Obama Marks Rwanda Genocide with Pledge to Prevent Genocide

Two weeks ahead of the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, US President Barack Obama on Tuesday marked the 15th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda with a statement urging the United States and its world partners to deepen their commitment to ending the cycle of genocide, the White House reported.

The Rwandan genocide, which began on April 6, 1994, led to the brutal murder of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in some 100 days by extremist Hutu militias.

“It is a somber occasion that causes us to reflect upon the deaths of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children who were killed simply because of their ethnicity or their political beliefs,” Obama said in a statement.

“The memory of these events also deepens our commitment to act when faced with genocide and to work with partners around the world to prevent future atrocities,” he said.

Obama, as a Senator and as a presidential candidate, has been a strong advocate for genocide prevention. During his 2008 campaign for the White House, Obama repeatedly pledged to “respond forcefully to all genocides,” including the one currently ranging in Darfur.

In a January 19, 2008 statement, he stressed that preventing genocide today calls for a “principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide” that “starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”

“Genocide, sadly, persists to this day, and threatens our common security and common humanity. Tragically, we are witnessing in Sudan many of the same brutal tactics–displacement, starvation, and mass slaughter–that were used by the Ottoman authorities against defenseless Armenians back in 1915,” Obama said in the statement. “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.”

As the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide has served as a blueprint for genocides for over a hundred years, from the Holocaust to Darfur. The blind eye cast to the slaughter of Armenians was a point used by Hitler in 1948 when he asked his joint chiefs of staff, “who today speaks of the [their] annihilation?”

Turkey, however, vehemently denies there was any genocidal intent towards the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Official Ankara spends millions of dollars in its denial campaign, lobbying politicians, universities, and various publications to distort the truth of the issue.

Turkey even goes so far as to argue that a recognition of the Armenian Genocide will curtail attempts at reconciliation with Armenia currently under way. But Armenia’s Foreign Minister, Eduard Nalbandian, disagrees. Speaking at the French Diplomacy Academy on March 10, Armenia’s chief diplomat stressed that “If Armenia and Turkey have a political will and sincere intentions to normalize the relations, no factor can prevent it.

US legislators on March 17 introduced a resolution calling on the U.S. president to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide.

President Obama was in Turkey on Monday ahead of a UN-sponsored conference in Istanbul on Tuesday. Speaking at a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara, Obama was asked to clarify his position on the Armenian Genocide. He stood by his earlier statements on the Armenian Genocide but shied from using the actual word.

“My views are on the record and I have not changed views,” he said. Speaking to the Turkish Parliament later that day, he reiterated that his views had not changed on the matter.

“I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915,” Obama said in his address. “The best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open, and constructive.”

But Obama missed an opportunity to honor his campaign pledge of recognizing the Genocide and reaffirm America’s commitment to ending the cycle of Genocide, according to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“The President’s willingness to raise his commitment to recognizing the Armenian Genocide, even indirectly, in his remarks before the Turkish Parliament represents a step in the right direction, but far short of the clear promise he made as a candidate that he would, as President, fully and unequivocally recognize this crime against humanity,” Aram Hamparian, the executive Director of the ANCA, said on Monday in response to Obama’s remarks in Turkey.

“We expect that the President will, during Genocide Prevention Month this April, stand by his word, signaling to the world that America’s commitment to the cause of genocide prevention will never again be held hostage to pressures from a foreign government.”

The ANCA earlier this month launched a nationwide online and print campaign urging concrete action to end the Darfur genocide and full U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

The “Fierce Urgency of NOW” campaign urges anti-genocide activists across the U.S. to visit www.anca.org/change and phone the White House to urge President Obama to stand firm behind his pledge to commemorate and end genocide.


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