Victims of one vile holocaust must recognise another
For the first time, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recip Tayipp Erdogan, has apologised for the killings of 14,000 people in Dersim - a town in south-eastern part of the country now known as Tunceli - between 1936 and 1939.
The apology came after a war of words between Erdogan and the leader of the main opposition party. Turkey has finally realised that it will not be able to end the Kurdish rebel war through military measures alone.
Why is this important? Well this is not Turkey’s only historical dilemma, and many will be wondering if this could be applied to other minorities.
A couple of months ago, Turkey decided to expel its Israeli Ambassador following the interception of a flotilla en route to Gaza. Meanwhile the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, is scheduled to consider the issue of the Armenian genocide.
The State of Israel, created after the Holocaust, remarkably has yet to come to terms with recognising the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian genocide. The genocide resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children and took place at the hands of the then-Ottoman government, the fore-bearers of the modern Turkish republic. Turkey denies a genocide took place.
Israel’s and Turkey’s strategic relationship thus far has prevented any real progress, despite calls for recognition by: Israeli politicians Reuven Rivlin, Haim Oron and Yossi Sarid; respected Holocaust scholars Yair Auron, Israel Charny and Yehuda Bauer, Australia’s own Colin Tatz, and many others.
The issue of recognition has been a point of contention for as three decades, when in 1982 at a Holocaust and genocide conference in Tel Aviv, the Armenian genocide was to be discussed.
The Turkish government pressured Israel to remove references regarding the Armenians, and Israel yielded. Organisers removed six of the 150 lectures focusing on the Armenian genocide from the official program as well as keeping all discussion of the Armenian genocide “unofficial”. That was not appropriate, and many delegates withdrew from the conference.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor agonised about his decision to withdraw citing Israeli officials’ concerns regarding the potential safety of Jews in Turkey.
Respected Israeli scholar Yair Auron and author of The Banality of Indifference: The Attitude of the Yishuv and the Zionist Movement to the Armenian Genocide said:
“Everyone would agree that Israel has no right to bargain with the memory of the Holocaust. But, even more, it has no right - by no means, in any circumstance, and much less so than any other country - to bargain with the memory of another victim group. And yet Israel did just that with the Armenian Genocide. Israel is contributing to the process of genocide denial and by doing so, it also betrays the memory and the legacy of the Holocaust.”
The absolute low point for Israel was a few years ago when then Foreign Minister and current President, Shimon Peres visited Turkey and according to Turkish media reports said: “What the Armenians went through is a tragedy, but not genocide.”
Peres did not retract the statement. That was a major stain on a country long respected for promoting awareness of genocide, so that future generations would not repeat the horror.
Turkey should be nervous as Israel attunes its moral compass on a matter it knows personally - The Shoah - Holocaust, and genocide.
And it is sadly ironic that it was Hitler who once said: “Who after all remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?”
The time has come for Israel - who has long championed genocide awareness - to once and for all recognise one of history’s darkest chapters.
Sassoon Grigorian attended the Official State Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem in 2008.
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