Recognize the Armenian genocide

In a prelude to the Holocaust and the crimes of ISIS, the slaughter of Armenians was an opening to a hundred years of similar mass murder events.

November 4, 2019
Source: The Jerusalem Post

By JPost Editorial

About 105 years ago, the Armenian genocide began. Members of the Armenian community living in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated at the orders of the governing authorities. As many as 1.5 million Armenians, an ethnic minority, were rounded up and murdered or deported to the deserts of Syria to die.

The Armenian genocide was well known in its time. The German military attaché to the Ottoman Empire described it as “total extermination” and other accounts provided graphic details of the horrors the survivors went through. Women were sold into slavery and raped, children were left to starve. In a prelude to the Holocaust and the crimes of ISIS, the slaughter of Armenians was an opening to a hundred years of similar mass murder events.

As a state founded in the wake of genocide, Israel knows too well what it means to be a small minority subjected to massacre and the systematic murder by a government. Like Armenians, Jews had to live as minorities under regimes such as the Germans or the Poles, enjoying “protection” so long as they did not get in the way of the state’s interests.

In late October, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide. It overwhelmingly passed with 405 votes and affirms that the US will record the genocide and provide “solemn remembrance of one of the great atrocities of the 20th century.” The US was moved to act because of recent tensions with Turkey.

Unfortunately, Israel has not acted in the same way, mostly because of a political directive according to which Turkey needed to be appeased. Recognizing the Armenian genocide, the argument went for years, would undermine Israel’s ties with Turkey. This has created the unwelcome situation where our country, founded by survivors of persecution, did not reach out to another minority group that experienced a similar situation. Decades ago, that may have made sense in the realpolitik of the generations that led Israel. They needed to make difficult compromises, such as the Reparations Agreement between Israel and Germany in 1952.

Now we have a worthwhile opportunity to correct those wrongs. Israeli-Turkish ties are at an all-time low. Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continues to incite against Israel in the most vicious form of antisemitism, all part of a wider authoritarian far-right agenda he is promoting in Turkey and the region. At the UN in September, he compared Israel to Nazi Germany: “When we look at the genocide the Nazis committed against Jews, we should look at the massacre happening in the Gaza Strip from the same point of view.”

Erdogan made his speech attacking Israel at the same time as he showed a map arguing Turkey should invade Syria and ethnically cleanse Kurds. Turkey’s month-long operation in northern Syria has already cost more lives than all those killed in Gaza in two years. Turkey’s bombing of Syria has caused young children to lose their limbs, and has driven 300,000 people from their homes.

Turkey thinks that it can threaten other countries and that these countries will then be deterred from recognizing the Armenian genocide, a matter of Turkish pride. Israel no longer has any reason to fear Turkey’s reaction. Absent a military conflict, can it really get worse?

“The US House of Representatives’ vote to recognize the Armenian Genocide is a vote for historical truth and justice,” MK Yair Lapid, co-leader of Blue and White, wrote on Twitter after the US vote. “Turkey cannot be allowed to intimidate the world into denying genocide. I will continue to fight for Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide.” Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar tweeted a similar statement: “I welcome the moral and principled stance of the US House of Representatives in recognizing the mass killing of Armenians 100 years ago as genocide. Israel should make similarly clear its recognition of this terrible atrocity.”

Lapid and Sa’ar are right. It is time for Israel to do the right thing – not to get back at Turkey, but to set the record straight.