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Full-Page Ad Denying Armenian Genocide Rebuked On Eve Of 100th Commemoration

The ad, which ran on the back page of The Washington Post on Thursday, says there is no "academic consensus" that the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians should be labeled genocide.

Posted on April 23, 2015, at 10:53 p.m. ET

A full-page ad published in The Washington Post on Thursday disputed the use of the word "genocide" to describe the massacre in which an estimated 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians perished.

The mass killings are considered by many — including most recently, the pope — to be the first genocide of the 20th century. The deaths occurred during a campaign carried out by the Ottoman Turks that included mass executions and so-called death marches through the Syrian desert that drove many to starvation.

But on Thursday, the Turkish American Steering Committee (TASC) — an organization that formed to dissuade Congress and the White House from officially recognizing the Armenian genocide — ran a full-page ad in The Post claiming there was "no academic consensus" on how to label the mass killings.

BuzzFeed News

The open letter, addressed to President Obama and the U.S. Congress, goes on to state that "a substantial number" of scholars have declined to use the genocide label, "instead finding a multitude of causes of suffering with widely varying outcomes" for the Ottoman Armenians.

Turkey has long argued that activists have seized on the calamity surrounding the end of World War I to inflate the number of Armenians killed and the circumstances of their deaths.

"One hundred years ago, a brutal war started neither by Turks nor Armenians cost the Ottoman Armenians, the Ottoman Turks and many other groups to dearly," the letter states.

The TASC ad, which it also posted on Facebook, goes on to call for a "peace and solidarity walk" Friday starting at the White House and ending at the Turkish embassy.

The open letter — which the New York Times rejected — infuriated proponents of official recognition in the ramp up to the 100th anniversary commemoration of the genocide on Friday, which includes a series of large-scale events in Washington D.C. and other major cities.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California who has been leading the effort in Congress to officially recognize the genocide, released a statement to BuzzFeed News calling the ad "a new low in cynicism."

Over the years, there have been many attempts by Turkey to fend off recognition of the Armenian genocide, but this year's attempts have reached a new low in cynicism.

Just as Turkey scheduled a commemoration of Gallipoli on the same day as the 100th anniversary of the genocide in a failed attempt to draw attention away from the butchery of the Ottoman Empire, so too has the Turkish lobby in the United States organized a so-called peace march amid insincere calls for reconciliation.

There can be no true reconciliation based on falsehood; Turkey must acknowledge the fact that it's Ottoman forebears ruthlessly murdered 1.5 million Armenians in the first genocide of the last century.

A spokeswoman for The New York Times confirmed that the ad was not accepted, citing guidelines that disallow "advertising that denies great human tragedies."

"Events such as the World Trade Center bombings, or the Holocaust, or slavery in the United States, or the Armenian Genocide or Irish Famine cannot be denied or trivialized in an advertisement," the guidelines state.

A spokesperson for The Washington Post did not immediately respond to questions on what went into the paper's decision to accept the TASC ad.

Organizers of the 100th commemoration, however, blasted the decision to publish it.

"The New York Times got it right," Aram Hamparian, executive director of Armenian National Committee of America, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

He also lauded the paper for "standing up for the truth on the Armenian genocide," adding: "We only wish that President Obama would also draw a similar red line against genocide denial by speaking clearly and unequivocally about this crime."

Susan Walsh / AP

President Obama speaks at the White House on Thursday.

Obama disappointed many advocates of official recognition earlier this week when the White House announced he would once again avoid using the term "genocide" during the commemoration.

Obama did release a statement ahead of the anniversary, though, acknowledging the "terrible carnage" that occurred when Ottoman Armenians "were deported, massacred, and marched to their deaths."

"I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed," the president said. "A full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all our interests."

As a presidential candidate, Obama's publicly stated view was that the mass killings constituted "genocide" and that the U.S. should formally recognize it. But in the years since, he has refrained from doing so in his capacity as president.

Lawmakers in the U.S. and Britain have long warned that such a move would risk angering an important NATO ally in Turkey, which provides key military access to an unstable region. However, 24 nations — including Russia, France, Sweden, Canada, and Argentina — have officially recognized the killings as genocide.

Last week, Pope Francis added to that chorus by calling on the international community to recognize the massacre, which occurred between 1915 and 1918, as "the first genocide of the 20th century."

His statements prompted a strong rebuke from Turkey.

Despite the rift over the term in the halls of Washington, on social media Thursday, there appeared to be a more reconciliatory tone.

In Turkey, messages posted to social media using the hashtag #ErmenilerdenÖzürDiliyorum (which roughly translates to #iapologizetoarmenians in English) started trending.

Ermeni diye sürgüne yollanan çocuklar.. Bazı Yaralar Zamanla İyileşmez #24Nisan1915 #ErmenilerdenÖzürDiliyorum

THIS: #ErmenilerdenOEzuerDiliyorum (engl. #IApologizeToArmenians) trending topic in Turkey.

#ErmenilerdenÖzürDiliyorum I'm in tears. Thank you

#Turkey needs more people in power like those tweeting #ErmenilerdenÖzürDiliyorum. Bless you. Hoping for a better future with our neighbors

The exchange on social media also took off as Armenians across the globe gathered to commemorate the genocide.

Michael Sohn / AP

A man places a candle to build the year "1915" Thursday during a genocide commemoration in Berlin, Germany.

Dusan Vranic / AP

Armenian women hold torches during a march to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first genocide of the 20th century in Jerusalem, Israel, on Thursday.

Sergei Grits / AP

Armenians attend service in Echmiadzin, the religious center of the Armenian Church outside the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Thursday.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.