armenian memorial 88.
(photo credit: )
The World War I-era massacre of Armenians by the Turks should be recognized as genocide despite the political ramifications such a move would have with Turkey, the chief Nazi hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Thursday.
"I think it is very important that it be recognized as a case of genocide," the director of the the organization's Israel office Dr. Efraim Zuroff said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"With all the sensitivities we have regarding Israeli-Turkish relations and the well-being of the Turkish Jewish community, we have an obligation to tell the truth about historical events - even if they sometimes create certain problems for us," Zuroff said.
His remarks come two days after the New York-based Anti Defamation League, in a dramatic about-face, called the World War I-era massacre of Armenians a genocide, after previously firing an organization official who said the same thing.
In contrast to the ADL, the Wiesenthal Center has always included some presentation of the Armenian Genocide in its museums, dating back to its first museum in 1979, officials in the organization said.
"Our position on this issue has always been very straightforward; we view it as an educational, not a political issue," said associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
Cooper noted that when the organization's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles opened in 1993 there was pressure by the Turkish government not to include mention of the Armenian genocide in the museum, while others were upset that an exhibition on the killing was not slated for permanent exhibition. "This is a piece of history," Cooper said.
Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenian Christians were killed by Muslim Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923, in what is widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been grossly inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Meanwhile, Yad Vashem, which has recently referred to the mass killings in Darfur as genocide, said Thursday that the massacre of the Armenians was part of the Holocaust center's educational activities on "other instances of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass murder."
"Yad Vashem, as an educational and research center, is dedicated to the historical truth, and to educating, researching, studying and memorializing the Shoah," a Yad Vashem spokesperson said.
"In the course of our educational activities, other instances of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass murder are dealt with as well, including that of Armenia."
The issue is especially sensitive for Israel on a political level due to the country's close relations with Turkey.
Separately, the US Holocaust Museum declined comment Thursday on pending legislation before the US Congress which would recognize the Armenian massacre as genocide due to the Museum's status as a federal entity, museum spokesman Andrew Hollinger said.