WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President Barack Obama avoided using the word genocide on April 24 when describing mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 and welcomed efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations.
As a presidential candidate, Obama, who took office in January, had described the killings of Armenians as genocide, but he referred to them as "atrocities" on April 24.
"Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire."
Despite his careful word choice, Obama said his position on the killings had not altered.
"I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed," he said. "My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."
Turkey and Armenia said this week they had agreed on a road map to normalize ties after a century of hostility that traces its roots to the 1915 mass killing and deportation of Armenians, which Armenia says was genocide.
"I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations," Obama said. "Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise."
Armenian American groups criticized Obama for not keeping a campaign pledge to stick to the genocide characterization.
"I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama's failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide," said Ken Hachikians, chair of Armenian National Committee of America.
"The president's statement today represents a retreat from his pledge and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how America confronts the crime of genocide."