Armenian Genocide Day: Why Won't President Obama Say the 'G' Word?

Every year it rains on April 24th. They say the sky is crying.

This year was no exception. 

Today, Armenians around the world commemorated the 97th anniversary of a genocide that began on April 24, 1915, when Armenian leaders and intellectuals were rounded up. Then came the able-bodied men of each village, followed by women and children who were sent on death marches into the desert. In total, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were systematically murdered in the first genocide of the 20th century. 

On August 22, 1939, a week before the German army’s invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler said to his commanders, “I have placed my death-head formations in readiness … with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion men, women and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” 

My grandfather still speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians. He does not always remember my name, but he never forgets that his mother was taken from her home and made to walk through the desert for days at gunpoint with no food or water. She was forced to leave her newborn baby on the side of the road when he died of starvation in her arms. Her emaciated body had no milk. She couldn’t feed him. 

President Obama spoke of the annihilation of the Armenians as a senator and then as a presidential candidate, promising to recognize it as a genocide. “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president,” he said then. 

Today, for the fourth year in a row, he broke that promise, falling short of using the word genocide to describe the vast atrocities, which Turkey got away with, leading Hitler to believe he could get away with the Holocaust. To you, Mr. President, I say what everyone else is thinking but is not crude enough to say aloud: Grow a pair. 

Even Turks still speak of the annihilation of the Armenians. Today, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, Today’s Zaman, called on Turkey to recognize the genocide, despite Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish government institutions, and under which Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world, including Iran and China.

Today’s Zaman quoted the Armenian weekly Agos: “We are not any longer debating what happened in 1915 in Turkey. Everyone debating on this subject knows that, in this very dark year and the ensuing years, hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and were never able to return, with a great majority of them lying somewhere in some corner of Anatolia or in Syrian deserts without a tombstone. They also know that many people had to convert their religions to be able to survive and sought shelter in Muslim families ... Nowadays, these facts are only countered by the obdurate argument, “No one can ever dare to say that we committed genocide!” As if, the use of any other word could lessen all that happened ...”

Today, a powerful and intelligent Armenian Diaspora is focused on making sure that word is used. And understandably so – most Diasporans are Diasporans because their ancestors were forced to flee Turkey during the Genocide. But do not be afraid that the Genocide will be forgotten, despite the cowardice of the Turkish and American governments. The sky will always cry for Armenians on April 24, and as even a Turkish newspaper noted, no matter what word is used, everyone knows what happened in those very dark years.