Armenian president to 'Post': Failure to recognize genocide will backfire

Israel will not win the battle against antisemitism until it recognizes the Armenian Genocide, President Armen Sarkissian told The Jerusalem Post.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN holds a working meeting with Sarkissian. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN holds a working meeting with Sarkissian.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
Israel will not win the battle against antisemitism until it recognizes the Armenian Genocide, President Armen Sarkissian told The Jerusalem Post.
Sarkissian, who was in Israel over the past week for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, which marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, said that most of the Armenian population does not understand the logic behind Israel’s refusal to officially recognize the mass killing of more than 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children by the Ottoman government between 1915 and 1917.
The Armenian Genocide is recognized by more than 30 countries, including the United States as of October 2019, but Israel has resisted formally naming the genocide for what it is.
“A lot of Armenians ask, ‘Why on earth would Israel, a country whose people have seen their own huge tragedy, not recognize the Armenian Genocide?’” Sarkissian said. “There is no logical answer. I cannot say that Israel has relations with Turkey and that is why – I cannot say that.”
But he acknowledged that Israel-Turkey relations, which were formalized in March 1949, are likely the catalyst for Israeli silence.
The Turkish government for more than a century has denied that there was ever any plan to systematically wipe out the Armenian population. Although, here and there, Turkish officials – including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – have offered condolences to the Armenians, none has ever labeled the tragedy a genocide, and most call it a lie or say that the Ottoman Turks simply took “necessary measures” to counter Armenian separatism at the time.
“Israel has relations with Turkey,” Sarkissian said. “Today, those relations are good, tomorrow they are bad, and then the other way around. But the truth will remain the truth.”
He said that recognizing human tragedy is a matter of morality more than anything else, and he can only hope that one day Israel will recognize the genocide and that “human values, moral values and the importance of history will prevail. Recognition will not be connected with this or that interest of the State of Israel or something else that is important only in the moment.”
But he also believes that Israel’s failure to commiserate with Armenia over their comparable tragedies – the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide – is harming Israel and the Jewish people’s efforts to combat an ever-expanding epidemic of antisemitism.
“All of the reasons why this happened have not disappeared,” Sarkissian told the Post, referring to both the Holocaust and the genocide. “Antisemitism is alive. Extreme nationalism is alive everywhere in the world.... It can all come back.”
He said that human tendency is to forget the lessons of history for the convenience of the present.
Sarkissian believes that Turkey has not recognized the genocide because it would be “inconvenient: millions of people lost their lives; a culture was destroyed; and Turkey is probably afraid of claims – material and moral claims.
“Maybe they are afraid because for years they didn’t tell the truth to their children and grandchildren in their schools,” he continued.
“It does not matter to me personally whether this country or that country will or will not recognize [the genocide]. It will not change my life or the lives of the millions of Armenians who lost their homes and are scattered all over the world in the Armenian diaspora. But it is going to backfire.”
He said that a country’s recognition of the genocide or not will decide if that country is able to build for itself a tolerant society. A country that does not recognize the genocide, he said, is a country that will ultimately lack tolerance for other people’s religion, nationality, faith and culture.
“The biggest disease of humanity today is not a virus in Hong Kong,” Sarkissian said. “It is not AIDS or cancer. With new technologies we are learning more and more how to fight cancer and defeat viruses. But technology will not teach us how to cure the disease of inhumanity.
“No medicine can be taken with water to help you become more human, more tolerant – this is much more problematic,” he explained.
And he said that only in the moment that Israel recognizes the genocide will it truly be able to move into its rightful role as the worldwide leader in the fight against antisemitism and extremism.
“It will make Israel’s case much stronger when it partners with Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia,” Sarkissian stressed. “Then, we can come together and say, ‘This is enough.’ If we don’t do that and everyone plays the game on their own, we are going to lose the battle.”
Sarkissian said that he attended the World Holocaust Forum because he does not think “it would have been right for any Armenian to connect the remembrance of the Holocaust tragedy” with whether the Israeli parliament recognizes the Armenian Genocide or not.
“There is no way that, as president of Armenia, I would ever consider not being here,” he said.
BUT HIS own country is in other ways as guilty as the Jewish state.
Armenia has held Israel to a double standard on its territorial conflict with the Palestinians, voting against and condemning Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria at the United Nations, while defending Armenia’s own occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The United Nations Security Council in 1993 adopted four resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884) that affirm Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and demand Armenian withdraw from the area. Furthermore, the US State Department describes on its website that Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership “is not recognized internationally or by the United States,” thereby acknowledging Armenian forces’ occupation of one-fifth of Azerbaijan’s territory during the 1988-1994 Armenia-Azerbaijan war.
At the time, Armenia expelled more than 800,000 Azerbaijani civilians and has since barred them from returning to their homes. At least 100,000 Azerbaijanis remain in refugee camps today under desperate living conditions.
There is striking parallelism between Israel’s fight for territory in the West Bank, often called the “biblical heartland,” because of the Jews’ thousands-of-years history there, and Armenia’s grasp on Nagorno-Karabakh. Most historians believe that Armenians had been living in the region as early as the second or even fourth century BCE.
When asked about this contradiction and why Armenia does not vote with tolerance toward Israel at the United Nations, Sarkissian said, “The Armenian state has to think of protecting Armenian life, and the Jewish state has to think about protecting Jewish life. Both Armenians and Jews are human, and yet politics decides many things.”
“Armenia is a landlocked country; it has only four neighbors: Turkey – and you know our relations with them; Azerbaijan – and you know our relations,” he continued. “Armenia has only two ways of communicating with the world: One is Georgia, and the other is Iran. I’ll stop there. Don’t take me into the jungle of politics.”
Until the countries come to terms on these differences, Sarkissian said, he hopes that they will identify other areas in which they share common ground.
The president used his time in the country after the Holocaust forum to meet with top Israeli universities and with the Israel Innovation Authority, for example, and noted there are plans to collaborate on new projects in the artificial intelligence arena.
He also said he hopes to increase tourism between the two countries.
“Once we have Israeli citizens traveling to Armenia and learning about its history and culture, our beautiful land and fantastic food, and once more Armenians come to Israel and spend the holidays here, the better the world will be,” he concluded.