ObligationNever Again for Armenians too
By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers
For the last 60 years, the Jewish community has labored to avoid granting Hitler, in the words of philosopher Emil Fackenheim, "a posthumous victory." Jews have taken as their motto "never again," and most tend to understand that this charge refers to all of humanity, not only to fellow Jews. One of the last surviving leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Simha "Kazik" Rotem, once said that the central lesson of the Holocaust to him was that the Jewish people should stand vigilant against genocidal acts directed at any people.
This is why it is troubling that some major Jewish organizations have lined up in support of Turkey's efforts to keep the U.S. Congress from recognizing the Armenian massacres as an act of genocide. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and B'nai B'rith International recently conveyed a letter from the Turkish Jewish community opposing a resolution recognizing the genocide. ...
The American Jewish community has insisted, and rightly so, that the U.S. Congress, the United Nations and other governmental bodies formally commemorate the Holocaust. Why should Jews not insist on the same in this case, especially given the widespread scholarly consensus that what happened to the Armenians from 1915 to 1923 was genocide? After all, the man who coined the term "genocide" to refer to the Holocaust — the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin — cited the Armenian massacres as a precedent.
The unfortunate and well-known answer to the question is that Turkey has fiercely opposed efforts to call the Armenian massacres "genocide." Moreover, it has asked its friends to help beat back the attempts at historical recognition.
Jewish opposition to recognizing the Armenian genocide comes mainly from a desire to safeguard the important strategic relationship between Turkey and Israel. Alone among the world's Muslim nations, Turkey has forged close military, political and economic ties with Israel. In addition, Jews remember with a deep sense of gratitude that Turkey served as an important haven for their forebears fleeing persecution, from the time of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 to the dark days of Nazism and beyond. And it is not just that Turkey has been kind to Israel and the Jews. It is a critically important U.S. ally in a dangerous region racked by religious extremism. ...
Nobody is suggesting that Jews forget Turkey's historic friendship. But it is a mistake for Jews — or, for that matter, anyone — to surrender the moral imperative of condemning genocide in the hopes of avoiding a perceived, but by no means necessary, strategic loss. Similarly, it would be a mistake for Turkey to hinge its own strategic interests on the denial of past criminal acts. Coming to terms with the past, as democratic Germany has done in the aftermath of the Holocaust and South Africa in the wake of apartheid, is the best path to political legitimacy.