Armenians urge Jews to take moral high ground

"Jewish people understand the meaning of genocide better than anyone."

armenian patriarch 224.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
armenian patriarch 224.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
The State of Israel and Jewish organizations around the world should take the moral high ground and recognize the World War I-era killing of Armenians by Turks as genocide regardless of the political ramifications with Turkey, Armenian residents of Jerusalem said Wednesday. "Israel understands the issue better than anyone else... [but] her judgment is impaired by the politicizing of the issue," said Father Samuel Aghoyan, 66, a priest at the Armenian Patriarchate in the Old City of Jerusalem and a superior at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He noted that politics alone has prevented Israel from recognizing the killing as a genocide. "When you politicize the issue, you kill the spirit upon which both the US and Israel were founded," Aghoyan said. "If you don't want to recognize it openly at least say that it happened," he added. His remarks come one day after the New York-based Anti Defamation League reversed itself and called a World War I-era massacre of Armenians a genocide after previously firing an organization official who said the same thing. The director of the Armenian school and library in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem said that Armenians were pleased over the about-face taken by the ADL. "The Jewish lobby should make their minds up as representatives of the Jewish people - as people who suffered the Holocaust - to take a more moral stand in fully and unconditionally recognizing the killing of the Armenians as a genocide, regardless of politics," Father Norayr Kazazian, 30, said. He added that Israel and the Jewish world should not be overly fearful of the repercussions such a move could have on the Jewish community living in Turkey, noting that hundreds of thousands of Armenians are also living in Turkey, and citing Turkey's good relations with both France and Belgium even though both countries have defined the killings as a massacre. Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenian Christians were killed by Muslim Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying that the toll has been grossly inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. Armenian residents of the small Armenian Quarter in the Old City said Wednesday that they sensed an unquestionable difference between the views of Jewish people, who recognized the mass killing as genocides, and the political leadership who were concerned with the political ramifications of such a move with Israel's warm relationship with Turkey. "I know the Jewish people are with us and recognize the killing as a genocide but it is political interests which prevent the Knesset and Jewish groups from doing so," said Hagop Antressain, 63, an Old City shopkeeper who expressed mixed feelings about the ADL reversal. The son of a survivor of the massacre, Antressain said that the Jewish and Armenian people shared a common tragedy. He noted that when he watches Holocaust movies on Holocaust Remembrance Days he sees not Jewish children but Armenian children. "It is my father's eyes when he was seven-years-old," Antressain said. He opined that passage of a pending US Congressional resolution, which would term the killings a genocide, was "only a matter of time," adding that the legislation was brought about as a result of pressure by Armenian and Jewish intellectuals, and not by American Jewish groups. Antressain lambasted recent remarks by the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee David Harris that Armenian and Turkish historians should sit down together and discuss the genocide. "Should we ask Jewish and Nazi historians to discuss the Holocaust?" he asked. As a native of Jerusalem, Antressain said that it was important for him that Israel would not be the last country to recognize the killing as genocide. "I know the feelings of the Jewish people and I do not want the Jewish State to be the last to recognize the genocide," he said. The Armenian residents of Jerusalem opined that eventually all countries would come to recognize the killing as a genocide. "Sooner or later the right time will come," Aghoyan concluded.