This week, Israelis and Jews around the world recognize and remember the six million Jews who were barbarically and cruelly murdered in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. But only a few days after Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), another genocide remembrance day falls – for the Armenian Genocide. April 24 is the official memorial day for the Armenian Genocide commemorating more than a million Armenians murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Yet in Israel, this day could pass without most of the country noticing.
Despite Israel’s history and the collective trauma of ethnic cleansing and pogroms against Jews from Arab states, and of course the Holocaust, Israel has not recognized the Armenian Genocide, nor does Israel place an emphasis on educating about the Armenian Genocide. In fact, the Knesset has failed to recognize the Armenian Genocide repeatedly due to various political interests, in an embarrassing national display of moral failure.
Many of Israel’s leaders have publicly recognized the Armenian Genocide at various points throughout Israeli history. But as a nation, the Jewish state has refused to recognize the genocide due to fear of Turkey’s reaction, a state which has historically been a key ally for Israel’s security. Today, the relationship with Turkey has changed due to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s marked hostility toward Israel. Yet Israel has still not recognized the Armenian Genocide.
In 2018, MK Tamar Zandberg proposed a bill to address this gap, but the bill was cancelled due to government opposition. In 2019, many government leaders called on Israel to recognize the Armenian Genocide including Blue and White’s Yair Lapid, and Likud’s Gideon Saar, but the vote was delayed and ultimately cancelled – again, due to lack government (coalition) support. This political failure in 2020 on the most basic of issues is simply unconscionable.
APRIL 24, 1915, is internationally known as the start of the Armenian Genocide. But the murderous campaign of the Turks began many years before that in the 1890s under Sultan Abdul Hamid, whose leadership oversaw the murder of 100,000-300,000 Armenians.
On April 24, the Turks doubled down, launching an ethnic cleansing campaign against Armenian Christians, more horrific than the world had ever seen. They began by rounding up and murdering 250 Armenian intellectuals, and they continued with the Tehcir Law. Armenians were robbed of their property and belongings and deported en masse. They were sent on death marches into the Syrian desert in inhumane conditions, and women and girls were raped and enslaved. Those who survived were sent to concentration camps, executed, or left to die. Nearly 50,000 Armenians were tossed into the Black Sea and left to drown. Between 1914 and 1918, 1-1.5 million Armenians were murdered by Ottoman Turks, the direct predecessors of modern Turkey, in the largest race-based genocide in history (at the time).
Unlike Germany, Turkey and Turkish leaders have adamantly refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide at all, even oppressing Turkish citizens who do publicly acknowledge the crime against humanity. To date, there has been no recognition and no reparations made to the Armenian people for what is seen by many historians as a precursor to the Holocaust. Even Hitler himself is reported to have said in 1939: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Imagine if the major perpetrators of the Holocaust were never caught for their crimes, and that adding insult to injury, the State of Germany denied altogether that the Holocaust had occurred. Imagine if Germany instead punished anyone who said otherwise, and threatened to end diplomatic ties with nations who recognized the Holocaust.
On top of this, suppose Germany also had a long and rich track record of destroying concrete evidence the Holocaust ever occurred so as to quash internal dissent. This is exactly what the modern state of Turkey has done, and that in and of itself should be a crime – just as Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany today.
ISRAEL’S LEADERS from the time of its founding in 1948 have carried with them the solemn obligation and promise to ensure that “Never again” is a reality. It is a promise that we as a people reaffirm this week with Yom HaShoah, remembering the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. But part of ensuring that never means never is recognising what genocide looks like.
Some of Israel’s leaders already have, such as President Reuven Rivlin, who has long called for such recognition, stating in 2015: “It was… one of my eldest brothers, who said 25 years before the Holocaust that if we do not warn against what is going on with the Armenians, what will happen afterwards when they try to do it to us…? There is a saying that the Nazis used the Armenian genocide as something that gave them permission to bring the Holocaust into reality… 'Never again' belongs to every one of you, all the nations."
It’s time for Israel’s leaders to exercise true leadership and, as a state, recognize the Armenian Genocide. For the State of Israel, the Jewish state, to not recognise the Armenian Genocide is one of the greatest symbolic failures in the Israel today.
There are some lines that no political interest should be above. One of them is most certainly recognizing the Holocaust, which nearly all nations do today – but another is recognizing the Armenian Genocide, which far too many countries do not. Part of Israel’s historical challenge in recognizing the Armenian Genocide is the lack of moral clarity in the rest of the international community on this issue, giving Turkey more power to “punish” states which recognize the genocide.
At various points in Israel’s history, this may not have been a button Israel could push alone, without an existential risk. But Israel’s survival is not dependent on what Turkey and its current dictator Erdogan think of Israel today, and it’s high time that Turkey’s bullying tactics be universally and unequivocally rejected by all nations. For the world, and for Israel: Recognize the Armenian Genocide now.
Emily Schrader is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.