In Turkey, Obama says US not at war with Islam
US president discussed Armenian massacre, democracy, and EU membership.
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"He emphasized the importance of democracy in this country and he pointed to almost all the issues that concern democratization in Turkey, indirectly referring to the Kurdish question, the rights of minorities, including non-Muslim minorities, and he also emphasized how countries are in need of changing. These are all very welcome remarks for people who care about democratization in Turkey," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Obama also tackled the one issue that again could derail Turkish-US relations: how to deal with the 1915 massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
In his election campaign, Obama said he’d call the killings of the Armenians genocide. A resolution to do so was introduced in the US House of Representatives last month.
"I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past.
And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive" Obama said.
"We've already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. So I want you to know that the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. It is a cause worth working towards."
Analysts say even if there are challenges ahead for Turkey and the US, the tone set by Obama's visit may help dampen their impact. [Editor’s note: The original version included an Obama quote from a different forum, not his talk before parliament.]
"I think so much can be solved by such outreach. One of the reasons that anti-Americanism in Turkey is so accentuated is that no one was visiting and no one was talking to Turkey. That's half the battle," says Hugh Pope, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, a policy and advocacy organization based in Brussels.
"I think that he's setting a great example to the European Union. In a way, he's challenging European Union leaders to follow him and reconnect with Turkey."
On EU membership, Obama said: "The United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union... [but] Turkey has its own responsibilities." He praised Turkey for progress on freedom of religion and expression, and for gains among minorities, such as ethnic Kurds.