Israel must recognize the Armenian Genocide

For the world to ensure that these atrocities do not happen again, we have to be clear about what they are.

April 22, 2021
Source: The Jerusalem Post

One and a half million Armenian men, women and children were killed in the final years of the Ottoman Empire in what has become known as the Armenian Genocide. In Israel, though, despite being a country created just after the Holocaust, you won’t hear much about it.

That is because the Jewish state – the home to the people who saw six million of their own exterminated by the Nazis – still does not officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. It is time for this to change.

The official day of commemoration for the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I is on Saturday. On Thursday, White House sources said that US President Joe Biden would formally recognize the massacre as an act of genocide even though the move would undoubtedly infuriate Turkey and further strain already frayed ties between the two NATO allies.

Last year, when he was running for president, Biden pledged to do exactly that. “Today, we remember the atrocities faced by the Armenian people in the Metz Yeghern – the Armenian Genocide. If elected, I pledge to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority,” he wrote on Twitter at the time.
For decades, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide stalled in the US Congress and presidents refrained from calling it that, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara.

The same has happened in Israel. Here too, Israel feared Turkish retaliation if it were to recognize historical facts.

In 2018, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg proposed a bill to recognize the massacre as genocide, but the bill was canceled due to government resistance. A year later, a number of high-profile members of Knesset like Yair Lapid and Gideon Sa’ar voiced support for the move, but again it did not proceed due to little government support.

Traditionally, the explanations for Israel’s failure to move on this have ranged from a need to leave a door open to better ties with Turkey to a clear government agenda that prefers Azerbaijan over Armenia. This was made clear this past fall, when Israel supplied weapons to Azerbaijan as it fought the Armenians in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

One, though, does not have to come at the expense of the other. Yes, Israel has geopolitical considerations and those cannot be ignored, but it also has a moral imperative that it cannot simply brush off. As a people who have experienced genocide and persecution since its founding, the Jews have a responsibility to stand with other nations who go through similar atrocities.

When we recite “Never Again” on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is obviously “never again” for our people, but there is nothing wrong with making it clear that we also believe that genocide should never happen to anyone else as well. The first step in ensuring “never again” is recognizing history as it was and making clear that what happened to the Armenians was in fact a genocide.

In addition, when considering geopolitics, what exactly does Israel need to fear from Turkey? Can the relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan really get worse?

There is no reason to fear Erdogan, who behaves like an antisemitic bully in the Middle East. It is true that Erdogan recently said that he would like better relations with Israel, but he still hosts Hamas leaders in Ankara and the ruling AKP Party still compares Israel to Nazi Germany. Turkey has claimed it wants to “liberate al-Aqsa,” asserting that “Jerusalem is ours” in the past year.

“The Palestine policy is our red line. It is impossible for us to accept Israel’s Palestine policies; their merciless acts there are unacceptable,” Erdogan said this past December after Friday prayers in Istanbul.

Israel should of course explore what this rapprochement with Turkey might mean, but it cannot do so while ignoring its moral and historical responsibility of standing alongside the Armenians in the face of evil.

For the world to ensure that these atrocities do not happen again, we have to be clear about what they are. Israel needs to recognize the Armenian genocide. It is a simple bill. It is time the Knesset pass it.