The Amermenian genocide: Almost 100 years of pain

The Armenian holocaust of 1915 was commemorated last week at the Hebrew University, but Israel has yet to recognize it officially.

Pupils from the Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School of Jerusalem (photo credit: YOAV LOEFF)
Pupils from the Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School of Jerusalem
(photo credit: YOAV LOEFF)
The 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide was marked at the Hebrew University last week. The genocide resulted in the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians (as well as hundreds of thousands of other Christian minorities) by Ottoman Turks. During and after World War I, genocidal policies were implemented that systematically targeted Turkey’s indigenous Christian populations for forced deportation and extermination.
Armenians are still haunted by the ghosts of that genocide – its memory often avoided or denied altogether, effectively prolonging the psychological effects of trauma for generations.
In an address read at the university’s annual memorial, Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian expressed his disappointment that Israel is not among the handful of nations that recognize the Armenian genocide.
The patriarch’s message, delivered by Fr. Pakrad Berjekian to an audience of Armenians and Israelis, underscored his dismay that nearly a century later, no honest or meaningful effort has been made by the descendants of the perpetrators to recognize the horror that began in 1915.
“I regret that Turkey has yet to walk down this path of reflection, reconciliation and repentance with regard to the Armenians. The facts of the Armenian genocide are as clear and real as those of the Jewish Holocaust that befell the Jewish people a few years later. It was because of the international silence on the part of the French, the British, the Germans and the other major powers that the Jewish nation suffered a similar fate to that of the Armenians in 1915. History has shown there is no monopoly on horrific events like genocide, regardless of the origin of the victims,” he said.
Hosted by the Armenian Studies Program at the Hebrew University, the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, and the Combat Genocide Association, the commemoration included songs, poems and scripture readings in Armenian as a way of honoring the revival of Western Armenian culture that was largely eradicated as a result of the genocide. Prof. Michael Stone, director of the Armenian Studies Program at the university, noted that genocide was not only the physical destruction of a people but also the destruction of its language, history and culture.
Tsolag Momjian, the honorary Armenian consul in Jerusalem, whose grandparents and uncles were killed in the genocide, highlighted the similarities between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, referring to Jewish writer Israel Zangwill, a Zionist and outspoken critic of anti- Semitism and the persecution of Armenians in the early 20th century. Momjian read an excerpt from Zangwill’s 1917 article “The Pit of Hell”, which called Armenia a sister nation to the Jewish people, whose persecution and suffering paralleled that of the Jews.
Keynote speaker and world-renowned Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer contextualized the Armenian genocide within the framework of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, citing past defeats, an increase in violent nationalism, the background of conflict and distrust between Muslims and Christians, and sporadic outbursts of violence that culminated in the eight years of genocide.
Prof. Elihu Richter, MD, spoke about the role of physicians as planners and perpetrators of genocide who applied the flawed ethics of social Darwinism, eugenics and racial purity to rationalize the extermination of entire populations. He also described the connection between Turkish physicians who performed experiments on Armenian children, as well as early gas-chamber technology (hospital wards were sealed off and victims gassed) and the evidence for its direct influence on Nazi medicine. Richter emphasized that even though the framework for an atrocity may be in place, moral choice is still given to individuals, especially to doctors who have sworn to preserve and protect human life.
Despite the issue garnering public interest in recent years, Israel’s failure to recognize the Armenian genocide is a painful reminder to Jerusalem’s small Armenian community that geopolitics and diplomacy trump moral principles. Presumably, silence is the price Israel is willing to pay in order to maintain its delicate relationship with Turkey.
The approaching centenary of the Armenian genocide should serve as an opportunity for the international community to reject the politicized discourse that has dominated the memory of this tragedy for nearly a century. Not only does its nonrecognition have a profoundly negative impact on the psyche of Armenians, but political favor is too high a price to pay in exchange for the truth.