It’s time for reconciliation

Sending a delegation of Knesset members to Armenia was an important step in the right direction. Let us hope that Israel chooses values over our interests in international relations.

By
July 7, 2016 21:11
January

An Armenian protester holds a banner reading ‘1915 never again’ as she takes part in a demonstration near the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in January. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It’s time for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

It’s time to put an end to this bloody conflict once and for all.

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Every year, the same ritual takes place in the Knesset: Representatives of the Armenian community in Israel are hosted in the gallery at the Knesset plenum and members of various political parties give speeches recommending that Israel publicly recognize the Armenian Genocide.

The last two speakers of the Knesset, President Ruby Rivlin and the current Speaker Yuli Edelstein, have both expressed their support for recognizing the Armenian Genocide, although with reservations. And every year the plenum votes to form a committee to investigate this possibility, but this is where the issue remains quietly buried until the ceremony repeats itself the following year.

Israel has consistently and systematically refused to deal with the issue of whether or not to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Interestingly enough, even during the last few years since the Marmara Affair, when relations with Turkey were practically nonexistent, Israel still wouldn’t acquiesce and recognize the genocide.

And now that relations with Turkey are warming and political pressure on the Knesset has once again increased, there’s even less chance that this will be possible.

“Everything is so new and fragile,” people say.

But I disagree. In fact, I believe just the opposite: The time has come for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

Reconciliation between these two nations would put an end to the international controversy of whether or not the massacres should be considered genocide.

Everyone will finally just agree that it was indeed genocide, and Turkey and Armenia will shake hands and turn over a new leaf.

A year ago, my colleague MK Anat Berko and I were asked to represent the Knesset at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

We took part in an experience that was at the same time very exciting and incredibly painful. We saw a nation in pain that has not been assuaged even though 100 years have passed since the genocide took place.

It seems as if the opposite is true – the pain has actually worsened.

We participated in the memorial march from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to the Armenian Genocide memorial complex at the top of Tsitsernakaberd, which lasted for a whole night and a day, despite the cold and rain. The mound of flowers surrounding the monument grew and grew. MK Berko and I returned to Israel with a desire to make the leap and finally recognize the Armenian Genocide.

HORRIBLE EVENTS have been taking place in the Middle East in recent years, acts that might rival even the Armenian Genocide.

Millions of people’s lives have been changed for the worse. But from within this turmoil and mass slaughter, the voices of sanity and humanity can be heard at times. Within this chaos, Israel and Turkey have managed to find their way toward national reconciliation. Granted, the Marmara Affair cannot be compared to the Armenian Genocide, but the desire for reconciliation is true and real.

When people talk about international relations, they describe two levels: One operates according to our values, and the other according to our interests. Ideally, these two tracks overlap and the work set out for us is straightforward. But sometimes, the only way for countries to carry on diplomatic relations is by acting in accordance with our interests.

At the current time, the only way for Israel and Turkey to repair their relationship is by following the lines of mutual interests. I believe, though, that the values the two countries share will be strong enough to bring them together on this level as well.

A similar situation exists between Turkey and Armenia. Both of them are democratic nations that are afflicted by terrorism.

Both of them are important, strategic nations in the region, which yearn to live in peace with their neighbors, even though at times this is challenging.

Therefore, the time for reconciliation has come.

The invisible strings that connect Israel and Armenia go back many years.

There’s an Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem where thousands of Armenians live. The Armenian Church operates freely in Jerusalem, a city that is home to all religions and all people.

One hundred years ago, Sarah Aaronsohn described how she saw with her own eyes how the Turks perpetrated atrocities on the Armenians. Upon returning to Israel, she and her brother Aaron established NILI, a Jewish espionage network that assisted the British in their fight against the Ottoman Empire.

In his memoirs, Aaron wrote that he feared that the fate of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel could end up being the same as that of the Armenians who also lived under Ottoman rule. This was the driving force behind their efforts to form the underground organization.

Israel, however, still refrains from using the term genocide when describing the massacres. Instead, Israeli public officials are instructed to use words that express their horror at the atrocities and sympathy with the Armenian people, but without having to use the actual word, genocide.

So far, 30 countries have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, the most recent one being Germany just a month ago, and this global movement is picking up speed. The EU and the pope have joined the list, with Pope Francis even saying that it was “the first genocide of the 20th century.”

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died last weekend, was a moral figure of the highest quality. He once said, “I have been fighting for the right of the Armenian people to remember for years and years. How could I, who has fought all my life for Jewish remembrance, tell the Armenians they have no right to remember? Fortunately, as a private citizen I don’t have to worry about Turkey’s response. But I do feel that had there been the word ‘genocide’ in those days, what happened to the Armenians would have been called genocide.

Everyone agrees there was mass murder, but the word came later. I believe the Armenians are the victims and, as a Jew, I should be on their side.”

Sending a delegation of Knesset members to Armenia was an important step in the right direction. When we try to weigh which is more important in international relations – our interests or our values – let us hope that Israel chooses values. Seventy years after the Holocaust, the time has come for Israel – the Jewish state – to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

The time for reconciliation has come.

The writer is a member of Knesset (Zionist Union) and of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Last year, he visited Armenia on the occasion of 100 years since the massacre of the Armenian people.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.


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