»» Click here to read US President Obama's statement on the incidents of 1915
"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," Obama said. The president used the Armenian term "Meds Yeghern," which is often translated as "Great Calamity," twice in his message. It was widely expected that Obama would avoid using the word genocide in his speech as he stated earlier that he wanted to do no harm to Turkey and Armenia's efforts to normalize their ties.
Turkey and Armenia announced on Wednesday that they had achieved solid progress and reached an agreement on a comprehensive roadmap for the normalization of their relations, a move quickly welcomed by the United States.
"The best way to advance that goal right now," Obama said, "is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward."
"I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise," Obama said, referring to the breakthrough in the reconciliation process.
"Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity," he added.
There has been no official statement on what the Turkish-Armenian deal will entail, but it is expected to include the opening of diplomatic representations in Ankara and Yerevan; a gradual opening of the closed border; Armenia's formal recognition of a 1920 treaty between Turkey and the Soviet Union which draws the border between Turkey and today's Armenia; and the establishment of commissions to work on issues of dispute, including the Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The final text of the agreement will need to be approved by the parliaments of the two countries.
For Obama, referring to the killings as genocide could have upended recent pledges of a closer partnership with Turkey, a vital ally in a critical region. Steering around the word, however, put him at odds with his own pledges to recognize the killings as genocide.
Armenian American groups expressed displeasure with the statement, saying Obama failed to honor his election promise. "I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama's failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian genocide," said Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). "In falling short of his repeated and crystal clear promises, the president chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nation's stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey's threats."
"We're profoundly disappointed," Aram Hamparian, executive director of ANCA, told ABC News. "All the more so because his statements on this in his record before he became president nailed it in terms [of] the facts, the practical side and the moral dimension. He repeatedly talked about this during the campaign, and he was really harsh on President [George W.] Bush, he said it was inexcusable that Bush refused to acknowledge that this was genocide."
Earlier on Friday, tens of thousands of Armenians marched through Yerevan to commemorate the anniversary of the alleged genocide, many calling on Turkey to recognize the World War I events as genocide.
Obama said the Armenians killed in the final days of the Ottoman Empire "must live on in our memories." He said unresolved history can be a heavy weight. "Reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation," he said. "I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open and constructive."
Turkey vehemently rejects genocide claims, saying the killings came as the Ottoman Empire was trying to quell a civil strife and that Muslim Turks were also killed in the clashes. In a sign of the importance he attaches to ties with Turkey, Obama visited the country earlier this month, discussing cooperation on a number of key US foreign policy issues.