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24 06 2015
100 years later: why does Israel still refuse to recognize Armenian genocide?

100 years later: why does Israel still refuse to recognize Armenian genocide?

More than 20 countries around the world already recognized the fact of the genocide done by the Ottoman against the Armenian people during the first world war, and lately, so did the pope as well. Despite deterioration in Israel - Turkey relations, in Jerusalem and in Washington the denial pact is still being kept; what is really hiding behind it and what the are Armenians actually requiring for?
26/04/2015 | Tamar Daliot

In the beginning of this month, Pope Francis mentioned that it's "their duty to cherish the memory" about the Armenians  that where slaughtered  by the Ottoman empire during WWI. By doing this action, the head of Catholic church actually recognized the genocide, which is actually the focus of political conflicts between Turkey, Armenia and the rest of the world for quite a long period.

The Armenian genocide, which its century anniversary of existence was indicated yesterday, took place between the years 1915 - 1918. During this genocide, the Muslim Ottoman government evacuated Christian Armenian communities and forced thousands of Armenian families to march via a "death march" towards Syria. Those who survived the transfer, died in concentration camps from disease, hunger, freezing cold or by being executed in different ways. The Armenians claim that the death toll stands between 1.5 - 2 million people, but most of the researchers agree on a scope of 600,000 - 800,000 victims. Turks claim that it's only about 150 - 200,000. The Armenian genocide was recognized by more than 20 countries around the world until today, but Israel still refuses to do so.

On a Facebook post by Zehava Gal'on in her page, she made a demand to the Israeli government to recognize the Armenian genocide: "As the daughter of holocaust survivors, while not comparing between the two events, I still do believe that it is our moral obligation to be sensitive to other people's detriment and of course under no circumstances to agree to a silencing policy or denial."

Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a respectable investigator of  modern Turkey on behalf of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv University, tells us that in Turkey they refer to the historical event as an expulsion - "until recently, when president Erdogan came out publicly and expressed his condolences to all Armenians around the world, while repeating the same old Turkish thesis, that also many Turkish people were killed during these years. What Erdogan is trying to do here is to 'sell this package' with a new name - 'The 1915 incidents', thus trying to put inside the Turkish people as victims. What he is actually trying to do is to remove the stain of a genocide done by Turkish people - so that no one will be able to ask for indemnity or territories."

"This year, Erdogan did another 'trick' ", says Yanarocak. "he is bringing forward the date one day of the memorial day for the Australian war in Gallipoli front, and holds the ceremonies to the 24th of April which is the Armenian Holocaust Day instead of doing them in the 25th, as it should be. He invited all important leaders of the world in order to sabotage their arrival for the Armenian Holocaust Day with quite a dramatic political act like this.

100 שנים אחרי: מדוע ישראל עדיין מסרבת להכיר בשואת הארמנים?

 Armenians marching, being led to a prison near the city of Elazig in eastern Turkey, April - 1915 | Photograph: Wikipedia

"Assuming that the whole world will start recognizing the Armenian Holocaust, It will have far reaching consequences for Turkey. Armenians might be asking for indemnity payments, recession and reinstatement of territories, resembling to our holocaust and its indemnities agreement with Germany. Turkey does not want to find itself in Germany's place and moreover, the Turks hold to themselves a historical concept that they are actually the "big brother" of all poor and exploited people. They are the strong side which helps the weak so the Armenian genocide does not fit to this frame", he explains. "As someone who grew up there, I can testify that once the Turks recognize the Armenian genocide, they will be actually admitting that all history books written since 1920 are lying to us and people will start thinking and asking if there may be more lies that authorities might want to tell and confess about... Turkey will not only create a whole earthquake over the international arena but also in their own interior one."

Not a matter of  Indemnity 

Dr. Isaac Lubelsky, Academic Coordinator of the "Genocide" course and historian at The Open University, believes that the Armenian claim is not about compensation matters but the objective of closing the circle and making historic justice. "I tell to my students, imagine yourselves a situation where Western Germany, after the end of WWII wouldn't take their fully responsibility, like they did, over the Nazi crimes. Imagine that the holocaust survivors would never gain that psychological closure, that was reflected from the 50's onwards. The Armenians are not demanding for financial compensations - this is a story that is quite old and looking 100 years back, no one suggests to claim  for territories that are not their properties now and the like. Imagine that a country like England had the nerve to say 'I'm not willing to refer to the Jewish holocaust since I don't really know what exactly happened there and because it's more important for me to save my relations with Germany.' "It's a situation hard, almost impossible and unthinkable and this is exactly what the Armenians feel."

I doubt it if the Pope's declaration will somehow make influence over Israel, continues Lubelsky. "More than 20 western countries around the world, and some of the American states of U.S.A as well, although not in the Federal level, already recognized the Armenian holocaust regardless to that declaration. The story with U.S.A is a complex one due to the fact that there is a pact of silence between them and Israel on this issue, and if Israel would recognize, the day after the U.S.A would do the same and vice versa. During the last years, whenever there is a submittal about the recognition, the president vetoes it and despite the fact that Barack Obama was filmed and recorded saying in 2008 on his first electoral campaign that if he will be elected to presidency he'll recognize the Armenian holocaust - so he said and then vetoed it. It is a story involving the most crooked angles.
U.S.A and Israel are not willing to recognize the Armenian holocaust due to purely economic, strategic and security reasons. Since Turkey is the only Muslim state that is also a NATO member, we bump into a set of security interests which paints the whole story with even more intense colors. "

100 שנים אחרי: מדוע ישראל עדיין מסרבת להכיר בשואת הארמנים?

 Dr. Lubelsky. The Armenians are not demanding for financial compensations but historic justice | photograph: taken from Open University's youtube channel.

Yanarocak confirms these things and also explains that it is no secret that Turkey found quite a bit help from Jewish lobby, in order to obtain the prevention of recognition of the Armenian holocaust and that Israel can not allow itself the recognition and make damage to the relations with Turkey. "When they are good, Israel doesn't want to do any harm and when they are bad they don't want to cause even more deterioration and destroy it. It is important to take into account that after the Pope's statement, Turkey pulled out their ambassador from the Vatican and at this moments there is only a secondary secretary in Tel Aviv's Turkish embassy. From the point of view of Israel, to have normal relations with a Muslim state it is a very significant matter, while dealing and struggling with a war of  deligitimization. Politics is tricky and sophisticated and not established on a personal basis so if all the rest of the world would recognize then Israel could join the riot and recognize too but Israel is not able to be leader of such a move.
If Catholic states will follow the pope, than we can expect for a domino effect but actually it all depends on the U.S.A.

A tradition of silence

When examining the discussion in Israel, we can see how a tradition of silence is accompanied with the Israeli policy, as mentioned by Professor Yair Auron in his books. Dr. Lubelsky, as a successor, tells that "Yair auron, founder of the one and only course in Israel that deals with the genocide and the only investigator in the country that explores it from the Armenian point of view, tried to lead the way in the Israeli education system and insert similar courses within the fields of the genocide. The Issue was actually sabotaged by a left parliament (Ehud Barak's government). From this aspect, nor the right neither the left wings have a "monopoly" over the denying and recognition of the genocide and Israeli pupils and students coming out from the education system in the country, have no clue and idea about any other genocide, thus projecting on ignorance in general, which is a characteristic of our civilians about the suffering of others. And yet, from another side, there is a terrible victimhood feeling evolving around, that is being pushed to all of us in our education system - kind of a horrible psychological "scratch". They make us feel that we are the ultimate victims while, if we would be learning about other cases of genocide, then we could actually learn the fact that we are not alone in this place."

When trying to examine whether there is a relation between the Armenian genocide during WWI, to the holocaust that occurred during WWII, speculations come up. Dr. Lubelsky explains that "Hitler really said when WWI broke, just before his invasion to Poland in September 1939' in front of his major officers - that in the same way that no one remembers today with the Armenians, no one will remember in the future what will happen with Jews."

100 שנים אחרי: מדוע ישראל עדיין מסרבת להכיר בשואת הארמנים? 
Armenian protestors demonstrating and marking the anniversary of the genocide's century | photograph: thinkstock

"The fact that a state like Israel does not recognize the Armenian genocide, is actually, in other words, denying it, concludes Dr. Lubelsky. "There is absolutely no intermediate possibilities - either you recognize or deny it, it is that simple and unfortunately this is the situation. Israel, that from a moral point of view, sees it self as a preservative of the holocaust memory and its commemoration, was supposed to be standing by and along with all other nations and people that went through their own genocide, at least in last 100 years, and assist their tribulation and if not that, leastwise to recognize the suffering they experienced. An act with lineament of making honor and of being part of the big world, in which 30 countries like France, Germany, Japan, and others recognized the Armenian genocide without anything significant to happen -  their relations with Turkey remained normal more or less."

Questions about morality, security and strategy come up as a result of Israel's government silence about Armenian holocaust. Now days, In Israel lives a community of around 7000 Armenians in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Jaffa, Haifa and Ramla. Most of them are not citizens but residents and their religious leader is the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem - Torgom Manukian.

In response, representative of the community - Artiom Chernamorian, chairman of NAIRI association - the Armenian/Isreli union in Petah Tikva: "Israel does not recognize because it has close relations with Turkey. Every time we apply, they freeze our requests due to economic interests and weapon transactions in spite of many Academics in Israel such as Yair Auron or reporters and journalists like Ya'akov Ahimeir who support us and try help promoting the issue. In NAIRI, we are also promoting our relations with the Jewish communities here in Petah Tikva and the Jewish community in Armenia, we acknowledge the Armenians Righteous Among the Nations and we are willing and wish to even reinforce the relations between our people, which both went through holocausts and suffering".