On April 24, 2021, President Joe Biden extended the full recognition of the United States to the Armenian Genocide. Israel has a powerful opportunity to link itself to the recognition by the US by declaring its recognition of the Armenian Genocide on this coming April 24, 2022.
April 24 is for the Armenians ‘Yom HaShoah’ or Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, the day to remember and mark with prayer and deep feeling the history of the Armenian Genocide. It was on this day in 1915 that the Turks proceeded to systematically arrest approximately 250 leaders of the Armenian community and culture, including outstanding entertainers, media professionals, intellectual leaders, academicians, clergymen and professionals in all areas of specialties.
The overwhelming majority of these celebrated leaders and influences on the morale of the Armenian community were executed within a short period following their arrests. (Intriguingly, a small number were rescued thanks to the intervention of the Jewish US Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau Sr. – who went on unsuccessfully to make many efforts to stop the genocide – whose son, Henry Morgenthau Jr. would become the secretary of Treasury for president Franklin Roosevelt and play a unique role in the lifesaving of some Jews during the Holocaust.)
Like Israel, the US shamefully struggled for many years with its failure to recognize the Armenian Genocide because – very mistakenly and actually meekly – the US feared Turkish anger and the disruption it could wreak in Turkish-US relations. Over many years, there were spurts of pieces of recognition, such as a resolution by the House of Representatives that was not reinforced by the Senate or president, or say a statement by a president (this was true of Ronald Reagan, for example) but was not backed by the houses of Congress.
Then, on October 29, 2019, the House of Representatives voted by an unbelievable majority of 405 to 11 for recognition, and on December 12, 2019 the truly ultimately unbelievable occurred when the US Senate voted unanimously to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Note also that these votes come about in a period that will long be remembered in American history as one where the two major parties were adamantly unable to cooperate with one another on many pieces of legislation.
It was hardly a surprise that former president Donald Trump, while still in office, did not see fit to follow through with presidential recognition, but the subsequent formal recognition of the genocide by Biden definitely completed the cycle of American recognition once and for all. Biden emphasized the meaning of the recognition not only as rational and just with regard to the past, but as a statement of intentions for the future of human beings:
“Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination… We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated… Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.”
Senior scholar at the US Institute of Peace (a formal institution of the US Government) Hrach Gregorian commented, “US recognition of the acts of 1915 as genocide sends a strong signal to the world that America is willing to offend even an important ally when it comes to defending human rights… It signals that the US will not sacrifice principle for political expediency and now it empowers more states who might otherwise be reluctant to do so – for fear of angering Turkey – to follow suit.”
The invitation to Israel is unmistakable. We have the opportunity to recognize the Armenian Genocide on the Day of Remembrance of the Armenian people and exactly a year following US recognition on the same day. Moreover, it is widely acknowledged that a majority of Israelis favor recognition and indeed in August 2020, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee chaired by MK Yaakov Margi (Shas) reported that the committee voted resoundingly to recognize the genocide of the Armenian people. “It is our moral obligation to recognize the holocaust of the Armenian nation,” Margi said.
The writer has directed the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, located in Jerusalem, since the Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide of all nations in 1982. Recently, his book Israel’s Failed Response to the Armenian Genocide was published in the US. In the early 1990s, he was one of the founders of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, serving as vice-president and president for several years.