Massachusetts political figures recall Armenian massacre
BOSTON (AP) — Top officials from both political parties in Massachusetts are calling on President Barack Obama to officially recognize the slaughter of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks a hundred years ago as one of the first genocides of the 20th century.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he’s proud Massachusetts is one of more than 40 states that have labeled the 1915 massacre a genocide. He said Massachusetts also includes the genocide in the state’s public school curriculum.
“I want you to know as your governor, I stand proudly with the Armenian-American community on this issue,” Baker said at a memorial event at the Massachusetts Statehouse on Friday. “We will never forget, ever, that a hundred years ago, over a million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman empire.”
Massachusetts’ Armenian-American population is second only to California among U.S. states.
The annual April 24 commemorations mark the day when the mass killings began. An estimated 1.5 million died in massacres, deportations and forced marches as Ottoman officials feared the Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in World War I.
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he hopes similar action across the country will encourage the world to recognize the atrocities against Armenians as genocide. Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, a Democrat whose relatives fled Armenia, made a more explicit plea to Obama.
“Mr. President, recognize this genocide. We need to recognize this genocide and we need to do this for the world, not just for us as diaspora Armenians,” he said. “We need to do this for Turkey because if Turkey recognizes this genocide, then we can all move on. This is a wound that is festering under a bandage.”
The state’s U.S. senators — Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey — have also said the killings need to be called a genocide.
Obama has pledged solidarity with Armenians but isn’t calling what happened to them 100 years ago genocide.
Obama says the 1915 massacre calls for reflection on the importance of historical remembrance and the work of reckoning with the past. In a statement Thursday, Obama said he has consistently stated his view on what happened in 1915 and that his view has not changed.
As a U.S. senator and candidate for president, Obama described the killings of Armenians as “genocide” and said the U.S. government had a responsibility to recognize them as such. As president, he has shied away from the term, mainly out of deference to Turkey.
Turkey, a key U.S. partner and NATO ally, fiercely opposes the “genocide” label, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.