The U.S. State Department press corps inquired consistently last week about the Obama administration’s position regarding the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians, while the White House press corps offered minimal inquiries on the topic.
The Armenian question was notably absent from the White House briefing on Thursday, and only one question was asked at the very end of a one hour and 18 minute briefing on Friday, April 24, the anniversary of the genocide.
By contrast, the administration’s position on the Armenian genocide was a key issue throughout the week at State Department briefings.
Matt Lee, an Associated Press reporter, and others consistently asked State Department spokesperson Marie Harf questions about the genocide.
Lee opened his questions on Friday with Armenia, citing President Obama’s statement on the 100th anniversary of the genocide.
“Once again [the president] did not fulfill his campaign promise to call what happened ‘genocide.’ This was met … with anger from people in the Armenian community, one of which said it was a ‘sad spectacle,’ that ‘he’s playing word games,'” he commented.
“Do you agree with that?” Lee asked.
Harf replied, “We’ve been over this multiple times this week. The president put out a very powerful statement speaking to the historical events that happened. … We understand that some people may want to hear different language used; we believe this is the right course.”
Lee continue his inquiry by reiterating that Obama had pledged to formally call the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide in his 2008 election campaign.
He also noted that current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, then an Obama campaign advisor, “urged Armenian Americans … to vote for then Senator Obama specifically because he would keep his word on this.”
Harf quipped that Lee had asked the same question every day this week and that she had given the same answer – namely, that the president has been clear about the historical events that took place and strongly condemned them.
Lee affirmed Harf’s assessment about the repetitive nature of his inquiries, adding, “Can you tell that the answer is not very satisfactory?”
Another reporter asked, “Does the United States have a definition or standard as to what constitutes genocide?”
Harf replied, “I’m happy to check.”
The United Nations established a formal, internationally recognized definition of genocide in 1948, though the U.S. did not ratify it until 1988 under President Reagan.
Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Russia, Sweden and the Netherlands have all formally labeled the 1915 events as genocide.
Pope Francis became the first papal leader to call it genocide. Other religious organizations to do so include the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, World Evangelical Alliance and Church of the Brethren.
Turkey continues to deny that genocide took place in 1915, condemning world leaders who have labeled it genocide and recalling ambassadors from nations who have done so.
A pointed question concluded the Friday queries about the 1915 genocide. “Do you think the U.S. by not using that word … is being an accomplice to such a denial?”
Harf replied, “I think if you read the president’s statement, it is very clear how strongly he feels about what happened here, about the historical events. And, again, I just don’t have much more for you than that. Let’s move on.”
Editor’s note: This is the 10th article in a series focused on genocide. Previous articles in the series are: