President Barack Obama, if you Want to Invite People to Help Remake the World, Start by Recognizing the Armenian Genocide
“Two years ago, I criticized the Secretary of State 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. … as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
It was a breath of fresh air to see a president capable of such command over the English language. In the last four years, the meme-ification of the presidency has only dropped the standards I used to think were minimal for the job. I have seen the office of a public servant rendered into the role of an aimlessly temperamental tyrant.
My enthusiasm for your message decays at an exponential rate. While I want to believe you, I can’t help but feel tossed away for some greater, undefined vision you have of America. I have yet to see or hear you say the words Armenian and Genocide together, consecutively in a sentence since the day you took office. For eight years, you never even mentioned it. Two of your policy advisors apologized on behalf of you two years ago for not recognizing it.
Mostly, I agree with what you had to say in your keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I, too, think that we have a lot “more work to do”. But I don’t think you’ve earned the respect of the world. The worlds that you and I see are clearly existing in two different realities. Where you want to ‘remake’ and ‘rebuild’, I only see hypocrisy and negligence. And I’m harsher on you because Trump has no presidential qualities nor semblance and the presidents that came before you of recent past fall magnitudes short of what you represent.
Recognizing the Armenian Genocide wasn’t just a broken campaign promise — it’s an abandonment of that very youth you speak at length about here. As you struggle to write words on that page, I struggle to find words to describe that abandonment. Betrayal? Ignorance? Neglect? Rejection? I’m still unsure.
You’re laying your faith in the people that are supposed to remake the world of tomorrow, yet you’re unable to document, in those little details that you’ve carefully constructed in your book, the shortcomings of a major promise you made to the Armenian American community and diaspora.
I bleed as much red, white, and blue as I do red, blue and orange. I climbed the highest peak in the Armenian highlands in 2019, and meeting with both the Kurdish and Armenian hiking teams, I found a similar optimism. For the Kurdish people, that maybe one day Turkish atrocities may end and the Saturday Mothers would know where their loved ones disappeared to. For the Armenians, they hope that the Armenian Question will finally be answered — that hope isn’t in some abstract, alternate dimension. That hope could have started with the very change you wanted to spark from the beginning. For eight years, Armenians march on April 24th, signifying the start of the Genocide when hundreds of Armenian intellectuals and leaders were rounded up to be murdered. For as long as I’ve been cognizant of my reality, I have remembered Armenians marching in the hundreds of thousands every single year. They march for awareness. They march because those wounds are still open.
They march because, if they don’t, they’re afraid of history repeating.
That paranoia does not exist in a vacuum. The Jewish people who survived the Holocaust will tell you the signs. My grandmother will tell you stories from her grandparents about being saved by Armenian sympathizers in a small town in Turkey a hundred miles north of Aleppo, Syria, where my grandma was born.
Sometimes it has crossed my mind that another Holocaust or a Genocide would not happen. Then, Azerbaijan began bombing Stepanakert in Artsakh in the middle of a global pandemic. A war was announced, but it soon became known that Armenia was dealing with a humanitarian crisis. Beheadings, mass executions, ears getting cut off. I was watching my people be murdered through a glass screen. People shared what they could, and nobody acted. Turkey sent in mercenaries to kill Armenians, and the international community still stayed silent. Over forty days into defending itself against terrorism, Armenia conceded. Now, the plea is to at least save the historical landmarks and the structures of my people from thousands of years ago. That, too, seems to be too much to ask. If Azerbaijan has its way with Artsakh that it had with Nakhichevan, then surely the cultural genocide will only continue.
You motivate me, Mr. President. More than motivate me, you’ve given me an aspiration that one day I, too, can find myself in a similar position of awesome power and responsibility. But I can’t reconcile the motivation of your message with the ignorance of leaving the obvious absent. I feel cheated because you are supposed to symbolize more. You were supposed to symbolize more.
And, yet, I just watched another clip of an indigenous Armenian man having his ear cut off while his face was repeated pulverized into the floor.
My people are an open target for exploitation today; a humanitarian crisis, wholesale murder-spree, and the destruction of thousand-year-old monuments and holy sites. All of these things are embedded under the false narrative of war. Reported everywhere as simply a conflict in Transcaucasia.
So how am I supposed to be a part of this ‘remaking’ that you so desperately call for?