Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

The Knesset considers what may be a controversial move as Israel’s ties with Turkey are strained over Gaza.

Members of the Armenian community in Israel attend a demonstration against Israel’s stance on the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem; the sign on the left reads: ‘Judaism is for acknowledgement of Armenian Genocide, the State of Israel against?’ (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Members of the Armenian community in Israel attend a demonstration against Israel’s stance on the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem; the sign on the left reads: ‘Judaism is for acknowledgement of Armenian Genocide, the State of Israel against?’
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
AMID DETERIORATING relations over recent clashes on the Gaza border, Turkey has warned Israel against any move to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
“We believe that the fact that Israel is placing the events of 1915 on the same level as the Holocaust will cause harm to Israel itself,” said a spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
Ankara’s comments came in response to the Knesset decision in late May to hold a debate on the issue, with Speaker Yuli Edelstein urging the chamber to back recognition, “because that is the right thing to do, as human beings and as Jews.”
Traditionally the Israeli government has blocked the Knesset from making such a declaration, concerned about the negative impact on relations with Turkey, but this time, following bitter anti-Israel rhetoric from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the debate was allowed to take place. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that the crisis with Turkey has prompted the ministry to examine a number of options.
Despite extensive historical research into the Ottoman Turks’ killing of the Armenian population, Ankara disputes the figure of 1.5 million fatalities, insisting that it was significantly lower and arguing that the victims died as part of the civil war rather than a systematic extermination program.
Tamar Zandberg, leader of the left-wing opposition Meretz party, said, “It is our moral and historic obligation to be the first to recognize, to be the first to speak out, to be the first to sound the cry of the Armenian people.”
Edelstein stressed that such a decision must be made with no regard to the state of Israel’s relations with Turkey.
“I am ashamed to hear elected officials and public figures saying that recognition of the genocide is ‘a fitting Zionist response’ to Turkey’s despicable acts after the recent incidents on the Gaza border. Since when does Ankara pull the strings of our morality? Does history depend on how good our relations are with a dictator like Erdogan?” he asked.
The Knesset plenum session was observed from the visitors’ gallery by Armenian Consul Tsolag Momjian and activists from the Armenian Action Committee, which has been urging Israel to recognize the genocide that took place between the years 1915 to 1918 across the Ottoman Empire.
And, in a separate move likely to further anger Ankara, some Knesset members also called for the recognition of Kurdish independence.
Yisrael Beytenu Knesset Member Oded Forer said an independent Kurdistan is a just cause.
“It is something on which Israel should take the lead. The Kurds are a peace-seeking people who have been oppressed by the Turks for a long time. It is a people who took part in the global war on Islamic terror.” Deputy Minister Michael Oren, from the Kulanu party, said that some of Erdogan’s recent statements were clearly anti-Semitic and Israel would not allow its legitimacy and sovereignty to be undermined. “Turkey’s incitement will be given a response,” he said.
Bilateral relations took a turn for the worse when Ankara recalled its ambassador to Israel and expelled Israel’s ambassador Eitan Naveh in response to the killings of dozens of Palestinians demonstrating along the Gaza border as part of the so-called "March of Return" protests, orchestrated by Hamas.
In a public humiliation, the Israeli ambassador was filmed by Turkish media undergoing a thorough security screening at Istanbul International Airport, including removing his shoes.
Naveh had only been in his post since December 2016, after a reconciliation deal earlier that year ended a dispute over the May 2010 deadly storming of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship sailing to Gaza by Israeli commandos that saw relations downgraded for more than half a decade.
Israel responded to the Turkish move by ousting Turkey’s consul to Jerusalem. Turkey, in turn, ordered Israel’s consul in Istanbul to leave the country.
The feud continued when Israel summoned the Turkish chargé d’affairs, Umut Deniz, the second-highest ranking official in the embassy, for a reprimand. The Foreign Ministry invited photographers to capture him arriving at the Foreign Ministry and being forced to show ID at the entrance before being allowed inside.
Erdogan stepped up the rhetoric, accusing Israel of “state terror” and “genocide” over the killing of more than 60 Palestinians in Gaza border clashes on May 14.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at Erdogan with a Twitter message saying that, as a leading supporter of Hamas, “there’s no doubt Erdogan is an expert on terror and slaughter.”
Erdogan responded with his own message against Netanyahu. “He has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey.”
Despite the Twitter war of words, Hotovely made clear that Israel would not sever ties with Turkey.
“Turkey is a huge country in the region, our airlines pass through its airspace, we share business relations together and Turkey has a large Jewish community, which needs an Israeli backup,” she said.
Addressing an Islamic summit meeting in Istanbul, the Turkish president likened Israel’s actions in Gaza to the Holocaust.
“There is no difference between the atrocity faced by the Jewish people in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality that our Gaza brothers are subjected to.”
He also vowed to take Israel to the United Nations General Assembly over its actions on the Gaza border and promised to review economic ties with Israel after Turkish elections in June.
Addressing a mass rally in Istanbul, Erdogan urged Muslim unity to counter Israel.
Opposition politicians said the Turkish president was capitalizing on events in Gaza ahead of snap elections. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Israel should be taken to the International Criminal Court over its security forces’ “crimes” against Palestinian protesters.
Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, also got in on the act by posting an Instagram message that read, “F—k Turkey.” The letter “C” was replaced by the crescent and star of the Turkish flag.
As the diplomatic rift intensified, President Reuven Rivlin called for restraint, urging both sides to tone down their rhetoric.
“I really think that we better, both sides, refrain from this dialogue because we are liable to regret what we say,” he said. “President Erdogan always finds a way to criticize and blame Israel when he knows very well that what we have to do and what we are doing is protecting our borders from anyone who would like to threaten Israel's very existence. So don't say anything you will regret later.” Diplomatic officials in Israel believe that Erdogan’s provocative actions were deliberately planned with an eye on the June 24 elections and they predicted that relations will return to normal within a relatively short time.
With this in mind and due to the fact that Jerusalem understands the importance of maintaining ties with Ankara, the most likely scenario is that the government will yet again block moves by Knesset members to recognize the Armenian Genocide.