"Today, we commemorate the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In doing so, we honor the memory of the 1.5 million Armenians who were brutally massacred or marched to their deaths in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire," Obama said in his statement.
Obama was widely expected to avoid the word genocide in his annual message, the fourth since he came to the office in 2009. Turkey, a key US ally, has repeatedly warned in the past that referring to the World War I events during the Ottoman Empire as the “Armenian genocide” would cause irreparable damage to ties.
Turkey denies Armenian claims of genocide, saying there were deaths on both sides as Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire in collaboration with the Russian army, which was then invading eastern Anatolia, to establish an independent Armenian state.
Obama had promised Armenian voters to recognize the World War I events as genocide during his election campaign, but later backtracked, saying efforts aimed at Turkish-Armenian reconciliation should not be undermined.
In his message on Tuesday, Obama said: "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915. My view of that history has not changed." He also called for “a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts” about the history, saying that “moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past.”
“Some individuals have already taken this courageous step forward. We applaud those Armenians and Turks who have taken this path, and we hope that many more will choose it, with the support of their governments, as well as mine," said Obama.
In Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Ministry rejected Obama's remarks, which it said “distorted historical realities,” and said it was saddened by his statement marking the anniversary of the 1915 killings. The statement also added that Obama exhibited a baseless approach that reflects only Armenian arguments in marking the 1915 tragedy, saying Turkey considers every aspect of Obama's statement “problematic,” which it said “distorts historical realities.”
The statement said remarks like this -- made based on domestic political considerations and with “selective justice” in mind -- are both mismatched and complicate the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process. Ankara urged Washington to avoid making similar remarks that damage Turkish-American relations and instead asked the US to encourage the Armenian side, which it accused of avoiding an investigation of shared historical facts, to be realistic and reconciliatory.