White House avoids calling Armenian deaths ‘genocide’

The White House avoided referring to the mass World War I killings of Armenians as genocide Tuesday

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The White House avoided referring to the mass World War I killings of Armenians as genocide Tuesday, as a diplomatic row raged ahead of the tragedy’s 100th anniversary.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and one of President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy advisors hosted Armenian American leaders at the White House to discuss the centennial.

McDonough and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes “discussed the significance of this occasion for honoring the 1.5 million lives extinguished during that horrific period,” the National Security Council said in a statement.

Sticking to the White House’s avoidance of the term, the statement said the United States would “use the occasion to urge a full, frank and just acknowledgement of the facts.”

Armenian leaders who met with the administration officials said they were told Obama would not use the term.

“His failure to use the term genocide represents a major blow for human rights advocates and sets the clock back on genocide prevention,” said Armenian Assembly of America director Bryan Ardouny.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart and have long sought to win international recognition of the massacres as genocide.

Turkey has insisted it was not a “genocide” and has reacted angrily to the use of the word, most recently by Pope Francis.

Turkey is a key U.S. ally and a fellow member of NATO.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and encouraged him to “improve relations with Armenia” as well as have an open dialogue in Turkey about the “atrocities of 1915,” according to a statement.

During his 2008 campaign for the White House, then senator Obama had pledged to “recognize the Armenian genocide.”

The White House announced that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will lead a presidential delegation to Armenia on Friday, when the country will commemorate the anniversary of the killings.

The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, and four lawmakers will also be included in the delegation.

Congressman Chris Smith, a long-time supporter of the cause, appealed to Obama to “recognize the genocide of the Armenians.”

“I also appeal to the Turkish government to recognize the genocide and issue a genuine apology,” the New Jersey Republican said.

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