GUEST COMMENTARY - The 1.5 million Armenians murdered in 1915 deserve international recognition of the genocide they suffered in the final years of the Ottoman Empire (which predated modern day Turkey). Curiously, Israel, despite being a country created from the ashes of the Holocaust, barely addresses or acknowledges the Armenian Genocide.
Turkey refuses to recognize their terrible tragedy and has always reacted furiously in its official rhetoric to accusations of genocide. Israel’s regional geo-political calculations regarding its relationship with Turkey fosters cowardice from a nation that rose from the ashes of the Jewish Holocaust. Curiously, every time the Turkish regime does something to anger Israel, the Jewish state’s politicians threaten Ankara with recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but regrettably never follow through.
Turkey acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died during World War I but argues there were far fewer victims than most scholars claim, and denies any intention by Ottoman authorities to carry out a genocidal campaign against Armenians.
What will it take to get Israel to right this historical wrong and cease its moral silence? Those 1.5 million murdered Armenians deserve international recognition of the genocide they suffered, especially from the nation that represents the people who suffered the gravest Holocaust in human history.
For Israel to await making this recognition until a time that is politically convenient to it, either as part of a tit-for-tat or as a means to provoke Turkey, is deferring for countless more light years a bringing forth of the recognition the Armenian people deserve.
Israel has consistently refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide not so much from a desire to monopolize victimhood and portray the Holocaust as a unique and unparalleled historical event. It is primarily a cynical political ploy.
Since the late 1950s Turkey had been a strategic ally of the Jewish state — often its only friend in the Muslim world. The close ties between the two nations’ encompasses their intelligence and security establishments, and Turkey has been a lucrative market for Israeli weapon sales. Whenever Israeli parliamentarians, human rights activists, and historians have called for Israeli recognition of the Armenian genocide, the initiative was blocked by the government. Regardless of which coalition was in power at the time, they knew any change of stated policy would anger Turkey and jeopardize arms sales. Israel’s defining the genocide only as a “tragedy” is a manifestation of Israel placing economic interests before moral and universal values.
Within Israel there has been much debate on how the country ought to navigate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There were compelling reasons to refuse to change its stance toward Turkey and Azerbaijan, despite the egregious wrongs committed during the conflict. For years, Israel has seen Azerbaijan as a key ally when it comes to geopolitics, particularly because of its proximity to Iran for intelligence-gathering and military operations. Oil imports from the country account for approximately 40% of Israel’s fossil fuel consumption.
But all these considerations are proof that recognition of the Armenian Genocide has become a political football in Israel, a country that should be particularly aware of the consequences of genocide denial.
With the clarity of witnessing the current brutality of one nation against another in Ukraine, it is time for Israel to stop its evasive language about Armenia in the service of crude economic interests. A genocide is a genocide, period. It is Israel’s moral obligation to humanity, to be a beacon among nations, and to continue to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, to recognize the Armenian Genocide, just as it has recognized the Rwandan genocide.
It’s past time for Israel to take a firm stance and stop treating recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a political matter, instead acknowledging it as an irrefutable fact of history. Political expediency should play no role in this debate. Armenians and Jews share a common history that has been marked by persecution and mass suffering. Being neutral or staying silent only helps the deniers.
In parallel, Turkey should become more mature and not be afraid to acknowledge the wrongs of its precedent Ottoman Empire. Just as the United States has the stain of history of slavery, racism, internment camps, and denying voting rights to an entire gender, so must Turkey mature up and admit that not everything in its history books is admirable.
(Mihran Kalaydjian is a consummate leading member of the community and a devoted civic engagement activist for education spearheading numerous academic initiatives in local political forums.)
(David Alpern is an active leader in Southern California for more than 20 years on behalf of increasing education budgets, investment in the arts, carbon taxes, and the two-state solution to the Arab Israeli conflict.)