WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Friday refrained from branding the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey a "genocide," breaking a campaign promise while contending his views about the 20th century slaughter had not changed.
The phrasing of Obama's written statement attracted heightened scrutiny because of the sensitivity of the issue and because the two countries are nearing a historic reconciliation after years of tension. The Obama administration is wary of disturbing that settlement.
Marking the grim anniversary of the start of the killings, the president referred to them as "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century."
"I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed," Obama said. "My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts."
"The best way to advance that goal right now," Obama said, "is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward."
For Obama, referring to the killings as genocide could have upended recent pledges of a closer partnership with Turkey, a vital ally in a critical region. Steering around the word, however, put him at odds with his own pledges to recognize the slaughter as genocide.
Obama said the Armenians who were massacred in the final days of the Ottoman Empire "must live on in our memories." He said unresolved history can be a heavy weight. "Reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation," he said.
"I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive," he said.