Ghosts in the Armenian genocide

image005On Friday, President Barack Obama broke a campaign promise to Armenian voters to declare the 1915 massacre of Armenians an act of "genocide." As Glenn Kessler noted in a March Washington Post story anticipating that this might happen, Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden for years have not minced words about labeling as "genocide" the deaths of Armenians. They regularly lambasted President George W. Bush for not using the word "genocide." And Obama's promise that he would use the word -- compared with Sen. John McCain's position -- got him enthusiastic support among the Armenian community. I don't think there's terribly much disagreement here in the States about what Turkey did to Armenians 90 years ago or even whether that constitutes genocide but many politicians avoid the term because it enrages Turkey -- one of our key Muslim allies.

This story did generate quite a bit of coverage, almost all of it solely political. Here's the Associated Press. Here's ABC News' Jake Tapper with a thorough look at the issue. This Los Angeles Times story about the aftermath of the changed position touched a bit on religion:

As he leaned against a tree at the consulate, Zorik Mooradian, 52, held up a large canvas splashed with the Armenian flag colors of red, orange and blue and the words, "Obama . . . Keep the Promise."

"The founding fathers did not envision that we would compromise truth for politics," said the disappointed Mooradian, who has been coming to the protests for three decades.

The scene was more somber in Montebello, where clergy with the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic and evangelical churches held a service with incense, hymns and an Armenian-language liturgy. Rows of Armenian youths in youth-group uniforms lined a path for participants to walk as they laid roses, carnations, lilies and other flowers at the base of a genocide monument.

None of the stories were terribly harsh about the changed position but I wish there were more discussion about the propriety of the change. In other words, even though there might be plenty to criticize about failing to keep a promise, sometimes it's better to change a position than remain consistent. I'm not arguing one way or the other, but there was a noticeable lack of discussion.

Anyway, I thought the best religion-related treatment of the issue came from CNN. It used the story of Fethiye Cetin, a Turkish human rights lawyer who discovered her grandmother's secret as an adult:

The little old lady in the white headscarf was Armenian. Her real name was not Seher, but Heranus Gadarian.

Cetin says at the age of nine, a Turkish gendarme captain ripped Heranus from the arms of her mother while they were on a brutal death march into the desert. A Turkish couple later adopted the Armenian girl, and gave her a Muslim name.

When Cetin first learned about her grandmother's Armenian origins, she was shocked.

"I felt deceived," she says. "I felt like going out into the street and screaming 'they are lying to us.'" . . .

According to the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, in 1914 there were more then 2,000 Armenian churches scattered across what is now Turkey. Today, there are fewer then 50.

It's a brief story but also discusses the efforts of the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Aram Atesyan and the prayers of Armenian people to get Americans to help.

This story is about Islam and Christianity, of course. None of this week's installments fully explored those angles. But here are two Los Angeles Times pieces that did a better job with that from when Obama visited Turkey earlier this month.

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