Opinion

Israel Must Stop Playing Political Games With the Armenian Genocide

Israel should ignore the noisy, serial threats Turkey throws at states recognizing the Armenian genocide. The Jewish state has a particular responsibility to oppose those who would deny genocide

Armenian children holding signs as they take part in a memorial march in Jerusalem's Old City in 2005 to commemorate the Armenian genocide. (Olivier Fitoussi / BauBau)
Olivier Fitoussi

Under pressure from Israel’s government, the Knesset has again postponed the debate on the bill to recognize the Armenian genocide until after the Turkish elections on June 24. Meanwhile, prominent figures in the fight against genocide denial have been doing their own lobbying and are strengthening appeal to Israel to recognize the genocide against the Armenians.

It is high time Israel join numerous other nations in recognizing the Armenian genocide. Such a move would restate Israel’s fundamental values, and would reinforce the international coalition against genocide denial.

Despite Turkey’s official denial, the Armenian genocide is a historical reality. A roundup of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople on April 24, 1915 was followed by the planned and thorough extermination of 1.5 million people - killed because they were Armenian. These killings occurred under the supervision of the Committee of Union and Progress led by the de facto leaders of the Ottoman Empire at the time: the triumvirate of Talaat Pacha, Enver Pacha and Djemal Pacha.

This mass killing was a genocide.

Mourners at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum in Yerevan, Armenia in 2015.
\ REUTERS

This truth is acknowledged in all its simplicity by historians around the world as well as by brave Turkish activists and intellectuals, who have commemorated the genocide for several years, especially in Istanbul.

The geopolitical alliance between Turkey and Israel has been a key element keeping the latter from recognizing the Armenian genocide.

But Israel should not worry about Turkey’s diplomatic threats against countries that dare to recognize the genocide. Take, for example, what happened in the wake of the international wave of recognition in 2015 that marked the centenary of the genocide.

Turkey railed against it, protested, recalled ambassadors, suspended diplomatic relations, uttered threats and then the course of relations between nations and states resumed its normal course, that is to say sometimes chaotic, but built mainly upon well-known interests and alliances.

Since then, Germany has gone on working with Turkey, for example spearheading an agreement between the European countries and Ankara on refugees, while France, which is at the forefront of the recognition movement, has never halted its commercial ties with Turkey. No one should be swayed by loud threats which haven't been followed by action.

Turkish nationalist protesters wearing Ottoman clothes at a rally denouncing Germany in Istanbul in 2016 after the German parliament passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. (AFP / Ozan Kose)
OZAN KOSE/AFP

Israel’s recognition of the Armenian genocide will contribute to preventing mass atrocities in the future. Theodor Herzl launched Zionism when he understood the existential threat facing Jews. Since its creation, Israel has been the refuge of Shoah survivors and of every Jew threatened around the world.

It is often foolhardy to imagine how history might have been different, but it is not absurd to think that if international recognition and denunciation of the Armenian genocide had taken place at the time, the genocide against the Jews, as well as those against the Roma, the Tutsis in Rwanda, and others, may have been avoided.

Thus, Israel has a particular responsibility. Recognizing the Armenian genocide will not change the past, but it will contribute to shaping the future and help protect those who are threatened with extermination, today and tomorrow.

On August 22 1939, on the eve of the invasion of Poland, Hitler told his generals in his infamous Obersalzberg speech: "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" When the Knesset does finally discuss the bill, all MKs, whatever their political sensibilities and backgrounds, should have this comment in mind.

What is at stake goes well beyond ephemeral geopolitical alliances and minor political games; it is about historical truth and our shared humanity. Israel must remember the Armenian extermination, and recognize the Armenian genocide.

Benjamin Abtan is the president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement – EGAM and the Coordinator of the Elie Wiesel Network of Parliamentarians of Europe. He is the former political advisor of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner 

Beate, Serge and Arno Klarsfeld are world-known Nazi hunters and activists against genocide denial. They are the leaders of the Association of Daughters and Sons of Jewish Deportees from France