White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referenced the Armenian Genocide during Monday’s press briefing, in a move that goes against the US government’s official stance and could place President Donald Trump in an awkward position with the Turkish government, per Business Insider.
McEnany referenced an “Armenian Genocide memorial” as she cited monuments and memorials that have recently been vandalized amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality. A sculpture remembering victims of the Armenian Genocide was vandalized in Denver recently.
McEnany said “there seems to be lack of understanding and historical knowledge, when the Armenian Genocide Memorial remembering victims of all crimes against humanity, including slavery, is being vandalized.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Business Insider regarding whether the administration now recognizes the mass killings of Armenians during World War I as genocide.
The Turkish embassy in Washington also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
“We appreciate that the Administration has taken note that the Armenian Genocide memorial in Denver was vandalized and of the need for a better understanding of historical knowledge,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement provided to Insider. “This monument, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, commemorates the victims of all crimes against humanity.”
The US government has consistently avoided referring to what happened to the Armenians during World War I as “genocide” in an effort to avoid angering Turkey, a NATO ally that’s allowed the US to store dozens of nuclear weapons at a Turkish air base.
The president’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day in April stopped short of characterizing the World War I killings as “genocide,” referring to it as “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.” Trump’s statement was consistent with years of US policy designed to avoid tensions with Turkey.
Former President Barack Obama also did not refer to the killings as “genocide.”
“President Donald Trump’s April 24th statement on the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide misses the mark, fosters denial, and does not reflect America’s proud record of genocide affirmation,” the Armenian Assembly of America, an Armenian-American advocacy group based in Washington, DC, said in April.
The Trump administration in late 2019 rejected bipartisan efforts in Congress to formally recognize the Armenian genocide, which had enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Tensions between the US and Turkey have reached historic heights in the Trump era, largely due to Erdogan’s invasion of Syria and targeting of US-allied Kurdish forces, who bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS. Trump was heavily criticized by congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in 2019 for withdrawing US forces from northern Syria, which paved the way for the Turkish military incursion.