armenia’s relatively inexperienced leaders, you, Mr. President, knew better. You went along with Turkey’s false gestures knowingly, thus bartering away your principled stand on the Armenian Genocide in order to secure Turkish participation in the Afghan war, and carry out its U.S. assigned role with respect to Iraq, Iran, and Israel.

You must have also known that Turkey would not open its border with Armenia in the foreseeable future, unless the Karabagh conflict was resolved to Azerbaijan’s satisfaction. Using various carrots and sticks, with the connivance of Russia, which pursues its own economic and political interests in Turkey and Azerbaijan, U.S. officials succeeded in pressuring Armenia into agreeing to issue a joint declaration with Turkey and Switzerland as mediator on the eve of April 24. This declaration was a convenient cover for you to duck the genocide issue in order to appease Turkey.

Mr. President, by compelling Armenia to sign such a declaration, you have managed to pit the Armenian Diaspora, as well as the people in Armenia against the government in Yerevan. As a direct result of that action, the ARF, one of Armenia’s influential political parties, quit the ruling coalition this week. The ARF did not wish to associate itself with a government, still reeling from last year’s contentious presidential elections, which is negotiating an agreement with Turkey that could compromise the country’s national interests and historic rights. The ARF also vehemently opposes Armenia’s announced intention to participate in a bilateral historical commission that Turkey would use to question the facts of the Armenian Genocide.

Mr. President, in the coming days, as your administration invites Armenia’s leaders to Washington in order to squeeze more concessions from them, please realize that they can only be pressured so much before they lose their authority. As was the case with Armenia’s first president, crossing the red lines on the Genocide and Karabagh issues could well jeopardize the tenuous hold on power of the remaining ruling coalition, regardless of how many promises are made and carrots extended to them by Washington.

  
 
 

14 comments
  1. Completely agree with the

    Completely agree with the points, statements, and comments in the letter from Mr. Obama’s former admirer. And I am sure any civil person with a feeling of justice will share concerns on Mr. New President Obama’s promises and capabilities to fulfill what is said by him consciously.
  2.  Thank you Mr Sassounian.
     Thank you Mr Sassounian. Very well said. I agree with you entirely. I really had high hopes, although most people say ‘What did you expect’. What makes this administration or any administration think that an acknowledgment of the Genocide is tied to negotiations between Turkey and Armenia? This is a fundamental flaw in Obama’s rhetoric. The Jewish people didn’t even have a state yet when Germany repented for its crimes. Acknowledgment, apologies and reparations need to be directed to the Armenian people especially that of the Armenian diaspora who are largely the victims of the crime of Genocide, not to the current government who is being put into a corner by bully Turkey, and Sorry to say ‘bully America’.

  3. Genocide Recognition? Too Little Too Late

    If Obama, or any other American administration (and even Turkey for that matter) recognize the Armenian genocide, it will make international news for about a nanosecond.  I for one prefer to see the media pay attention to the Armenian cause every year without any recognition.

    my 2 cents (and it’s canadian cents at that)
     

    1. Not necessarily
      To be honest, I don’t think this the correct way of looking at the situation.  Recognition is only  the first step. No one who believes that the genocide should be recognized does so to receieve momentary international attention. Not to mention that whatever "attention" the media is paying to the genocide is minimal, at best and pathetic in actuality. Formal recognition is only a stepping stone in genocide education and awareness. Think of the impact recognition could have on public school education. No longer could it be disputed whether or not the genocide should be taught in history classes alongside other truths of WWI. That is only one example among many. Attitudes such as yours are what give leaders the abilty to make such decisions. If we don’t care, then why should they?

      1. actually..

        "Think of the impact recognition could have on public school education" 
        I would like to make two points:

        1) Where I live (North America), people learn more from the media than from WWI textbooks in public schools.  TV, Radio, Internet and the print media to some extent are more influencial in shaping people’s opinion than classroom textbooks.  This is the undisputable reality.  History books will not change when the US government acknowledges the Armenian genocide, and I think too much focus is put on this issue alone. 

        2) Calling it "the first step" is nice and dandy, but nobody ever talks about what the ultimate goal of the recognition is beyond "healing of wounds". In another words, I am not desparately waiting for the Turkish government to say one day "we are sorry, we acknowledge that it was a genocide, we feel your pain" . It sounds hollow and meaningless the same way that I think it sounded hollow and meaningless when President Clinton apologized to Africa for slavery.  Africa is no better today, the life of Africans is no better today because of that apology.

  4. Right on
    Thank you for forwarding.  Here’s what I posted on that page:

    "Great letter Harout.  You expressed what I’ve been feeling since receiving the bad news on Friday. 

    And I’m glad the US public and media are taking notice of his broken promise as well.

    I agree with our Canadian friend above about the limited impact recognition will make.  In fact, I’d like to add to that and really question why we devote so much time and effort to getting the White House to acknowledge it year after year.

    First, it’s already been acknowledged (by Reagan, per the above).

    Second, it’s a game we’re not winning.  Obama was the best shot we’ve had in decades.  The precedent has been set.  It will only get harder from here on in.

    Thirdly, it won’t change much.  Even if Obama uses the G word, what difference will that really make?  Will that cause Turkey to all of a sudden change its position and admit it happened? (to quote the above:  "As you know, presidential statements, just as congressional resolutions, have no legal consequence. ")

    Lastly, I favor devoting our time and effort and money to other causes that will help Armenia now.  Let’s get more aid and education and jobs to those people who struggle day in and day out.

    We will continue to honor our martyrs and remember the Genocide as we always have with our rallies and masses at church. 

    The time has come for Armenians to let go of this ‘need’ for US recognition and focus more on Armenia’s needs of today, and of tomorrow.  We can move on, and move up.  Yes we can.  With or without Obama or the US White House.

    1. It’s the principle…Mr.

      It’s the principle…Mr. Obama promised and he should have kept his promise.

      1. With all due respect Paron
        With all due respect Paron Chanyan, since when do politicians keep their word?

  5. Et Tu Obama?

    Mr. Sasounian,
    Thank you, THANK YOU Mr. Sasounian; What an honest, direct and eloquent letter to yet another White house professional liar!
     Shame on him and his pathetic foreign policy staff!!!
  6. Et Tu Obama

    Dear Harout,

    An excellent article. This is not the first time that the Armenian people is being mislead by the leaders of the "free world". The recognition of the Genocide by the president of US will not impact on Turkey in any way or manner.

    I am more disappointed by the president of Armenia and his governmant that is giving in to the Turkish/ American presure. They have no right to play with the fate of the Armenian people.  If Sarkissian can not make the right decisions he better resign.
    .
     

  7. Nice!

    Very well put Paron Sassounian.  Verbally you put Obama in his place, if only there were some way of knowing that he read this article.  And thank you for pointing out to the misinformed members of the worldwide Armenian community who actually think Yerevan and Ankara are driving the so called peace process.  The whole scheme is being directed from Washington, Moscow and possibly Brussels to a lesser extent.

  8. WHAT SOLUTIONS WE HAVE FOR OUR PROBLEM
    WHEN WE ARE A SMALL NATION,WE UNDERSTAND EVRYTHING, AND YET WHAT CAN WE DO ? THIS HAS BEEN , IS, AND WILL BE OUR  PROBLEM ,COME WITH A PRACTICAL SOLUTION .

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