Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Israeli-Armenian Relations

A Diamond Necklace made in Armenia (Source)

Most Armenians in the Diaspora know about Israel's relations with Turkey, but I bet far fewer know that Israel is one of Armenia's top-five trade partners. Almost all of this trade is in diamonds, as is most of the trade between Armenia and Belgium (where, it should be noted, Jews are the major players in the industry).

David, over at a The Armenian Economist (a great blog, by the way), provides the following data for 2005 in a post on "Georgia, Russia, and Armenia's Economy."

Total exports (USD millions): 950.4
  1. Germany 147.2
  2. Netherlands 130.1
  3. Belgium 124.6
  4. Russia 119.1
  5. Israel 112.2
  6. USA 62.1
  7. Other 255.0
Total imports 1767.9 USD millions
  1. Russia 259.5
  2. Belgium 162.4
  3. USA 116.0
  4. Germany 114.0
  5. Israel 102.5
  6. Iran 102.0
  7. Other 911.5
According to the CIA World Factbook, which cites slightly different figures, Armenia exported commodities worth $800 million in 2005. Its largest export partners were:
  1. Germany (15.6% of exports)
  2. Netherlands 13.7%
  3. Belgium 12.8%
  4. Russia 12.2%
  5. Israel 11.5%
  6. US 11.2%
  7. Georgia 4.8%
The Factbook cites a number of $1.5 billion for Armenia's imports, with the following countries accounting for the largest numbers:
  1. Russia 13.5%
  2. Belgium 8%
  3. Germany 7.9%
  4. Ukraine 7%
  5. Turkmenistan 6.3%
  6. US 6.2%
  7. Israel 5.8%
  8. Iran 5%
  9. Romania 4.2%

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

State-Sponsored Genocide Denial: A Growing Market

"Let the games begin" (Tehran, Iran)

Iran is quickly consolidating its leading role in the market of state-sponsored genocide denial. Yesterday, the Islamic Republic opened an international conference in Tehran to "discuss the Holocaust away from Western taboos." Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made several statements denying the genocide of 6 million Jews during WWII. Now, he has invited 67 scholars, including such luminaries as David Duke, formerly of the Ku Klax Klan, and Robert Faurisson to "re-examine" this issue. The dominant theme of the conference is that the Jews conspired to create the myth of the Holocaust in order to seize Palestine and create their own state. It's a message that still appeals to many people, especially in the Muslim world. For coverage, see Al Jazeera (quite good actually) and the New York Times. The lead sentence of the Turkish daily Hurriyet is a quotation from Ahmadinejad, "Yahudi soykırımı bir mitostur," [The Jewish genocide is a myth].

Some of our readers might be confused by images such as these, which have appeared in the media:

What are these Jews doing hugging Ahmadinejad? The individuals in question belong to an ultra-Orthodox sect that is so fervently anti-Zionist that it sends representatives to any cause that it perceives as injurious to the state of Israel. Most ultra-Orthodox Jews, including those who live in Israel and depend on the state for its benefits, believe that the creation of a secular state before the coming of the Messiah was a sin. A relatively small number of them believe that they ought to actively support Israel's enemies to reverse this historical transgression.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New York Times in Denial

Anti-French protesters in Istanbul

I could not disagree more with Tuesday's New York Times editorial, "France in Denial." The editorial attempts to strike some sort of "balance," on the one hand condemning Turkey for not dealing with its past and prosecuting writers who mention the Armenian Genocide, while on the other hand calling the recent French National Assembly vote "absurd," "cynical," and "outrageous." But the argument the Times offers against the resolution appears utterly incoherent. Indeed, calling it an argument does not do justice to the term. Instead of making its case for why such a law should not exist, given that a similar law against Holocaust denial is on the books in France, the Times offers the following reasons for its opposition to the resolution:
  1. French politicians are exploiting anti-Turkish feelings
  2. French legislators are pandering to the large Armenian community in their country
  3. The resolution could increase anti-Muslim feelings in France
  4. The law would deal a blow to freedom of expression
To me, these appear more like excuses than reasons. Even if 1, 2, and 3 were true, are they really grounds for not having a law like this on the books? As for the third reason specifically, Armenian Genocide denial is now in its 91st year. Does action against it really have to take a backseat to the possibility of increasing anti-Muslim feeling? I also fail to see how this law would do something like that; it seems rather illogical. Finally, I wonder whether similar "arguments " might not be constructed for a law banning Holocaust denial today (in #1, substitute "Muslim" or "Arab" for "Turkish," and in #2, "Jewish" for "Armenian").

The last reason, which to me seems contradictory to the first three, might represent a more solid argument, except that the law forbidding denial of the Shoah (Loi Gayssot) overrides guarantees of freedom of expression in France. So how does the Times deal with this problem?

The editorial admits that the Loi Gayssot too violates freedom of expression. However, in the case of this law, the Times argues, the "laws at least are based on the threat posed by die-hard anti-Semites who still subscribe to Hitler's racist theories." On the other hand, the "Armenian question poses no dangers in France. Playing politics with it trivializes not only the Holocaust, but also the Armenian genocide."

I'm not familiar enough with the Loi Gayssot in France to evaluate whether it is true that this law is actually based on the threat of fanatical antisemites. Certainly, denial of the Shoah can be seen as a form of hate speech. But the same could be said for denial of the Armenian Genocide. Let's not forget that memorials to the Genocide have been defaced in France and elsewhere. And let's not forget that anti-Armenian stereotypes and hatred are alive and well among many people, whether in Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, or even the West. And yes, these stereotypes sometimes have profound consequences for Armenians. Denial of the Genocide is frequently combined with accusations of "Armenian treachery" and conspiracy theories about Armenians controlling the media, government, or academy. As for the last sentence - I simply do not understand what it is supposed to mean. How could a law forbidding denial trivialize either the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide?

If the Times had wanted to make an argument against this law, it should have stuck to the question of freedom of expression. But in that case, the argument would also have to be aimed contra the laws against Holocaust denial.

See also the coverage of the bill's passage on Kishkushim, which includes a link to the resolution's pre-history.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Medieval Jewish Cemetery in Armenia

Two tombstones from the cemetery. The top one is from the grave of "Zvi the righteous, upright and lovely boy." On the bottom is the tombstone from the grave of Esther the daughter of Michael. Part of a verse from Proverbs (31:30) is visible in the photograph, "Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain."

has a long feature by archaeologist David Amit on the finds from the latest expedition to a medieval Jewish cemetery that was discovered in Armenia nearly a decade ago. Unfortunately, the article, entitled "Hebrew Gravestones in the Land of Ararat" is so far available only in Hebrew. The expedition was led by Professor Michael Stone, director of the Armenian Studies program at Hebrew University. The article itself details some of the findings from the various expeditions, and includes translations of a number of interesting tombstone inscriptions. The cemetery is located in Eghegis, in the Vayots Dzor Region, and it dates to the 13th century. The Jewish community that lived in the area appears to have come from Persia. For those who are interested, a full report by Stone and Amit appeared in the Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. 57, Issue 1 (2006).

The cemetery first came to the attention of the scholars from Jerusalem when they were contacted by the local Armenian Bishop Abraham Makartchian in 1997. Bishop Makartchian runs a summer camp in Eghegis for orphans who lost their parents during the long war with Azerbaijan. The young and energetic "Bishop in jeans," as Amit calls him, also graciously hosted the archaeologists.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Armenia Debates Sending Peacekeepers to Lebanon

Armenia is debating whether to send peacekeepers to Lebanon, after receiving an official invitation to join the UNIFIL mission there. Lebanon has a large Armenian community, and Lebanese Armenians are urging the country's participation in the peacekeeping mission. If the government decides to accept the invitation, it is likely that a small contingent of Armenian sappers would be involved in the clearing of mines and unexploded ordnance. According to Oskanian, there are still questions about the mandate and the location in which the troops would be serving, which need to be resolved before Armenia can commit.

On Wednesday, a Turkish reconnaissance team arrived in Lebanon. The Turkish parliament gave its overwhelming approval to a bill Turkey is expected to contribute up to 1,000 troops. However, the country has declared in advance that it will withdraw if its soldiers are asked to disarm Hizbullah. Turkish public opinion is largely opposed to the country's participation in the mission.

Shahan Kandakharyan, editor-in-chief of Azdak, the largest Armenian newspaper in Lebanon, has announced that Lebanese Armenians are opposed to Turkey's participation in the mission:

A country, which is a strategic and military partner of Israel and blocks Cyprus must not be admitted to Lebanon. Also a country, where human rights are violated and the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is denied cannot take part in settlemetn of the Middle East crisis,

he said (see full text of an interview with him).

Meanwhile, Germany has announced that it will contribute 2,400 airforce and navy servicemen to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. German defence minister Franz Josef Jung announced that the country's sailors and airmen, who will be patrolling the entire Lebanese coast, aboard two frigates, four patrol boats, two supply ships, a tender, and two helicopters, "will have the right to use force against vessels that show resistance." Chancellor Angela Merkel called the decision to participate "historic." However, Germany has refused to send ground forces to Lebanon, citing concerns that the country's Nazi past prevents it from putting troops in a situation where they might have to challenge Israeli soldiers. Israelis have generally welcomed the German participation, with some isolated opposition. However, a month ago, when debates about a new peacekeeping force had just begun, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany vehemently objected to the deployment of German troops in Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert previously expressed his strong support for a German role in the mission.

On ne plaisante pas avec les mots…

Sanction diplomatique pour abus de… vérité : c’est bien ce à quoi ressemble le rappel de l’ambassadeur des Etats-Unis en Arménie, John Evans, qui a quitté Erevan samedi dernier, un an avant la fin de sa mission. En avril dernier, peu avant la commémoration du 90ème anniversaire du génocide des Arméniens, le représentant de l’administration Bush avait dérogé à la loi de l’omission qui caractérise le discours politique américain sur cette question depuis des années.

Le funambulisme rhétorique de tous les Présidents américains au moment du 24 avril peut faire figure de certificat es acrobatie au cirque politique ; pour mémoire, rappelons simplement les contorsions du 24 avril dernier : « a terrible chapter of history" that "remains a source of pain for people in Armenia and for all those who believe in freedom, tolerance and the dignity and value of every human life." En utilisant le terme de génocide pour qualifier les massacres de 1915-1917, Evans a encouru les foudres de ses chefs, et en a payé les conséquences par l’abréviation de son mandat en Arménie. Il a eu beau, par la suite, tenter de minimiser le fait en expliquant qu’il donnait là son point de vue de particulier, forgé depuis deux ans par une connaissance plus approfondie de l’histoire du peuple arménien, rien n’y a fait. Justification maladroite peut-être, puisqu’elle mettait l’administration Bush devant une alternative soit peu flatteuse, si on choisit de lui accorder l’ignorance, soit franchement accusatrice, si on opte pour la mauvaise foi la plus totale face à des intérêts de puissance plutôt que d’humanité. Certes, dans l’un comme dans l’autre cas, l’administration Bush n’en serait pas à son coup d’essai…

Dernier rebondissement de l’affaire : la semaine dernière, le Sénat n’a pas pu faire approuver la nomination du bien-pensant Richard Hoagland en remplacement de John Evans, le sénateur Menendez ayant publiquement désavoué le refus des Etats-Unis de reconnaître le génocide arménien. Coup d’épée dans l’eau bien entendu puisque l’administration Bush a déjà tiré les conséquences de ce malheureux écart : maintenir la position américaine sur cette question gênante en prenant soin d’éliminer tout facteur de déviance dans le jugement …

The Jewish Composer of the Armenian People

Armenian Jewish Composer Willy Weiner

Yasha Levine, who frequently reports from Armenia for the Jewish Telegraph Agency, has written a fascinating feature article on the growing popularity of the composer Willy Weiner in the country. Weiner was born and raised in Armenia, which has a Jewish population numbering in the hundreds. After graduating as a violinist from the famous Yerevan Conservatory, he spent several years touring with Armenia's orchestras. In the late 1990s, Weiner moved to Israel with his two sisters and parents. However, he soon came back to Armenia, where he has, perhaps ironically, turned to music inspired by Jewish melodies and themes in recent years:
"I drew great inspiration from Israel, but I could not write music there,” Weiner told JTA. “When I was in Israel, I did not write a single note, but as soon as I came back to Armenia, the music began to flow.”
His first album, "Exodus," was released by an Armenian label in 2003. He rose to prominence in the country with a sold-out performance celebrating Armenia's 14 years of independence. That concert was fully supported by the Armenian government, as part of a cultural program called "Through Culture to Tolerance," which celebrated the contributions of Armenia's minorities to the country.

The article notes that "Armenia has always had a reputation for its lack of institutionalized anti-Semitism." Weiner's next album is called Halom (Dream), and is due to be released soon.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Jewish Senator Backs Recognition

Addendum: On Thursday, September 7, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination of Richard Hoagland as ambassador to Armenia. The vote was 13-5 with Democrats Paul Sarbanes (MD), Chris Dodd (CT), John Kerry (MA) and Barbara Boxer (CA) , and Republican Norm Coleman (MN) voting against.

The Forward reports that US senators from the Republican and Democratic Parties are threatening to block the confirmation of Richard Hoagland as ambassador to Armenia. Hoagland was designated as the successor to John Evans, fired last spring after giving a speech in which he used the term genocide to describe the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI. Hoagland, it turns out, has avoided acknowledging the extent of the massacres. Now, the bipartisan group of senators is challenging Hoagland's appointment in an effort to reverse the American policy of non-recognition.

The article notes that a number of Jewish organizations have traditionally opposed recognition bills, because of their fear that such resolutions would damage US and Israeli relations with Turkey, an important strategic ally for both countries. There is a chilling quotation from a member of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA), a Jewish-American thinktank, to the effect that
The Jewish lobby has quite actively supported Turkey in their efforts to prevent the so-called Armenian genocide resolution from passing.
Interestingly enough, that same group has recently ceased opposition recognition because of Turkey's recent criticism of Israel and lack of cooperation with the United States. This bodes well for recognition efforts.

Furthermore, Norm Coleman, a Republican Jewish senator is among those opposing to the Hoagland appointment and making recognition a key issue:

Coleman, one of the GOP’s two Jewish senators, has emerged as an outspoken advocate of changing American policy on the issue. He has said that he will continue to oppose Hoagland’s nomination in protest of the government’s unwillingness to recognize the Armenian genocide.

“I continue to be deeply troubled by the United States refusal to recognize the historically documented mass killings of Armenians in 1915 as ‘genocide,’” Coleman said in a statement released in early August. “As someone of the Jewish faith, I bring great sensitivity to the issue of recognizing the reality of genocide.”

Coleman’s view is reflective of a belief, held by many in the community, that Jews have an ethical obligation to recognize another ethnic group’s genocide. Others take a more pragmatic approach, placing Israel’s strategic interest over other moral considerations.

I am hoping that Coleman's efforts will signal a penetration of the support for recognition among most American Jews into the thinktanks and lobby groups, who have so far shown themselves to be myopically "strategic" (or immoral) in their thinking . My own experience indicates that the grassroots simply do not accept the excuses of the foreign policy experts.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The First International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide in 1982 – From the Family "Archive"

The two Clippings from Ha'aretz, June 25.1982

Twenty-four years ago, my mother somehow found the time to clip and annotate the article and letter to the editor above from the June 25, 1982 edition of Ha’aretz, in between taking care of three very young and unruly children – my twin-brother and I had just turned two, my sister was only four months old. My parents and I discovered the clippings by chance today while looking through an old book in the house.

(For those who are interested in details – the book was Haim Rabin’s עיקרי תולדות הלשון העברית, The Fundamentals of the History of the Hebrew Language).

I’ve decided to translate the letters here, because they concern a historical event of great relevance to this blog. That event, the First International Conference on the Shoah and Genocide was supposed to have taken place at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Yitzhak Arad, then director of Yad Vashem, Gideon Hausner, the attorney general of Israel who prosecuted Eichmann, and Elie Wiesel, were all set to speak. Overall, 150 lectures were to be held, six of them on the Armenian Genocide. But after Turkish pressure on Israel, and, as a result, heavy pressure exerted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on conference organizers and participants, the conference was held in Tel Aviv with only 300 out of the original 600 researchers participating. Important institutions and individuals withdrew their backing of the event, including Yad Vashem (Yair Auron, The Banality of Denial, 217-219). Paradoxically enough, however, the controversy surrounding the conference actually drew attention to the recognition cause, especially since the lectures on the Armenian Genocide were in fact delivered (Auron, Banality of Indifference, 354).

TOP DOCUMENT: “Limited Participation at the International Conference on the Shoah and Genocide” (JUNE 25, 1982)

"Following the complaint by Turkey, there are fears that Jews [in Turkey] would be harmed if the subject of the Armenian Shoah is discussed"
By Yehudit Winkler, Ha’aretz Writer

The International Conference on the Shoah and Genocide opened on Monday at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv without Elie Wiesel and on a smaller scale than anticipated by its organizers after the Foreign Ministry exerted heavy pressure to cancel the conference.

The opposition by the Foreign Ministry escalated due to fears that essential national interests and perhaps also Jewish communities abroad would be harmed because one of the subjects of discussion at the conference is the Armenian shoah [sic] of 1915. The government of Turkey protested about this to the Foreign Ministry and raised the concern that Jewish communities might be hurt.

The writer Elie Wiesel, who was supposed to have been the keynote speaker at the conference, announced his resignation, at the same time as he emphasized his identification with the goals of the conference which he helped plan. He said that he could not go against any request from the state of Israel if behind it stood the possibility of any danger whatsoever to the lives of Jews. Mr. Wiesel requested that the conference be held abroad.

Conference organizers estimated that only 500 people (half of the expected number)would take part. The organizers reported that cancellations by participants were substantial among Israeli scholars as well as researchers from abroad, and that the pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry was leaving its mark on the scale of the conference, although the program content had not changed.

Over the four days of the conference, lectures and seminar discussions will take place on different aspects of genocide.

BOTTOM DOCUMENT: Letter to the Editor, “Conspiracy of Silence”

The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel proclaims that the government guarantees “freedom of religion, conscience, education, and culture.” The international conference taking place now (in the Tel Aviv Hilton) on the Shoah and genocide with the aim of understanding of, intervention in, and prevention of genocide, was planned by a group of devoted people and fits the spirit of that declaration cited above perfectly.

During the planning process which began three years ago, it came to the Turkish government’s attention that the Armenian genocide would also be discussed at the conference. We are overcome with feelings of horror and incredulity that the government of Israel bowed to the

Turkish pressure not to support and not to formally recognize this conference. In addition to this, the Israeli government influenced many prominent personalities known the world over, who are connected to research on the Shoah, to prevent their participation in and support of the conference.

The undersigned express their outrage and anguish, and are very concerned by this development, which reminds us of the conspiracy of silence that begot the Shoah. This development fundamentally contradicts the essential principles on which this country was founded.

Leni Fortes and 26 signatories
Kfar Saba

Note on the Translation of Some Key Terms

The Hebrew word שואה (shoah) literally means “disaster” or “holocaust.” Like the latter English word, it has come to refer to the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis and their allies during WWII. The English word is usually capitalized to make that meaning clear. However, the Hebrew word Shoah has also entered the English language. The reasons for this are complicated and merit a separate post.

What struck me in the 1982 article was how the writer employed the Hebrew word shoah. In English, Shoah (capitalized) usually refers exclusively to the genocide of the Jews. It has thus been criticized by a number of scholars for its exclusivity, as well as on other grounds. Interestingly enough, however, as the top article shows, Hebrew-speakers use the word to denote other genocides as well. Thus, the first article matter-of-factly refers to the “Armenian shoah,” despite the fact that a Hebrew word for genocide exists. That word, רצח עם, literally means “murder of a people” (i.e., genocide – a word which combines a Greek and a Latin derivative). Perhaps the closest parallel is the German “Völkermord.” The title of the conference in Hebrew uses both the word shoah as well as the word for genocide. In English, it has often been translated as the conference on “the Holocaust and genocide.” But the writer above interpreted the two words as synonyms. The writer of the letter uses a different Hebrew term, השמד עם, which literally translated means “extermination of a people.”


The government of Turkey as well as representatives of Turkish Jewry denied that there had been any threats against the country’s Jewish community. But Auron cites Monroe H. Freedman, a counselor for the US Holocaust Memorial Council, who told the NYT that a Turkish diplomat had threatened the safety of Jews in Turkey as well as the country’s withdrawal from NATO if the fate of Armenians was included in the proposed Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC (The Banality of Denial, 221).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Iranian President Ahmadinejad Continues Denial of Holocaust

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in China (Reuters)

After a meeting with the president of China, Ahmadinejad called for an "impartial" investigation of the Holocaust, AP reports. His rationale:

An event that has influenced so many diplomatic and political equations of the world needs to be investigated and researched by impartial and independent groups.

Many in the West will dismiss this as yet another manifestation of the Iranian president's lunacy. But there are plenty of people across the globe who are only too willing to believe the implict claims that 1) the Holocaust has been concocted by Jewish or pro-Jewish groups, and that 2) that "the Jews" have used this "myth" to advance certain political claims.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Recent Books on Responses to the Armenian Genocide

Robert Melson has a review essay in the last issue of Holocaust and Genocide Studies (2006: 20 (1), pp. 103-111) on four books published in the last few years that deal with international responses to the Armenian genocide. The works reviewed are:

  • Yair Auron, The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide (New Brunswick, NJ, 2005)

  • Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (New York, 2003)

  • Arman J. Kirakossian, ed., The Armenian Massacres, 1894–1896: U.S. Media Testimony (Detroit, 2004)

  • Gordon and Diana Severance, Against the Gates of Hell: The Life & Times of Henry Perry, a Christian Missionary in a Moslem World (Lanham, MD, 2003)

  • Jay Winter, ed., America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (Cambridge, 2004)

  • Noting that "the literature on the Armenian Genocide is quite extensive and growing" with works having been published on the 1894-1896 massacres, origins of the 1915–1923 genocide, the role of the great powers, memories of the survivors, the post-WWI Armenian Republic, the parallels to the Shoah, and the denial by the Turkish government and its advocates, Melson remarks that these four books shift the focus to "the role of the bystander," in particular the US, but also the yishuv and the state of Israel.

    In fact, Yair Auron's latest book, unlike his earlier work, is not about the yishuv's reactions to the genocide but about the role of the memory of the genocide in Israeli society and state policy. Thus, it seems to me the odd man out in this review, as it is the one book that does not deal at all with the response of contemporaries to the actual events of the genocide but only with issues of memory and recognition in the post-1948 history of the country. A significant part of Balakian's book, too, however is devoted to the post-war aftermath of the Armenian genocide in American politics.

    The category of the "bystander" has long been recognized in the historiography on the Shoah. As Saul Friedlander has observed, since its beginnings, the field has been dominated by a basic division into histories of perpetrators, bystanders, and victims (see Friedlander, "The Holocaust," Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, p 412). In recent years, the categories of perpetrator and bystander have increasingly coalesced - perhaps Jan Gross's Neighbors, on the massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne by Poles from the town, is a good example of that.

    A fair amount of debate has also taken place on a very different kind of bystander than the one to which Melson and the authors above refer. Scholars have examined Allied, and, particularly American, inaction in the face of reports from Europe. (It is interesting to note in this context that the two figures most persistent in urging the US to stop both genocides were Henry Morgenthau, Sr., the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during WWI, and his son, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Secretary of the Treasury during WWII). In fact, the debate on America's "failure to bomb Auschwitz" is still not over - a number of prominent Holocaust and military historians have sought to contextualize and explain the US's reluctance to bomb the trains and camps (see Edward T. Linenthal's discussion of the debate in Preserving Memory, pp.220-223).

    Auron's and Balkian's works are the most critical of their subjects. Their works have a moral, prophetic function in the present - alerting us to our responsibilities to shake off indifference about the fates of others. However, we ought to be wary of those who would seek to take the argument even further by coalescing the categories of perpetrator and bystander too much. It is important to criticize America and Israel (as well as many other states) for failing to recognize the Armenian genocide; it is, however, dishonest to make them as complicit in it as the actual perpetrators. America, and certainly not the tiny yishuv in Palestine, cannot even be compared to the "bystanders" who assisted the Nazis in deporting European Jewish communities or those who beat, raped, killed, and expropriated deported Armenians.

    The most important question raised by these works is not one of moral complicity but of moral endurance. As Melson asks in his conclusion,
    How can the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world community ever hope to prevent genocidal mass-murder in the future and to bring perpetrators to justice, when they do not even have the moral fiber to affirm the facts of the Armenian Genocide, a crime under international law, that occurred over ninety years ago?

    Saturday, June 10, 2006

    The Suffering of Others

    Profs. Israel Charny (left) and Yair Auron (right)

    Last Monday (June 5, 2006), the Open University in Israel sponsored a one-day seminar titled קורבנות אחרים [Other Victims] that included addresses by Professors Israel Charny (ישראל טשרני) and Yair Auron (יאיר אורון). As the title of the colloquium suggests, the seminar was meant to correct a lacuna in Israeli education and research. Neither the universities nor the schools are teaching Israelis enough about acts of genocide other than the Shoah (Ha'aretz Hebrew; Ha'aretz English).

    Even with respect to the Holocaust, a study conducted by researchers Eyal Naveh and Esther Yogev in 1996, with a sample of 800 Israeli students, revealed that some 85% had minimal knowledge of the Nazis' murder of the Roma ("gypsies") during World War Two. Furthermore, surveys conducted from 1996-2004 among participants in an elective course on genocide showed that 85-90% of the students admitted knowing "very little" about both the murder of the Roma by the Nazis during the Second World War, and the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey beginning in 1915.

    For many Jews in Israel and the diaspora, comparisons of other genocides with the Shoah remain a source of discomfort, in part because such comparisons have sometimes been carried out in an attempt to relativize the destruction of European Jewry during WWII, as during the Historikerstreit ("historians' controversy") in Germany during the 1980s. But at times the effect of insisting on the "uniqueness" of the Shoah has blinded us to the suffering of others. It must be especially painful to Armenians to see so little awareness among Jews about the Armenian genocide. Worse, due to the same geopolitical considerations (Turkey) driving American policy, the State of Israel does not officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Charny and Auron have been at the forefront of raising awareness of the Armenian genocide in Israel - as well as about genocide more generally.

    As the title of Auron's book suggests, genocide is defined not only by the "banality of evil" (Hannah Arendt) but also by the "banality of indifference." Preventing genocide thus requires being open to the pain of others and opening the memory of "our" tragedies to "their" suffering.

    Both Israel Charny and Yair Auron are pioneers in the study of genocide in Israel. Charny is the director of Israel's Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, the editor of the excellent two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide (1999), and the author of many other works. Auron, a lecturer at the Open University, where he teaches courses on genocide, is best-known for two important books dealing with the Armenian genocide, both of which have been translated into English. The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide (2001) examines the reactions of the yishuv, the pre-1948 (i.e., pre-state) Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael (Palestine), to the Armenian genocide - reactions that ranged from callous indifference to attempts to actively aid the victims. His more recent book, The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide (2002), deals with the role of the Armenian genocide in Israeli society and politics from the creation of the state until the present - reviews to follow. In an interview with Shahar Ilan of Ha'aretz, Auron, quoting genocide researchers, called denial "the final stage of genocide."

    The colloquium also marked the publication of two new books, in Hebrew, as part of the university's Genocide series. I have not been able to confirm the full titles of both books, but one, edited by Auron, is called "מחשבות על הבלתי נתפס" (Thoughts about the Inconceivable), and the other is edited by Gilad Margalit of Haifa University.

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006

    Welcome - Բարի Եկաք - Bienvenue - ברוכים הבאים

    The symbolic birthday of this blog is April 24, 2006. Since 1965, people around the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide on that day. In 2006, Yom ha-Shoah, the remembrance day for the Holocaust, which is observed on the Hebrew calendar date of Nisan 27, fell on April 25. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for Armenians and Jews in the diaspora to cooperate in ceremonies to mourn the victims of the past and to stand united against genocide today. Not much of the sort occurred; rather, we were struck by the lack of mutual acknowledgement.

    There is another front on which one would expect Armenians and Jews to be natural allies: the struggle against the ongoing denial of genocide. Unfortunately, here, too, we have let ourselves become divided. This forum is an effort to rectify the present set of circumstances by bringing together news and analysis, individuals and organizations from the diasporas, Armenia, and Israel to work on our common concerns.

    The name of this blog is a composite of the Armenian word genats (Կենաց) and the Hebrew expression le-hayim (לחיים). Both words are used to preface toasts, and both literally mean “to life.”

    Amos and Taline