For Fourth Year In A Row, Obama Breaks Promise On Armenian Genocide

ABC’s White House Correspondent, Jake Tapper notes that, once again, President Obama has failed to live up to a promise made to the Armenian-American community while he was running for President:

On the fourth Armenian Remembrance Day of his presidency, President Obama has for the fourth time in a row broken his promise to the Armenian community to use the word “genocide” in describing what happened at the hands of the Turks roughly a century ago.

As a senator, and then as a presidential candidate,  Barack Obama often talked about how bold he was to call the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire just what it was: a genocide.

“America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides,” he said. “I intend to be that president.” In a January 2008 letter to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Obama said he shared “with Armenian Americans — so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors — a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”

In a statement, Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America said, “President Obama today completed his surrender to Turkey, shamefully outsourcing U.S. human rights policy to a foreign state, and tightening Ankara’s gag on American recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The President’s capitulation to Turkey – on this, the last April 24th of his term – represents the very opposite of the principled and honest change he promised to Armenian Americans and to all the citizens of our nation. President Obama’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide stands today as a stark lie, a painful promise etched on the hearts of all who had hoped and worked for change, but who, today, have been betrayed by a politician who failed to live up to his own words.”
In 2006, Mr. Obama noted, “I criticized the secretary of state [Condoleezza Rice] for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”

Asserted Mr. Obama, back then: “The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.”

That was then, this is now.

Indeed, it is. Consider what the White House released today:

“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915. My view of that history has not changed. A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past. …Some individuals have already taken this courageous step forward. We applaud those Armenians and Turks who have taken this path, and we hope that many more will choose it, with the support of their governments, as well as mine.”

Reality, of course, is that there’s no way the President wasn’t going to release this kind of bland diplomatic statement regardless of what he’d said on the campaign trail. Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1952, and is perhaps now as important to world events as it was during the Cold War when control of the Bosporus was an important strategic issue for all of Europe. Despite the fact that the Armenian Genocide was committed by the Ottoman Empire, a nation that hasn’t existed since the end of World War I, the Turks remain extraordinarily sensitive about their history and the conflict between Turkey and Armenia is one that still seems  to exist on both sides. For the sake of diplomacy, it’s simply unrealistic to think that the United States would risk offending an important ally for the sake of a campaign promise. One does wish, though, that candidates for President in both parties would be more circumspect about this kind of pandering when they run for office, because if they do win they are going to discover that you simply cannot please everyone.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hey Norm says:

    Shorter Doug…I hate Obama so much it hurts me deep down inside where I harbor my Armenian love.

  2. Jenos Idanian says:

    Example #4,658 of the statement “All of Obama’s promises come with expiration dates.”

    Every. Single. One.

    This one, though, was short-lived even by Obama standards.

  3. Jenos,

    Republicans have made the same silly promise, and they’ve broken it too because diplomacy is more important than pandering to one ethnic group

  4. mattb says:

    And bringing a little truth to Jenos’s Obama always breaks his word:

    The Obameter Scorecard
    Promise Kept 177 (35%)
    Compromise 56 (11%)
    Promise Broken 63 (12%)
    Stalled 67 (13%)
    In the Works 143 (28%)
    Not yet rated 2 (0%)

    BTW if you add together promised broken and stalled you end up with 25%, which is still 10% lower than the promised kept. Add compromises to the promises kept column and we end up with nearly 50% of all campaign promises coming true.

    All things considered, with the current obstructionism going on in congress, that’s not a particularly bad record. We’ll have to see how that measures up against future candidates now that this sort of thing is being tracked.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Therein lies the beauty and genius of our political system – a politician is able to do everything that he or she promises. Every politician should be able to deliver on every promise that he or she makes, right?

    Can we be honest here? Republicans are not complaining that Obama is/was unable to deliver on his promises, they are grateful. On this Armenian Genocide issue specifically? Obama is no different than many politicians – it is an easy promise to make, one that often bumps up against other political considerations (e.g. Turkey is currently an important ally in a region where we want to retain the ability to screw things up regularly.)

  6. Doug,

    I believe that Pres. Obama should identify the Armenian genocide for what it was — which would of course involve using the word I used.

    That said, your major points — that it’s unrealistic to expect he will, but that he shouldn’t (and Republican candidates shouldn’t) promise that they will when they know they won’t — is well taken.

    In other words, good post. 🙂

  7. merl says:

    @Hey Norm: How did you get that out of what he wrote?
    I don’t see the point in even mentioning something that happened a century ago.

  8. merl says:

    @Jenos Idanian: name another one. one that he has broken and was not broken for him by obstructionist teabaggers.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Realpolitik and the passage of a lot of time make this a non-issue to anyone but pathological Obama haters. If we are concerned about atrocities, there are more than a few happening right here in the 21st century that deserve our attention.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    Certainly you aren’t using facts in a discussion with Jeno’s?
    He/She lives in a fact free cocoon.

  11. Jenos Idanian says:

    @merl: Just one? I dunno, there are so many to choose from.

    1) Closing Guantanamo.
    2) Posting all bills on the White House web site 5 days before signing. (That one, as I recall, didn’t last a week.)
    3) Use public financing for his 2008 campaign.
    4) No lobbyists appointed to high positions.
    5) Introduce a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill in his first year.
    6) Stimulus money for “shovel-ready” projects.
    7) His administration would be “the most open and transparent in history.”
    8) No signing statements.

    Eight enough for you, or should I go on?

    And please don’t use the term “teabagger.” It’s unnecessarily vulgar and insulting. I understand you want to get your adolescent giggles, but please.

  12. So basically in order not to offend a criminal who has some values to us, we can let go of calling things as they are?
    Does that mean, let’s say the Islamic Brotherhood and Salafists who are taking over in the Middle East, specifically Egypt, and threaten to close the Suez canal, can force the United States into cancel the recognition of the Holocaust, calling it “unfortunate events”, “massacres”, “debatable history” like what Obama and his administration is doing today?

    Thanks for letting us know how “Liberty and justice for all” has an asterisk next to it and then points to a fine print that says “certain restrictions apply, see Department of state/Obama for details” which also says as long as you don’t “offend” a NATO member.

    And to Mr. Mataconis, no, this is not about diplomacy, and it is not about “pandering to one ethnic group” which I find *very* offensive of you to label honoring 1.5 million innocent civilians systematically killed, women raped and children molested before being killed and the lives lost, calling it as it was defined by Raphael Lemkin, the person who coined the word Genocide because of what happened to the Armenians, you come here call it “pandering to one ethnic group”, but regardless, I was not expecting Obama to call it Genocide either, given his history, and his credibility.

    His actions spoke louder than words. During one of the summits, all the leaders he met there got a cold hand shake, with one exception, Turkey’s Erdogan got a warm hand shake and a hug. When asked by several journalists, he responded “Because he is a trusted friend”, and so on, and recently he was discussing how he sought advice from the Islamist Erdogan and his wife on how to raise his daughters, …etc.

    So not exactly the shock of the century to see him complete the surrender to Turkey, but we were hoping for some decency and integrity still left in him, but alas, we were wrong in that.

    Long story short, the Armenians don’t count for this administration and any person who sets aside humanity and his political and financial interests outweigh integrity. William Saroyan summarized what the Armenians went through throughout their history here.

    But rest assured that the Armenian community will remember in November.
    I sure hope that you would not be subjected one day for such crime and then see attempts to get justice for your cause called “pandering”, because then you’ll only realize your mistake.

    Feel free to censor/remove this comment.

    Take care.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Just for the sake of accuracy, stimulus money is helping to fund the forth bore on the Caldecott Tunnel, a critical infrastructure project near San Francisco.

    KALW’s Nathanael Johnson went to the Caldecott Tunnel and has this report.
    * * *
    NATHANAEL JOHNSON: I’m standing here at the site where construction will begin tomorrow. It’s a project that’s been made possible by Obama’s stimulus package. The federal government is kicking in almost $200 million for this new bore of the Caldecott Tunnel – and you can hear the cars wooshing by in the rain.

    More about stimulus spending in the bay area:

    Why do Republicans love infrastructure projects in Iraq and hate them in America?

  14. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: Possibly for the same reason Obama loves offshore drilling off Brazil, but hates it when it’s off our shores?

  15. Tillman says:

    But rest assured that the Armenian community will remember in November.

    And I’m sure your voting bloc will bring swift retribution to Obama. How many Armenians are there in America that are going to vote based on this?

    It’s just, y’know, history is written by the winners, not the whiners. It was a tragedy, but I, as a non-Armenian and non-Turk, couldn’t give a crap about the President’s promises in this case. Would I prefer we call it a genocide? Yeah, that sounds accurate to me. Do I care if we do? Not really.

    We’re talking about recognition here, nothing else. It’s idiotic that this is a sensitive diplomatic issue in the first place, from any side.

  16. For this failure of a president, he needs every vote out there. Whether we are a big number or not, it does not matter. He already alienated the Catholic Church, and quite possibly most of other churches, he already alienated the Jewish community and the Armenians.

    I know there are lot of people out there don’t give a damn about the Armenian, but that is our history, we’ve been ignored and conquered most of the time, those few unimportant Armenians who nobody cares about, we expect that. But somehow still survive and still contribute to humanity more than most of other ethnic groups, and given shameless attitudes like what Mr. Mataconis had demonstrated labeling calling this a Genocide as “pandering to one ethnic group”, we still have to inject some sense into lots of minds.

    It is really shame how every atrocity/Genocide out there has been called as such, yet the first Genocide in 20th century still has been denied recognition except for few brave souls who were able to stand up in the face of the bullying and threats from Turkey and refused bribes. Had that one been recognized and the perpetrators been punished, the Holocaust would have never happened.

    The Nazis used similar tactics that the Turks used in their torture and killings. Even Hitler’s documented quote: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” when ordering to invade Poland and kill civilians showed how he modeled the Holocaust and the extermination attempts of the Jews after the Armenian Genocide, but apparently facts do not matter for some.

  17. John Smith says:


    You mean you and your fellow Liberals? In that case I agree.
    I am also of Armenian origin and will not vote for this failure-in-chief.

    Go ahead and vote for him, you deserve to live under someone like him after all with your “I don’t care” attitude. You and your likes are money whores, that’s the only thing you care about.