Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Armenian genocide

There has been a controversy in the US over the designation by the Anti-Defamation League of the murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks during WWI as a Genocide. This has angered the Turks as usual, since they do not acknowledge this massacre and refute the charge of genocide. As far as I am concerned there is no doubt that there was such a large-scale massacre, that it was deliberately and cold-bloodedly organized by the Turkish Army and people and that it was the first example of genocide in the 20th century.
However, as to the politics of the situation, since Turkey, as a Muslim State, is one of the few friends that Israel has in the region, it makes no sense to me to antagonize them by stirring up again a situation that is old history.
As to the facts, there are numerous eyewitness accounts, including the famous book "The forty days of Musa Dagh," by Franz Werfel that was published in Germany in 1934 and reignited interest in the subject. This book is a fictionalized account of the true events surrounding the defense of an Armenian town from the Turkish Army. There were also detailed accounts of the atrocities by British and American Ambassadors, Consuls and many individuals who were in Turkey at the time.
The "ethnic cleansing" of the Armenians represented the deliberate destruction of a Christian population in Muslim Turkey while the world was focussed on WWI, during which Turkey was allied with Germany. The orders to carry out the various actions are documented, including removing hundreds of thousands of Armenians to concentration camps and the deliberate expulsion of Armenians into the desert south of Turkey without food or water. The current small population of Armenians in Lebanon and Jerusalem are the remnants of this Genocide. Apart from that, hundreds of thousands were also killed by their Turkish neighbors and massacred in numerous actions by the Turkish Army. Hitler justified his Genocide of the Jews in part by stating that "nobody remembers the Armenians," and he adopted the same policies.
However, having established the fact of the Armenian genocide by the Turks, this does not mean that it is in Israel's or American Jew's interest to rehash this particular tragic and terrible event. Jews have a distinguished history of taking the part of other groups in order to help them attain equality. This includes the Civil Rights movement in the USA, and notably German Jews supported Germany during WWI, and Czech Jews and Jews in other countries in Europe identifiying with their country. However, it gained them nothing in the end, since in each and every country, with few exceptions (Denmark and Bulgaria), the local population rounded on them and killed them enthusiastically in complicity with the invading Germans. American Blacks have also expressed anti-Semitism and have violently attacked Jews in many cases.
The Armenian issue came to a head recently when the New England representative of the ADL criticized the organization's stance on the subject, and after some dispute, he was fired. However, Abe Foxman, Head of ADL then issued a statement basically endorsing the representative's position, that it was a "genocide." However, the ADL is against a Congressional investigation and/or statement on the subject, since Foxman (in cooperation with various historians, including Elie Wiesel) regards it as a matter for historians to investigate, not political organizations. Why should an American Jewish organization be focussed on the massacre of Armenians by Turks nearly 100 years ago, especially when that has the potential to severely undermine Israel's position in the Middle East. Israel and the Jews have few enough friends. We have our own Genocide to concern ourselves with, and the threats to Jewish existence still exist in Europe and the Middle East. And for whatever it means, relations between Jews and Turks have traditonally been good. The Sultans welcomed Jews to Turkey and the then Turkish province of Palestine when Jews were expelled from Spain (hence the former Sephardic populations in the Balkans and elsewhere). Basically, this is not our issue and why should we put our nose into it to our own detriment.


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