Rather than blame US President Barack Obama, many Armenians are holding Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan responsible for the American leader's failure to use the word "genocide" in an April 24 speech to commemorate Ottoman Turkey's 1915 massacre of an estimated 1.5 million ethnic Armenians.
Many in Yerevan see a connection between Obama's omission and the April 22 announcement that Armenia and Turkey had settled on a "road map" for the normalization of relations. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Obama, many believe, did not want to possibly damage the normalization process at a delicate stage. The US president might not have felt so constrained had the "road map" announcement not taken place.
"It is useless to expect anything from Obama, when the president of our own country signs an obscure agreement with unknown consequences," commented management consultant Harutiun Mesrobian at an April 30 public discussion in Yerevan about Armenia's relations with Turkey.
Instead of "genocide," Obama, like former president George W. Bush before him, opted for the Armenian expression "Mets Yeghern" or "Great Calamity."
Discussions about Obama's speech among young Armenians on social network sites Facebook.com and Hayland.am have confronted the issue head-on: "Obama simply exploited Armenians' stupid diplomacy. What a shame!" one Facebook user exclaimed.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutiun, which split from Armenia's ruling coalition over the agreement, echoes that view. "Obama broke his promise," said Giro Manoian, director of the party's International Secretariat, in reference to Obama's pledges while a presidential candidate to recognize the massacre as genocide. "We are disappointed, but our first disappointment was on April 22, when Armenia and Turkey signed the secret agreement, which gave a clear notion of what Obama would say."
Eduard Sharmazanov, spokesperson for the governing Republican Party of Armenia which Sargsyan heads, countered that "Obama could not make his decision on what to say in a day, or based on one single agreement."
The document, to date, has not been publicly released. The lack of an official text has merely fuelled speculation over the past week. While a mood of suspicion is widespread, Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Director Haik Demoian is optimistic on the issue, believing that Obama's failure to use the term "genocide" could turn out to play a positive role in Armenian diplomacy.
"President Obama is a greatly charismatic person. The talk about his not keeping the promise to use the word 'genocide' created a tumult that can facilitate increased awareness of the Armenian problem internationally," Demoian, told an April 30 news conference.
The controversy shows little sign of diminishing in Armenia. On April 25, a group of young people, chanting "Where are the changes, Obama?" and "You did not keep your promise!" conducted a rallies in front of the American Embassy and the Armenian Foreign Affairs Ministry in Yerevan. The opposition Heritage Party's youth movement organized a similar protest on April 23.
A prominent historian suggested that Obama use or non-use of the word "genocide" could not be expected to exert influence on Turkey. "Forty-two of the 50 states in the United States have officially recognized the genocide. More than 20 countries worldwide have done it . . . but, as we can see, this does not affect Turkey's position," commented Ashot Melkonian, director of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of History.
Gayane Abrahamyan is a reporter for ArmeniaNow.com in Yerevan.