Armenian memorial

December 24, 2011
Source: Jerusalem Post (Israel)

Erdogan's unmistakable aggressive stance towards the French parliamentary initiative contains a message for Israel too.

Knesset members of radically different political orientations will seek this week to sway the Knesset Education Committee to promote Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud), MK Arye Eldad (National Union) and MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) will argue for a special annual Armenian memorial day in Israel.

As Jews, we entertain understandable reservations regarding the overuse the genocide term, already applied to numerous diverse incidents of mass-slaughter, including Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge purges and Rwanda’s tribal carnage. But the massacres and violent deportations by Ottoman Turks, which claimed as many as 1.5 million Armenian lives during World War I, are different.

They’re closer to a premeditated scheme to cleanse Turkey of Christians, even if not imbued with the Nazis’ systematic, all-encompassing ideology of “scientific” racism. Not every last Armenian was hunted down as in Germany’s methodical, industrialized extermination process that targeted and pursued every last hidden Jewish baby.

Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer explained it best: "The Nazis saw the Jews as the central problem of world history.... The attitude towards Jews had in it important elements of pseudo-religion. There was no such motivation present in the Armenian case; Armenians were to be annihilated for power-political reasons, and in Turkey only.... Yet even if the Armenian case is not seen as a holocaust in the extreme form, which it took towards Jews, it is certainly the nearest thing to it."

It, therefore, amply deserves Israeli recognition. Previous attempts to secure such recognition were foiled by Foreign Ministry opposition. Every care was taken not to vex Turkey, for years Israel’s sole quasi-ally in the region.

Presumably, now that Turkey has turned ultra-hostile – particularly after Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara confrontation – such constraints should no longer be relevant.

Nonetheless, enough cautionary voices in high echelons still counsel against “rash action” on the grounds that residual hope might yet exist, scant and flimsy as it may be, that some cooperation with Ankara can be rekindled in future.

Turkey continues to cast a dark shadow over Israeli considerations even in the stark absence of any viable relationship with that country. Turkey continues to prevent Israel from doing the right thing even when there’s no expedient realpolitik incentive to avoid the moral high ground.

But Ankara intimidates elsewhere as well. France’s lower house of parliament has moved to criminalize Armenian Genocide-denial. In response, Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had thrown a super-temper tantrum, warning that “this hostile move... will have grave consequences for future relations between Turkey and France in political, economic, cultural and all areas, and the responsibility will rest with those behind this initiative.”

In retaliation, Erdogan on Thursday cut ties with France, recalled his ambassador for consultations.

He said Turkey was cancelling all economic, political and military meetings with its NATO partner and it would cancel permission for French military planes to land, and warships to dock, in Turkey.

In short, Erdogan throws his weight around, in characteristic neighborhood bully style. His unmistakable aggressive stance towards the French parliamentary initiative contains a message for Israel too.

Obviously, it’s not Israeli "misconduct" alone that provokes his ire. This is something for our diplomats to stress overseas. In-house, too, we need to realize that self-blame is inherently unwarranted vis-à-vis Turkey.

Erdogan’s ruffian demeanor isn’t Israel-specific. There’s no plausible reason not to answer his hectoring defamations with incontrovertible historical truths. Why, for starters, not quit our unsavory habit of resisting Knesset resolutions on Turkey’s infamous atrocities against the Armenians? We could elaborate on Turkey’s first Armenian massacre of 1890 (100,000-200,000 dead); Turkey’s subsequent mega-massacres of 1915 in which over a million Armenians perished in a series of bloodbaths and forced marches of uprooted civilians in Syria’s direction; the WWI slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians in Turkey’s southeast; the ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardments and other operations that cost Kurds untold thousands of lives throughout the 20th century and beyond and still deny them the sovereignty they deserve; and finally, the 1974 invasion and continued occupation of northern Cyprus (which fails to bother the international community).