Why did President Obama Not Recognize the Armenian Genocide? Hints from the Obama Administration Memoirs – and Other Sources





Armenian Genocide, United States, Genocide Recognition, Memory Politics, Genocide Denial


This paper discusses the reasons and processes that led the Obama administration to notrecognize the Armenian Genocide. Although Barack Obama had promised he would doso during his presidential campaign of 2008, he never did once in office, despite many of his administration members, including Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, having strong records in support of such a recognition. To investigate this hitherto poorly explored question, this paper uses primarily — although not exclusively — memoirs written by Barack Obama and members his administration, some of them addressing the issue directly, others dealing with it indirectly. This study focuses on President Obama’s personal choice, and therefore responsibility, to not recognize the genocide, but also expands on the geopolitical determinants of this non-recognition (related mostly to the geostrategic importance of Turkey) as well as on its diplomatic aspects (involving particularly the argument that US recognition would hamper a hypothetical Turkey-Armenia rapprochement). Two episodes of possible presidential recognition of the genocide will be particularly discussed; one in April 2009 (three months after Obama became president of the United States and coinciding with April 24, the anniversary of the genocide), and the other in 2015 (corresponding to its centenary). Finally, stress will be placed on the positions and role of the president’s entourage at the White House, and on his State and Defense Secretaries.

Author Biography

Julien Zarifian, CY Cergy Paris University, Paris, France

Is Associate Professor in American Studies (History and Political Studies) at CY Cergy Paris University, France, and a Junior Member of the Institut Universitaire de France (2020-2025). He received his PhD in Geopolitics from the French Institute of Geopolitics, Paris 8 University, in 2010. His current research involves the place of memory issues and genocide recognition in US political discourse. He is member of the editorial board for academic journals Politique Américaine and Études Arméniennes Contemporaines. In 2017-2018, he was a Fulbright Scholar with the Center for Advanced Genocide Research (USC Shoah Foundation).


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How to Cite

Zarifian, J. . “Why Did President Obama Not Recognize the Armenian Genocide? Hints from the Obama Administration Memoirs – and Other Sources”. Ad Americam, vol. 22, Mar. 2021, pp. 101-24, doi:10.12797/AdAmericam.22.2021.22.07.