Too important for politics to get in the way

As the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it is clear to me that some things are too important for politics to get in the way: the world must face up to Turkey and recognize the Armenian genocide.

April 29, 2015 21:39
4 minute read.
armenia genocide

People mourn at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum in Yerevan. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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What is the better alternative: a quick death in a Nazi gas chamber  or a slow one in the hot Syrian desert? That is a completely inhumane question, which says a lot about the cowardly position of most of the international community – a community that commemorates the Jewish Holocaust, but represses and avoids discussing the Armenian genocide.

Only a handful of countries recognize the Armenian genocide, and the absence of Israel and Germany from that group stands out to me. Not only because I am a citizen of the first and a resident of the latter, but rather because both countries have a particular moral responsibility to ensure that commemoration of the Holocaust carries the meaning that it should.

Successive Israeli governments, however, did not recognize the Armenian genocide, because of concerns about the alliance with Turkey. I can imagine how Israeli prime ministers would react if a country were to not recognize the Holocaust because of a political alliance, strategic as it might be. This year, commemorating 100 years since the genocide, there was no solidarity to be found from either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog.

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Saving face for Israel is Reuven Rivlin, who advocated for a formal recognition of the Armenian genocide when he was Knesset speaker. Regrettably, as president of Israel, the term he used last week in a meeting with the Armenian Action Committee and its Patriarch Nourhan Manougian was “massacre” (as if it was a mere coincidence that the 1.5 million people who were expelled to die happened to be Armenian). Hope for an appropriate Israeli recognition of Armenia’s tragedy remains, however, after the Knesset sent its first delegation ever to take part in the ceremonies in the capital city of Yerevan.

Much like Israel’s Rivlin, US President Barack Obama was once a stout supporter of recognizing the Armenian genocide. That is, of course, until he became the strongest politician in the world and could actually follow the demand made in 2008 by then-Senator Obama. It is worthwhile to recall his promise from the 2008 elections campaign in its entirety: “Two years ago, I criticized the secretary of state for the firing of US ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915. I shared with Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice my firmly held conviction that the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as president I will recognize the Armenian genocide.”

Some good news came this year from Berlin, when the German parliament and President Joachim Gauck finally recognized the fate of the Armenian people for what it was: “Völkermord.” However, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democratic Party didn’t like that, fearing Turkey’s response. He tried excusing himself with a foolish concern about “belittling the Holocaust” by recognizing the Armenian genocide – although Germany’s Central Council of Jews itself called on the government to recognize the genocide.

A hundred years have passed, and the Armenians do not seek revenge upon the Turks. Armenia is a peaceful country in a tough neighborhood, landlocked in the caucuses, with Iran in the south, Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east and with the only safe gateway to Europe through its northern borders with Georgia. The trails of its concentration camps are now being revisited by the death-mongering forces of the Islamic State. Much like Israel, its government is often corrupt, the majority of its people are traditional and follow orthodox religion to a certain degree, while a genuine freedom of speech keeps its democracy alive and resilient.

A friend who visited Armenia last week reports that its youth love to wrestle, play chess, drink wine, smoke “nargilot” (water pipes) and to talk about God and the world. They do not seek reparations from Turkey and certainly no revenge. They only seek recognition of their great grandparents’ experience, in order for that chapter in history to be sealed and for the healing process to begin. As the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it is clear to me that some things are too important for politics to get in the way: the world must face up to Turkey and recognize the Armenian genocide.

The author is a PhD candidate in the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.

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