A quarter of a century ago, as an MK, Reuven Rivlin broke the taboo on acknowledging the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
Later, as speaker of Knesset, he defied government attempts to have the same subject removed from the Knesset’s agenda and gave the podium to MKs from across the political spectrum to air their views. The Armenian Genocide was a subject of consensus for all legislators.
On Sunday, Rivlin invited some of those former MKs to the President’s Residence, along with Armenian religious and lay leaders, writers Haim Gouri and Haim Be’er, plus IDC President Uriel Reichman, and noted historian Yehuda Bauer, who had also identified strongly with Armenian suffering.
In his address, Rivlin noted that in 1915 members of the Armenian nation were being massacred and some of them found shelter in Jerusalem, including among members of his own family. No one in Jerusalem denied the massacre, he said. “We are morally obligated to point out the facts as horrible as they are and not to ignore them.”
This year, for the first time, the Knesset sent a delegation to Yerevan to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Rivlin said in his opening remarks that the Armenian people were among the first victims of modern mass killing.
Archbishop Aris Shirvanian took Rivlin to task, reminding him that he was in the Knesset when Rivlin spoke of the Armenian Genocide. To now refer to it as a “mass killing” was a regressive move, he said.
“I am disappointed,” said Shirvanian, chiding the president.
“This was a backward step on your part. You should have been more courageous as president.”
Shirvanian contrasted Rivlin’s euphemism with German President Joachim Gauck’s use of the word “genocide,” and said that he would send Rivlin a copy of Gauck’s speech.
Shirvanian said his grandfather, together with his brothers, had been conscripted into the Ottoman army and brutally killed by the Turks who deported, raped and killed men, women and children.
Tsolog Momijian, the Armenian honorary consul, lauded “noble Israelis” for initiating Knesset discussions on the subject, praising them as “people of great morality” who understand that the genocide is not a political issue but a moral case. He voiced the hope that one day Israel will recognize the genocide for what it was.
Yair Tzaban, former minister for immigrant absorption, said that for 25 years he has been involved in the struggle for the acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide. He also recalled that Rivlin had been the first Knesset speaker who permitted the issue to be discussed in the plenum. Since then it has never disappeared from the parliament’s agenda, said Tzaban.
He said was proud that Jews had played an important role in publicizing the massacre, but he was ashamed that a nation that had risen from the Holocaust and that continues to battle to this day against Holocaust denial does not support the Armenian effort to have its genocide recognized. Those who do nothing to avert denial of the Armenian genocide contribute to the minimalization of the tragedy, he said.
IDC’s Reichman said Zionism carries the moral message that freedom and self determination are not just a solution for the Jews but for all peoples.
If the political system cannot acknowledge this, he said, then the citizens of Israel can. IDC is hosting a mega conference on the Armenian Genocide to ensure all of its students are aware of it. He was confident that other Israeli institutions would do likewise. “As Jews we must identify with Armenian suffering.”sign up to our newsletter