U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to use the word "genocide" in his April 24 statement marking the deaths of Armenians in 1915 was blamed primarily on the Armenian government’s handling of the issue. According to commentators in Yerevan, and members of the general public, the 22 April announcement of a roadmap to improve relations between Turkey and Armenia took the wind out of the genocide-recognition efforts of the Armenian lobby in the U.S. Despite promises to the contrary during his election campaign, Obama declined to use the ’G’ word to describe the deaths in 1915, opting instead for the Armenian word "Meds Yeghern," which can be translated as "The Great Catastrophe" or "The Great Disaster."
The joint announcement by the Foreign Ministries of Turkey, Armenia and Switzerland last Wednesday that the two Caucasian neighbors had agreed on a roadmap to improve relations under Swiss auspices is still reverberating in Yerevan, with many criticizing Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and President Serge Sarkisian for reaching such a deal. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dikran Balayan, speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, dismissed reports that the two countries had signed any formal agreement, adding, "The Turkish press, as usual, is misrepresenting what has happened. This is just a roadmap."
Most of the commentators, reporters and politicians waiting at the Getron TV headquarters on April 24 were hoping Obama would use the word "genocide" in his statement but knew it was highly unlikely after Wednesday’s announcements. Repeated calls to the U.S. by Giro Manoyan, the international secretary of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Dashaksutyun bureau, failed to turn the tide.
Obama’s use of the term "Meds Yeghern" failed to satisfy Armenian expectations. Hagop Avedikyan, the editor in chief of daily Azk, said he found Obama’s statement greatly lacking. "The massacres directed at Armenians were not exclusive to 1915. The real acts began in 1896," he said. "Armenians described what happened between 1896 and 1915 as Meds Yeghern. One must also recognize the fact that at the time, the use of 'genocide' terminology was nonexistent."
Aram Abrahamyan, the editor in chief of daily Aravod, agreed with his colleague, saying that "Meds Yeghern" was not adequate to describe what happened. "We must congratulate our Foreign Minister Nalbandian. The roadmap that was signed transformed the matter in Turkey’s favor and eased Obama’s predicament," he added.
While most Armenian commentators were pessimistic about what would happen next, the director of the Armenia National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, Prof. Ruben Safrastian found Obama’s remarks "encouraging," saying, "He will eventually use the word ’genocide’ in another statement."