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In twist, Obama sidesteps 'genocide' label

Associated Press / April 25, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama yesterday refrained from branding the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey a "genocide," breaking a campaign promise while maintaining that his views about the World War I slaughter had not changed.

The phrasing of Obama's written statement attracted heightened scrutiny because of the sensitivity of the issue and because the two countries on Wednesday announced a road map for normalizing relations after years of tension. The administration coordinated its statement about the apparent breakthrough with the Turkish government and Swiss mediators.

Most scholars consider the deaths of the Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, steadfastly denies that a genocide occurred, arguing the death toll has been vastly inflated.

Marking the 94th anniversary of the start of the killings, the president referred to them as "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century."

"History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man's inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation," he said in the statement. "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts."

For Obama, referring to the killings as genocide could have upended recent pledges of a closer partnership with Turkey, a vital US ally in a critical region.

Maneuvering around the word, however, put him at odds with his own pledges to recognize the slaughter as genocide.