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Trump’s press secretary invokes Armenian genocide, could anger Turkey

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  • White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referred to the “Armenian genocide” on Monday, which went against the US government’s official position on atrocities that took place during WWI. 
  • McEnany referenced a “Armenian genocide memorial” as a site that was recently vandalized during Monday’s press briefing.
  • Armenia has long said 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocide by the Ottoman Empire (out of which modern-day Turkey emerged) in 1915 during World War I.
  • The Turkish government has vehemently rejected this characterizing, dismissing the killings as a messy aspect of war.
  • In an effort to avoid angering Turkey, a NATO ally, the US government has generally referred to the killings as “mass atrocities,” stopping short of calling it “genocide.”
  • McEnany’s comments on Monday could put President Donald Trump in an awkward position with the Turkish government.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referenced the Armenian genocide during Monday’s press briefing, in a move that goes against the US government’s official stance and could place President Donald Trump in an awkward position with the Turkish government. 

McEnany referenced an “Armenian genocide memorial” as she cited monuments and memorials that have recently been vandalized amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality. A sculpture remembering victims of the Armenian genocide was vandalized in Denver in May, Denverite reported.

The Trump administration has focused heavily on the desecration of monuments in recent weeks, which has often involved the president defending symbols and memorials to the Confederacy and its leaders. 

 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider regarding whether the administration now recognizes the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide. 

The Turkish embassy in Washington also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

“We appreciate that the Administration has taken note that the Armenian Genocide memorial in Denver was vandalized and of the need for a better understanding of historical knowledge,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement provided to Insider. “This monument, dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, commemorates the victims of all crimes against humanity.” 

Armenia has long said 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocide by the Ottoman Empire (out of which modern-day Turkey emerged) in 1915 during World War I. Turkey has rejected the characterization of the massacre as a “genocide,” dismissing it instead as a messy aspect of the war. The Turkish government also estimates the death toll to be closer to 300,000.

The atrocity occurred as Turkey deported mass numbers of Armenians from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert, with many being killed or dying of disease or starvation along the way.

The US government has consistently avoided referring to what happened to the Armenians during World War I as “genocide” in an effort to avoid angering Turkey, a NATO ally that’s allowed the US to store dozens of nuclear weapons at a Turkish air base.

The president’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day in April stopped short of characterizing the World War I killings as “genocide,” referring to it as “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century. ” Trump’s statement was consistent with years of US policy designed to avoid tensions with Turkey. Former President Barack Obama also did not refer to the killings as “genocide.”

“President Donald Trump’s April 24th statement on the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide misses the mark, fosters denial, and does not reflect America’s proud record of genocide affirmation,” the Armenian Assembly of America, an Armenian-American advocacy group based in Washington, DC, said in April

The Trump administration in late 2019 rejected bipartisan efforts in Congress to formally recognize the Armenian genocide, which had enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Trump Erdogan

President Donald Trump attends a bilateral meeting with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters


Trump’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day in 2019 referenced Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish origin who coined the term “genocide.”

Lemkin, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust during World War II, studied the atrocities committed against the Armenians closely and worked tirelessly to ensure “genocide” was added to international law to prevent future massacres. He defined genocide as “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”

Tensions between the US and Turkey have reached historic heights in the Trump era, largely due to Erdogan’s invasion of Syria and targeting of US-allied Kurdish forces, who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS. Trump was heavily criticized by congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in 2019 for withdrawing US forces from northern Syria, which paved the way for the Turkish military incursion. 

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