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Trump declines to call mass killings of Armenians a genocide

Trump declines to call mass killings of Armenians a genocide
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President Trump on Monday marked the Ottoman Turks’ century-old massacre of 1.5 million Armenians, but declined to label it a genocide, keeping with the practice of past administrations.

“Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century,” Trump said in a statement. “I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many.”

Previous presidents, including former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama shares Veterans Day message: 'There's no tribute that can truly match the magnitude of your service' Beto 2020 calls multiply among Dems Here we are: a nation divided by statues MORE, also refused to call the mass killings a genocide. Obama, however, had promised during his election campaign to use the term, while Trump never made such a pledge.

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Trump's statement is an important gesture to Turkey, a NATO ally and key partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

The Turkish government has resisted the genocide label for the actions of the Ottoman forces in 1915, but Armenian-American groups have long urged U.S. presidents to change course. More than 80 lawmakers recently sent a letter to Trump pressuring him to use the term.

“The president's statement fails to stand up for human rights and is inconsistent with American values, and represents the same kind of capitulation to Turkish authoritarianism which will cost more lives," said Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian, co-chairs of the Armenian Assembly of America.

The group called for an investigation into “surreptitious Turkish influence on the U.S. government.”

Trump’s statement acknowledged the heated debate over the term genocide.

“We must remember atrocities to prevent them from occurring again,” he said. “We welcome the efforts of Turks and Armenians to acknowledge and reckon with painful history, which is a critical step toward building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future.”

Asked why Trump decided not to use the term, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the statement is "consistent with statements that have been put out for at least several of the last administrations."

Trump has tried to forge a closer bond with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, even phoning him last week to congratulate him on a contested referendum that was criticized as an authoritarian power grab. 

The White House later said the two leaders mostly discussed joint counterterrorism efforts.

--This report was updated at 2:03 p.m.