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Sarkisian Asks Obama To 'Recognize Armenian Genocide'

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in Washington in early 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in Washington in early 2010

YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian says he has asked U.S. President Barack Obama to explicitly describe the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian said he also expressed hope that Obama would use the politically sensitive term in his next public statement on the massacre anniversary to be marked on April 24.

"Naturally, our desire has always been and is that in his annual address the president of the United States makes a very explicit evaluation and utters the word genocide," Sarkisian said at a news conference with visiting Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey.

"I have spoken out on more than one occasion and can now say that in the past I have personally asked the U.S. president to utter that word," he said.

Obama repeatedly pledged to ensure an official U.S. recognition of the genocide when he ran for president. He has not delivered on that pledge, saying only that he stands by his past statements on the subject.

In his April 24 statement issued in 2009, Obama implied that he is not using the word "genocide" to avoid antagonizing Turkey and setting back its rapprochement with Armenia, which began shortly after Sarkisian took office in 2008.

Critics in Armenia and its diaspora seized upon this to claim that Sarkisian himself enabled Obama to backtrack on his campaign pledge by initiating the Turkish-Armenian "soccer diplomacy."

Sarkisian faced more such allegations in October 2010 following the circulation of an Internet video in which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden claimed that Sarkisian himself asked Washington not to "force" the issue of genocide recognition while Turkish-Armenian negotiations are in progress.

Both official Yerevan and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan denied Biden's claim.

Sarkisian indicated today that he thinks Obama may well again stop short of calling the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians a genocide in his upcoming address.

"The best moment is when your desire matches reality. Let's hope that this will be the case this time," he said in reply to a question from RFE/RL.

"But if this doesn't happen, we should not have reason to be upset and must instead fight for that," he said. "I would suggest that your editorial staff, your very influential media organization, also have a certain role in that endeavor," he said, referring to RFE/RL.

Calmy-Rey, whose country mediated in Turkish-Armenian negotiations along with the United States, urged Ankara and Yerevan to revive the normalization agreements that were signed in Zurich in October 2009.

"Formally, the Swiss mediation ended with the signing of the Zurich protocols," she said. "However, I wouldn't say that we have washed our hands and are indifferent to what is happening between Armenia and Turkey."

"Switzerland wants the process of protocol ratification to resume and we are ready to do everything that would encourage the parties," Calmy-Rey said.

Turkey has made clear that its parliament will not ratify the two protocols until there is decisive progress in international efforts to resolve the conflict over the breakaway Azerbaijani republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian side rejects this precondition. Earlier this year, Sarkisian accused Ankara of "destroying" the normalization process and threatened to formally annul the protocols.