How Not To Do Things with the Word: Barack Obama on the Armenian Genocide

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Abstract


The overarching premise of the paper is the idea that Barack Obama’s discursive strategies used in connection with the Armenian genocide in the annual commemoratory Statements could be considered “evasionist” because of the omission of the term ‘genocide’ and its substitution with the semi-official neologism of ‘Meds Yeghern’, transliteration of the Armenian name of the 1915 genocide. Such evasionist discourse in presidential statements avoids unambiguous assessments and expressions, thereby catering to recipients with different political attitudes and expectations. By analyzing different connotative and meta-linguistic mechanisms of taboo in modern political discourse, we show how Obama radically transforms the semantic principles of his predecessors’ discourse, maintaining identical goal-setting characteristics. It is argued that the transliteration of the Armenian name of the genocide can mean “everything and nothing” - for the Armenian audience, it implies full validation of their viewpoint and language, while for the rest of the world, it is only a meaningless sign. The paper demonstrates that the linguistic and semiotic resources that make up Barack Obama’s discourse on the Armenian genocide are based on intentional ambiguity and ambivalent interpretational strategies where intertextual linkages replace referential semantics. A hermeneutic approach appears to be the most adequate instrument for interpretation of such types of discourse, i.e. an interpreter is authorized to explicate inter-textual meanings and messages, which are implicitly incorporated within the text.

About the authors

Suren Tigranovich Zolyan

Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University; Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Law, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia

Email: surenzolyan@gmail.com
14 A. Nevskogo St., Kaliningrad, 236041, Russia; 44 Arami St., Yerevan, 375010, Armenia
Ph.D. (Advanced Doctorate), Professor, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (Russia); Leading Researcher, Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Law, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia

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