Friday, October 12, 2007

Turkey "Baffled" by Lantos

The Turkish Daily News reports that Ankara is "baffled by [Democratic Congressman Tom] Lantos's vote" to approve the Armenian genocide resolution for a floor vote in the House. The source of the confusion? According to the newspaper's unnamed Washington sources, "Israel had been lobbying against the resolution's passage." Since the longtime House representative and chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs "is one of Israel's strongest supporters in Washington," he was, so the logic goes, expected to vote against the resolution. Ankara has continued to warn American Jewish groups that their support for recognition would damage Turkey's relationship with Israel.

Brian Ardouny of the Armenian Assembly of America expressed his gratitude to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for supporting the resolution in the face of pressure from the White House.

Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America called the adoption of the resolution by the House Committee a "meaningful step toward reclaiming our right, as Americans, to speak openly and honestly about the first genocide of the 20th century."

At the risk of sounding pedantic: the Armenian Genocide was not the "first genocide" of the 20th century. This statement is unfortunately repeated unthinkingly by many people working toward the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. I don't really understand why it is necessary to claim any sort of primacy (does it make the tragedy worse?), but if one is going to do so, there is at least one earlier case - the genocide of the Herero and Nama in South-West Africa by German colonial troops between 1904 and 1907.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy hails vote on resolution

The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy, the most prominent Armenian lobby in the European Parliament has just issued a press release (only in French for the moment) hailing the Foreign Affairs Committee vote. The Federation expresses gratitude to all forces that voiced support for the passing of the resolution:
hundreds of American activists, human rights organizations, from various religious backgrounds, representatives of various minority groups [...] Of particular importance is the support of Jewish organizations, that did not withdraw their support in spite of recent threats to the Turkish Jewish community by Mr Babacan, chief negotiator for Turkish accession to the European Union."
On the diplomatic front, Erdogan, in a bold but not unusual move, has just required from his AKP party, to vote the invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan by Turkish troops. Clearly, Turkey is blackmailing the United States and thus raises the pressure quite high.

Archbishop Aris Shirvanian: "The Road to the Recognition of our Catastrophe Starts in Jerusalem"

There is an interesting article by Anshel Pfeffer in Ha'aretz, so far only available in Hebrew, that features the Armenian Archbishop in Jerusalem, Aris Shirvanian. Subtitled, "The Armenians are close to a historic achievement," the article describes the efforts by Turkey as well as by Armenians to win the support of Israel and Jewish groups in their opposed efforts. The piece, which appeared with a big picture of Shirvanian on the frontpage of the online edition, comes in the wake of the vote by the Committee on Foreign Relations to put House resolution 106 before Congress, described by Taline below.

The archbishop is quoted as saying that,
Not only the Turks believe that the road to Washington goes through Jerusalem.
According to Shirvanian,
on the day when Israel changes its policy and recognizes the Armenian genocide, the US, too, will move." Pfeffer remarks dryly that "the belief in the almost mystical power of Israel and the Jewish lobby to determine votes in Washington is probably the only thing that the Turks and Armenians share in their historical fight over recognition of the Armenian Holocaust [ba-shoah ha-armenit].
According to Pfeffer, the Turks are doing their utmost to persuade the Israelis to exert more pressure on American Jewish organizations. Apparently, Turkey is afraid that Jewish and Armenian organizations are now cooperating to ensure that the resolution passes.

As I have argued previously, there is something very dangerous about the manner in which some Israeli statesmen are playing with the Turks. Yossi Sarid, of the leftist Meretz Party, who as a minister of education under Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, promised that "he will do everything in order that Israeli children learn and know about the Armenian Genocide," points to President Shimon Peres as a prime culprit. Back in 2000, Peres, then Barak's Foreign Minister, flew to Ankara in the wake of Sarid's comments and assured the Turks of the standard lie, that "a tragedy" happened to the Armenians but not genocide. Today, Yossi Sarid says, Peres, among others, continues to support the "demonic image from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that we [i.e., the Jews] rule the world and that if you want something from America, you should come to us."

According to Pfeffer, during his visit to Jerusalem, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was able to obtain an assurance from Peres to support Turkey's goal of establishing a joint Turkish-Armenian historical commission to study "the issue." Prof. Yair Auron, long active in the recognition cause in Israel, points out the obvious: that such a commission is a deliberate attempt to obscure the truth. As Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee told the Jerusalem Post, such a request
is about as sincere as the Iranian government saying they need to revisit the Holocaust.
Pfeffer's article also finally elucidated the connection of Israeli Meretz parliamentarian Haim Auron to Prof. Yair Auron; the two are brothers. If you recall, MK Haim Auron (also, Oron) appeared previously on this blog after he tried to place recognition of the Armenian genocide on the agenda of the Knesset.

Passera - passera pas?

Alors que le gouvernement américain continue à jouer au chat et à la souris avec le génocide arménien, la résolution a été adoptée à 27 voix contre 21 par le Comité des Affaires étrangères. Reste l'approbation du Congrès à obtenir. Ne nous réjouissons pas trop vite cependant, ce n'est pas la première fois qu'on arriverait près du but pour le voir se dérober sous nos pieds à la dernière minute. Et avec le Président Bush qui a exprimé deux fois dans ces derniers jours son opposition au texte, les craintes peuvent être fortes à bon droit.
A noter aussi l'écho journalistique rendu de l'événement: ce matin à 8h, France Info annonçait simplement qu' une résolution reconnaissant le génocide des Arméniens avait passé la première étape aux Etats-Unis et que les autorités turques qualifiaient le texte d'inacceptable. Une heure plus tard, l'annonce ciblait l'indignation des autorités turques face à la résolution. Et il y a une demi heure, le journaliste disait: "les relations turco-américaines mises en péril par un texte de loi". Cela en dit long sur la manière dont on veut présenter ce qui se passe. Et comme aucun courant d'opinion n'est mobilisé sur la question, il y a fort à parier que cela ne retiendra l'attention de personne.

A titre d'illustration de la conscience morale des peuples, je mets ici le lien vers le discours d'ouverture de Lantos au Comité des Affaires étrangères d'hier.

Selon lui le dilemme moral se réduit à deux termes incompatibles: d'un côté "témoigner la solidarité envers le peuple arménien" en qualifiant de génocide ce qui s'est passé en 1915 et de l'autre mettre en péril la vie des citoyens américains qui servent aujourd'hui en Irak et qui courraient un danger bien plus important si les relations turco-américaines se dégradaient au point d'empêcher aux Américains l'usage de la base militaire turque. D'un côté un simple mot donc, et une accolade dans le dos en signe de solidarité, de l'autre des périls bien concrets, bien réels, d'ici et maintenant. C'est cela qu'il appelle "un vote de conscience".
Tout est bon pour rejeter la responsabilité que le gouvernement américain a d'avoir décidé d'envoyer et de maintenir ses soldats en Irak. Pour moi ce serait plutôt cela, le vote de conscience.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Welcome to Turkey

Here is a poster you can see in some Turkish airports (this one is at the Bodrum airport) . So that one knows the "truth" on arriving, or does not forget it on leaving...

The famous academic authority invoked in the poster, Turkaya Atayov, holds a large record in denial, having authored numerous books presenting the various Turkish explanations of 1915 (as it evolved over time between the 1970's and the 1990's) and sponsored by Turkish state universities.

No further comment needed.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Outgoing Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Denies Genocide

Pinhas Avivi, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Turkey, told the Turkish Daily News that while "a lot of people see what happened during the events of 1915 as a tragedy," "there is a great difference accepting it as genocide." According to Avivi, "genocide is a decision by a government to destroy a people" and “never ever has anybody proved that this was the situation in 1915.”

Given Israeli policy on the issue, there is nothing surprising about the substance of this proclamation. The frankness with which the ambassador distorts history, however, is rather embarrassing. American diplomats at least use circumlocutions (if they don't, they get fired) when they deny that "the events of 1915" constituted genocide.

It is clear that the Israelis are doing their utmost to reassure Ankara of their friendship. The Turks, on the other hand, continue to show signs of frustration and disappointment, blaming Israel for the momentous shift in policy on Armenian Genocide recognition by the ADL. At the same time, they are eager to hear some approval for their position. In the background loom the nearly $10 billion in bilateral trade and joint economic ventures between the countries, the entrenchment of the Islamist AKP in power with the recent election of Abdullah Gul to the presidency, and Israel's concerns about Turkey's Iran-policy. It is perhaps with these factors in mind, that we should read Avivi's responses to the Turkish journalist's query about the ADL controversy.

Clearly, Israeli diplomats are playing a complicated game with the Turks. While Ankara plays the rejected lover, the Israelis claim that they are being faithful. As part of this charade, Israeli officials up to President Shimon Peres are promising the Turks to "keep an eye on it" - in order to make sure that other Jewish organizations do not announce similar shifts in policy. Avivi even claims that "the impression we got from different Jewish organizations in Washington is that, the ADL's approach is not seen as the right approach." Given that the American Jewish Committee followed the ADL's shift in policy, I am not sure where this impression is coming from. Are the Turks buying the bull that Israel is feeding them?

I have to wonder, too, whether Avivi's efforts to kiss up to the Turkish public were entirely successful. Asked by Barçın YİNANÇ about antisemitism in Turkey, the ambassador says that he believes it is "weak" in Turkey:
On the governmental level, and as far as 90 percent of the newspapers are concerned, apart from the newspaper Vakit and one or two journalists, I never felt it (Turkish Daily News).
Reassured, the journalist notes that, "For some countries, it's such an issue that it requires the Israeli government to step in. Avivi tells him that “Anti-Semitism has never been an issue for us to be taken up on official level." The journalist, however, reminds Avivi of "false news report that Israel was reportedly buying land in Turkey" and "that conspiracy theories based on Zionism are quiet widespread." Aviv acknowledges that the embassy could have done more to reach out to ordinary people.

I have a hard time believing that there is less antisemitism in Turkey than in France or Germany, where Israeli government officials do not shy away from expressing fears about resurgent anti-Jewish expressions by the public.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Turkey Demands ADL Retract Position Shift

The Turkish ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, announced last Sunday that Turkey expects Israel to compel American Jewish organizations to retract their recent public recognition of the Armenian Genocide:
Israel should not let the [US] Jewish community change its position. This is our expectation and this is highly important, highly important" (Jerusalem Post).
According to the Jerusalem Post, the ambassador refused to accept protests by Israeli government officials that they do not control the policy of American Jewish organizations.

In the meantime, the Turkish Daily News claims that Israeli President Shimon Peres has pledged to ask the ADL to reverse its position. I would not put too much stock in this. Any promises that Israeli officials make on this matter are worthless. Neither Peres nor anyone else can effect a reversal by the ADL at this point.

The question is whether the Turks know this and merely want to force Israel not to follow suit (it will not), or whether they truly believe that Israel can "deliver" American Jewish organizations. I realize that the latter is a popular belief, including among some Armenian activists who have long criticized the role of American Jewish organizations in thwarting Congressional recognition resolutions. But anyone who thinks that this is how things work has a very flawed understanding of the American political system of which Jewish organizations are an integral part.

Neither the Anti-Defamation League nor the American Jewish Committee take orders from Israel. As hard as it is to persuade otherwise those convinced that these groups are part of an international "Zionist cabal," I think that this latest episode demonstrates just how costly it can be to believe the yarns about Jewish power and conspiracies. I would maintain that diplomats would do better to understand that American Jewish organizations pursue what they perceive to be the interests of America and the Jewish community (in the U.S., Israel, and elsewhere in the world), all as part of a universalist commitment to defending human rights and combating discrimination. Inevitably, there are conflicts about the balance to be struck between these various aims.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Turkey Expresses "Anger and Disappointment"

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül (Photo: Wikipedia)

Citing sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Ha'aretz reports that Turkey is pressuring Israel to compel American Jewish organizations to reverse their recognition of the Armenian Genocide. So far, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, perhaps the two most recognizable Jewish political organizations in the U.S., have publicly declared that the events of 1915 constituted genocide. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül expressed disappointment that Israel had not done anything to prevent these declarations, and talks between the Pinhas Avivi, the Israeli ambassador in Ankara, and Gül escalated to "unpleasant tones" [טונים צורמים] (Ha'aretz Hebrew).

The report is rather incredible, and reveals the bizarre spell that the phenomenon of Jewish diplomacy continues to exert on supposedly rational actors in the international state system. It appears that the Turkish Foreign Ministry truly believes in the existence of a cabal that initiates and enforces policies for all of world Jewry. The State of Israel now plays the role once attributed to the Rothschilds. I have always thought of Turkish diplomacy with respect to the denial of the Armenian Genocide as rather clever. Now it turns out that one of its guiding assumptions seems to have been the belief that American Jewish organizations take their marching orders from Jerusalem. I know that this thesis is popular among certain groups in the U.S. and elsewhere as well; the believers will hardly be persuaded by evidence to the contrary. The Turkish Foreign Ministry would do well to study the role played by Jewish groups in the American political system as well as the views of U.S. Jews on foreign and domestic policy, without the blinders of stereotypes about Jewish conspiracies.

The impact that the recognition decision of the ADL as well as the (characteristically) quieter AJC has made is astounding. In Turkey, government officials apparently "admitted that the ADL's shift in position was a setback for Ankara" (Turkish Daily News). Somehow, vast powers have been attributed to these Jewish organizations in the fight for and against House resolution 106, which would have the U.S. officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Cross-posted from Kishkushim.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

AJC Executive Director David Harris Recognizes Armenian Genocide

After Foxman's statement, the American Jewish Committee, arguably the most prestigious organization representing U.S. Jewry on the national as well as international stage, for the first time recognized the killings of Armenians during WWI as genocide:
At the same time, I cannot escape the events of 1915 and the conclusions reached by credible voices, from Ambassador Morgenthau to Harvard professor Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell: American and the Age of Genocide, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, about the nature of what took place: it was a genocide, they determined, albeit one that occurred more than thirty years before the term was coined (see full press release).
This is a huge development whose significance cannot be overstated. It marks a major policy shift for the organization. To think that all this started from the controversy in Watertown is actually deeply inspiring. Truth and justice have triumphed over realpolitik.

It remains to be seen what the fallout will be for relations between American Jewish organizations and Turkey. To be sure, Turkish diplomacy has been dealt a serious blow. With the issue having taken center stage, neither the ADL nor AJC could any longer afford to take a "neutral" or strategic position.

Thanks to R. for the link.

Foxman Recognizes Armenian Genocide

Perhaps my cautious optimism below was not unfounded. Today, the ADL released a press statement, in which Abe Foxman called the massacres of Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman empire "genocide":
We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.
The ADL did, however, maintain its line that a Congressional resolution is "counterproductive."
Nevertheless, this is a very welcome development. I dare say that the whole affair has vindicated the recognition cause and that the prospects for a resolution passing are now better than ever.

Thanks to Peggy for the link.

Monday, August 20, 2007

ADL Continues to Stumble

Throughout this week, an "Open Letter to the New England Community" will appear as a paid advertisement in various newspapers in the region. The advertisement is an attempt by the national ADL to justify its ongoing position of "neutrality" on U.S. House resolution 106. As R., who brought this to my attention, points out, the document smacks of inconsistency and poor logic. I was flabbergasted, for example, upon reading this paragraph:
We believe that legislative efforts outside of Turkey are counterproductive to the goal of having Turkey itself come to grips with its past. We take no position on what action Congress should take on House Resolution 106. The Jewish community in Turkey has clearly expressed to us and other major American Jewish organizations its concerns about the impact of Congressional action on them, and we cannot ignore those concerns. We are also keenly aware that Turkey is a key strategic ally and friend of the United States and a staunch friend of Israel, and that in the struggle between Islamic extremists and moderate Islam, Turkey is the most critical country in the world.
The first sentence is a staple of those who oppose the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as genocide by foreign governments. I'm not at all convinced by this claim.

Yes, recognition resolutions may make large sectors of the Turkish population more intransigent on this issue, but how has inaction on this front helped matters? If anything, we have ample evidence from the past 9 decades proving that neutrality by foreign powers on this question has actually increased the strength of the denialist camp. Several generations of Turks have grown up reared on textbooks and popular mythologies that deny not just the genocide but massacres of Armenians in toto.

Furthermore, it seems rather unfair to extend this kind of courtesy to Turkey, while frustrating the aims of Armenians and non-Armenians who want recognition of this genocide. Isn't the continued frustration of attempts to achieve recognition also counter-productive to these people's attempts to come to terms with their past?

The second sentence of this paragraph, which claims that the ADL "takes no position" on H.R. 106 strikes me, with all due respect, as a blatant lie. If the ADL is indeed "neutral" on this matter, why does the same paragraph invoke fears about the safety of Turkey's Jewish community, as well as Turkey's importance as a strategic ally?

I sympathize with the fears of the Turkey's Jews as much as I sympathize with the anxieties of some Armenians living in Turkey, who have also expressed opposition to genocide recognition resolutions abroad. But the kind of argument that is being made here is extortion pure and simple. It reminds me of some of the claims made by early-19th-century German legislators who refused to grant civic emancipation to Jews in their territories because they believed this would lead to attacks against Jewish people by the hostile population. Turkey is responsible for the safety of its citizens - it is a modern state with all the powers of an advanced security apparatus at its disposal.

I do agree with the ADL that it
is regrettable that such an important program as ADL’s No Place for Hate® Program, which provides a framework for fighting hatred and bigotry while increasing diversity awareness and fostering respect, has been mired in a controversy having nothing to do with the program.
But the ADL knows very well that if an educational program had been launched by a group that it perceived as hurtful, it would do everything possible to shut it down, no matter how beneficial it may have been to the community. If large segments of the population in New England find the position taken by a sponsor of a program on a certain issue to be objectionable, they have the right to oppose the program too. NGOs do not have immunity from public pressure.

I do have a question for my perpetually pessimistic friends. Is there not some grounds for optimism when one reads the following line?
We will continue to work to convince Turkey to pursue recognition and reconciliation, and we will seek ways to encourage this process [emphasis added].

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Anti-Defamation League in Hot Water over Armenian Genocide

A Jewcy Banner in a petition that calls on the ADL to recognize the Armenian Genocide

The municipal council of Watertown, Massachusetts, which together with Glendale, California is one of the major Armenian centers in the U.S., last Tuesday voted unanimously to pull out of the "No Place for Hate" tolerance-education program. The reason? The program is funded by the Anti-Defamation League, whose national board, the council alleges, has not been forthright in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Among other developments, the controversy has led to the firing of the New England Regional Director of the ADL, Andrew Tarsy, after he defied the national leadership of the organization and called on it to refer to the killing of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Now, some people are hoping that the scandal will lead to the "implosion" of the Anti-Defamation League and the sacking of its controversial leader, Abe Foxman.

One of the people who has been leading the campaign against the ADL is Joey Kurtzman over at Jewcy, who in a July post, Fire Foxman, "broke the news" of a February 2007 meeting between Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul and American-Jewish organizations, at which the latter allegedly agreed to oppose a House bill that would recognize the Armenian Genocide. For some thoughts on this meeting, see my post, "Recognizing the Armenian Genocide: Another Round."

I have very little sympathy for some of Kurtzman's other aims, which apparently include "the end of the Jewish people." Unlike Kurtzman, I hardly think the ADL is redundant. And while I can imagine how gratifying it is for a spunky, young Heeb to bash someone like Abe Foxman, I wish Kurtzman could have spared us the self-righteous universalist moralizing. Furthermore, Kurtzman's polemics against the ADL's anti-Mel Gibson campaign are a scandal, as is his pooh-pooing of antisemitism.

Nevertheless, I say mabrouk to the man for his spirited coverage of the Watertown-ADL controversy. To me, the whole episode illustrates something that I have repeated like a broken record on this blog: the American Jewish grassroots overwhelmingly support U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It's too bad that an excellent program, the ADL's "No Place for Hate," ended up being cut to send a message.

It is clear that there is a split between the grassroots and local leaders on one hand and the diplomatic activity of the larger organizations on the other. The directors are thinking geopolitics. When the Turkish foreign minister invites them to make a pitch for action against an Armenian Genocide resolution by Congress, they are not going to tell him "no" to his face, especially when he joins his plea to the status of the Jewish community in Turkey and to Turkish-Israeli as well as Turkish-American relations. The foreign policy departments of the premier American Jewish diplomatic organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, are focused on the Middle East today; they are doing everything they can to keep Turkey on America's side, and at least somewhat close to Israel. The question is whether historical truth, moral integrity, and diaspora Armenians should all suffer for the pursuit of these interests.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Second Armenian Church to be Turned into a Museum in Turkey, Or How to Keep Falsifying History with European Funding and Approval

According to PanArmenianNet, an Armenian church in the Edremir district of Van is being reconstructed with European funding. As for the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island a few months ago, this church should be turned into a museum. No doubt, like for the Holy Cross, there will be no mention whatsoever of how this church came to be deserted, when and why. Nor why the church was left abandoned for so many decades. As a perfectly politically healthy place in Turkey, the museum will show the Turkish account of Armenian's presence in Van.

Monday, August 06, 2007

How Not to Help the Cause of Recognition

Apparently, some people in Glendale thought it was a good idea to invite a conspiracy theorist, who calls himself a historian and claims "Jewish descent," to give a lecture on the "Jewish Genocide of Armenian Christians." Christopher Jon Bjerknes (interesting first name for a Jew), whose previous contributions to historical scholarship include a work alleging that Albert Einstein plagiarized some of his most important discoveries, now accuses "doenmeh" (crypto-Jews living in Turkey) and Zionists of having been behind the 1915 genocide.

Could anyone tell me who Rev. Bedroj Hajian is and why he would honor this certified antisemite with an interview?

I'm sure that the appeal for these ideas is rather limited, but it does worry me that some people are going one step further with the notion that Jews especially have been behind blocking recognition efforts.

Warning: the above link to this lunatic's book contains racist slander.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Donald Bloxham Winner of the Lemkin Award for his Book on the Armenian Genocide

Donald Bloxham has received the 2007 Raphael Lemkin Award for his book The Great Game of Genocide Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. I got acquainted with this work back in Berkeley last year, by my friend Amos. Bloxham's study adds an important piece to the historical inquiry about the Armenian genocide, with rich insights on European and American interests in the Ottoman Empire from the end of the 19th century until after the war.

Raphael Lemkin
was an international lawyer who coined the word "genocide."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Yom ha-Shoah

Emmanuel Ringelblum ז"ל

Today, Jews in Israel and in the diaspora commemorate the millions who were murdered by the Nazis and their allies in the Second World War. In the United States, many synagogues and Jewish community centers will hold remembrance ceremonies and lectures tonight. In Israel, an official commemoration ceremony is held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. At 10 am on Monday, a siren sounded for two minutes, and people stood silently to mark the day.

Yom ha-Shoah is usually observed on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Because that day fell on a Sunday this year, which means that the day of mourning would have begun Saturday night just before the conclusion of the Sabbath (in Jewish tradition, a day begins on the evening before), the observance was pushed to Nisan 28, 5767 (April 16, 2007).

If you want to take this opportunity to learn something about the Shoah, Yad Vashem has a new online exhibit on Emmanuel Ringelblum's "Oneg Shabbat" or, in Ashkenazi pronunciation, "Oyneg Shabbos" [lit., "pleasure of the Sabbath"] archive in the Warsaw Ghetto. Ringelblum (1900-1944) was a young Polish-Jewish historian, who devoted his time in the ghetto to systematically recording the trials, tribulations, and occasional triumphs of everyday life under the most cruel circumstances. He directed a large team of contributors, who secretly gathered material for the archive, and successfully hid most of its contents in milk canisters and metal crates, which were recovered after the war, in 1946.

A page from Ringelblum's diary. The first 1942 entry, from January 8-26, begins:
January 1942. The conditions for the refugees are simply unbearable. Because of the shortage of coals, they are freezing to death.
The title of the exhibit is "Let the world read and know," an excerpt from a longer statement by an Oneg Shabbat activist that appears in the archives:
It must all be committed with not a single word omitted. And when the time comes - as it surely will - let the world read and know what the murderers have done
The photographs are from Emmanuel Ringelblum, Ktavim fun Geto, Volume 1: Togbukh fun Varshever Geto, 1942-1939 (Warsaw, 1961). Thank you, Judy, for this gift.

I recently received a link to a very moving recording obtained by NPR from the Smithsonian. Taped by a British reporter in April 1945 at Bergen-Belsen, shortly after its liberation, it preserves for posterity the voices of Jewish camp survivors singing "Hatikvah," which later became the anthem of the State of Israel. Note that they are singing an earlier version, which has slightly different lyrics in the second stanza. Thank you, Ms Dessen.

In the English Wikipedia entry on Yom ha-Shoah, you can read the following gem:
Most of the Jewish community consider the day a Jewish religious holiday. Non-Zionist Orthodox Jews do not, instead remembering the victims on days that were already days of mourning before the Holocaust, such as Tisha b'Av in the summer, and the Tenth of Tevet, in the winter. It deliberately ignores other victims of the Holocaust such as Gay people, Gypsies, the Mentally Ill, the Disabled or Easter Europeans sent to the Gas Chambers.
It's amazing to me how even the commemoration of the Shoah can be turned into an attack on the Jewish people, along the old canard that the Jews are misanthropes who care only about their own suffering. I'm not going to get into how misleading and tendentious the second sentence is.

Yad Vashem Council Chair Tommy Lapid, a former Israeli parliamentarian and minister, said that
even after the Holocaust we witnessed genocide in Biafra, Cambodia, Rwanda, and we must cry out against the genocide currently being committed in Darfur in Sudan.
MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) called the Holocaust "the greatest crime in the history of humanity," and condemned those who deny the Shoah (Ha'aretz).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Serge Sarksian remplace Markarian dans ses fonctions de Premier Ministre

La nouvelle date d'il y a quelques jours déjà, mais je dois avouer que le manque de surprise dans le développement cette affaire m'a fait passer l'envie d'écrire à ce sujet. Alors qu'au lendemain du décès de Markarian, une tension semblait se dessiner au sein de l'administration, qui aurait pu placer Hovig Abrahamian dans la course pour le poste, c'est en définitive sans heurt aucun que Kotcharian a reporté son choix sur l'éternel Ministre de la Défense Sarksian. Ce geste rend nulles les suppositions quant à une rivalité entre le futur Président sortant et l'actuel Premier Ministre qui sera à n'en pas douter, reconduit dans ses fonctions à l'issue du scrutin législatif du mois prochain. Le verrouillage des postes en prévision de l'élection présidentielle de l'année prochaine se confirme, et selon toute vraissemblance, Sarksian se donne une garantie de plus due à un -heureux?- hasard de placer toutes les ressources administratives de son côté. Quant à Kotcharian, qui lui aura apporté un soutien indéfectible en dépit des légères tensions d'il y a quelques mois, il s'assure sans doute un "parachute doré" pour sa sortie de la Présidence, et assurer la continuité du travail gouvernemental pour les 5 années suivantes. Pendant ce temps, l'opposition, prévoyant comme d'habitude sa victoire en cas d'élections transparentes, a pour la enième fois appelé les gens de la rue en perspective d'un renversement révolutionnaire après les élections, avec la même crédibilité que depuis 2003... L'immobilisme politique en Arménie est toujours aussi fort.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Coverage of Genocide Recognition Bill

The title of today's New York Times story on House resolution 106, "Planned House Vote on Armenian Massacre Angers Turks," does not sound very promising at first glance. But the article itself should inspire optimism among advocates of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the U.S. The article frames the issue mainly as one pitting the Turks and the White House against House Democrats. From the article, the issue clearly emerges as one of strategic and commercial interests versus morality and justice. This kind of framing provides all the more reason for Nancy Pelosi to support the resolution - rightly or wrongly, most Americans believe that U.S. foreign policy ought to be and is guided by moral values. Furthermore, many Americans probably resent what they perceive as undue pressure exerted by the Turkish government, especially when expressed in a half-threatening, half-paternalistic warning by Abdullah Gul. The Turkish foreign minister told the Times that

As the elected government of democratic Turkey, we would not be able to remain indifferent. However, I am confident that common sense would prevail at the Congress.

The article does mention the restoration, by the Turkish government, of the Armenian church at Akhtamar near Lake Van (depicted in our banner). This is definitely a good public relations move, that will engender sympathy among Americans for Turkish efforts at reconciliation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Schiff presses Rice on Genocide

Congressman Adam Schiff (Photo: Schiff's House Site)

Following is the original transcript of an exchange between Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California, 29th District) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the United States, on March 21. It is somewhat long, but I thought some of Rice's answers were worth noticing, sometimes for their brutal honesty, more often for their diplomatic contortions.

The exchange took place at a House Appropriations Committee hearing before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, on which Schiff sits. The transcript is from a press release on Schiff's online newsroom.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you, Madam Chair. Madam Secretary, welcome.
About a week or so ago, Madam Secretary, you and Secretary Gates sent a letter to some of the chairs of committees here on the Hill opposing recognition of the Armenian genocide.
This concerned me for a number of reasons, not the least of which that I don't see how we can have the moral authority that we need to condemn the genocide going in Darfur if we're unwilling to recognize other genocides that have taken place, if we're unwilling to recognize the first genocide of the last century, where 1.5 million people lost 
their lives.
We're all well aware of how the Turkish lobby and Turkey has, either implicitly or explicitly, threatened because it doesn't want the genocide recognized and its own difficulty in coming to grips with that chapter of Ottoman history.
So I'm not going to ask you about that, but I do want to ask you, is there any -- do you have any doubt, in your mind, that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 constituted genocide? Is there any doubt about that, in your mind?

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Congressman, I think that these historical circumstances require a very detailed and sober look from historians and what we've encouraged the Turks and the Armenians to do is to have joint historical commissions that can look at this, to have efforts to examine their past and, in examining their past, to get over their past.
But I will tell you, Congressman, I don't think that it helps that process of reconciliation for the United States to enter this debate at that level. I just don't think it's helpful.

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary, your comments, you think that there should be some kind of debate or discussion about the genocide suggests that you have a question about whether genocide occurred.
Is that correct?

RICE: Congressman, I believe that this is something that Turks and Armenians are best to address through their own processes of coming to terms with their history.
Lots of people have had to come to terms with their history...

SCHIFF: Yes, and, Madam Secretary, we have to come to grips with our own history.

RICE: Yes.

SCHIFF: And we did.

RICE: I personally am well aware of that.

SCHIFF: But, Madam Secretary, you come out of academia.

RICE: Yes.

SCHIFF: Is there any historic debate outside of Turkey? Is there any reputable historian you're aware of that takes issue with the fact that the murder of 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide?

Congressman, I come out of academia, but I'm secretary of state now and I think that the best way to have this proceed is for the United States not to be in the position of making this judgment, but rather for the Turks and the Armenians to come to their own terms about this.
Lots of people are coming to terms with their history in Asia, in Europe people have had to come to terms with their own history and that's...

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary, we have no reluctance to recognize genocide in Darfur. We have no reluctance to talk about the Cambodian genocide or the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust.
Why is it only this genocide? Is it because Turkey is a strong ally? Is that an ethical and moral reason to ignore the murder of 1.5 million people? Why is it we don't say, "Let's relegate the Holocaust to historians" or "relegate the Cambodian genocide or Rwandan genocide ?" Why is it only this genocide that we should let the Turks acknowledge or not acknowledge?
And, Madam Secretary, Hrant Dink, who was murdered outside of his office, is not a testimony to Turkish progress. The fact that Turkey brought a Nobel-winning author up on charges of insulting Turkishness because he talked about the murder of the Armenians doesn't show great efforts of reconciliation of Turkey.
Why is it only this genocide we're incapable of recognizing?

RICE: Congressman, we have recognized and the president recognizes every year in a resolution that he himself issues the historical circumstances and the tragedy that befell the Armenian people at that time.
We do recognize it. But I don't -- if you'll just allow me. I do not see that this situation is going to get better in the sense that it allows Turks and Armenians to move on to deal with their present unless we are able to let them deal with their past as to the murder that you...

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary, because I'm going to run out of time.
You recognize more than anyone, as a diplomat, the power of words.

RICE: Yes.

SCHIFF: And I'm sure you supported the recognition of genocide in Darfur, not calling it tragedy, not calling it atrocity, not calling it anything else, but the power and significance of calling it genocide .
Why is that less important in the case of the Armenian genocide?

RICE: Congressman, the power here is in helping these people to move forward. After the murder that you talked about, Turks went into the streets to embrace Armenians and to say that this is not the way that Turks behave.
The foreign minister himself has called into question the issue of arresting people for Turkishness. I do think that there is an evolution that is going on in a Turkey that is democratizing and democratizing before our very eyes and where Turks will be able to deal better with their history.
But I do believe that people are better left to try and deal with this themselves if they're going to be able to move forward.
We have to ask ourselves, "What is the purpose here," and I think the purpose is to acknowledge, of course, the historic tragedy, but the purpose is also to allow Turks and Armenians to be able to move forward.
And, yes, Turkey is a good ally and that is important. But more important is that like many historical tragedies, like many historical circumstances of this kind, people need to come to terms with it and they need to move on.
We've done that in our own country. People have done it in Europe. People have done it in Asia and I think... 

SCHIFF: Madam Secretary...


RICE: ... the best to have them move forward together.

LOWEY: Thank you, Mr. Schiff.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Décès inattendu du Premier Ministre arménien

Andranik Markarian, 1951-2007 (Photo: Iran-Daily)

J'ai appris hier matin -de bouche à oreille- que le Premier Ministre arménien Andranik Markarian était décédé d'une crise cardiaque. Après avoir en vain fait le tour des principales radios d'information, des dépêches AFP, du site du Monde, etc. j'ai décidé d'attendre confirmation avant de me faire l'écho de la nouvelle -sur notre blog, même si cette affaire ne concerne pas particulièrement la communauté juive. Heureusement ce matin les media arméniens -non, pas internationaux, quel journaliste sensé perdrait son temps sur une nouvelle aussi peu grand public?- donnaient davantage de précisions sur ce décès.

Apparemment l'ex-Premier avait de lourds antécédents en matière cardiaque: il se faisait régulièrement suivre en Russie et en France. Une paralysie du coeur l'a pris dans son appartement et les médecins ont inutilement tenté de le réanimer.

Des funérailles d'Etat sont prévus par le Président Kotcharian, qui a déclaré être profondément touché. Il a immédiatement prévenu son Ministre de la Défense, Serge Sarksian, qui en route pour une visite officielle en Chine a annulé son voyage. Une réunion d'urgence a eu lieu hier, et une autre est prévue pour aujourd'hui, dès le retour de Sarksian. Quant aux suites deux tendances semblent se dessiner. Kotcharian pencherait pour un candidat proche de lui au poste, en la personne de Hovik Abrahamian, actuel Ministre du Gouvernement local, une des figures montantes du régime depuis trois ans. Ce mouvement s'est accéléré en 2005, quand Kotcharian a inclus le département des Réfugiés et situations d'urgence dans le Ministère du Gouvernement local, le tout confié à Abrahamian. Ce choix pourrait cependant créer de nouvelles vagues entre Kotcharian et Sarksian, qui fera sans doute son possible pour pousser un homme à lui, quelqu'un de discret et d'acquis, et qui lui rendra la campagne présidentielle de l'an prochain que plus aisée. Affaire à suivre...

Je vois l'information pour la première fois sur un media international sur le site de la BBC.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Armenian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada

The Armenian embassy in Ottawa, Canada (March 2007)

I thought I'd post a picture I took recently of the Armenian Embassy in our nation's capital. In my opinion, it's quite striking. Note the Ararat motif in one of the gables. The embassy is located close to the downtown area, near the Rideau Canal on which people frequently skate during the winter. I don't know the significance of the statue on the right - if any of our readers could enlighten us on that point, your help would be much appreciated.

Friday, March 16, 2007

State Department Urging Congress to Reject Genocide Resolution

Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried
(Photo: Dept. of State)

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried is urging Congress to reject the proposed House resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. According to Fried, Turkish officials have told the U.S. that Turkey would shut down the American air base at Incirlik or restrict U.S. overflights, should the resolution be approved. Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, made the remarks at a Thursday session of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe. The full transcript of his remarks is now up.

In bringing up these arguments, Fried is appealing frankly to American strategic interests. There is no doubt that the base has been vital to ongoing American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More dubious, however, is Fried's argument, which has been adopted by other anti-recognition activists, that

such a step would undercut voices in Turkey calling for a truthful exploration of these events in pursuit of Turkey's reconciliation with its own past and with Armenia.

Supposedly, there are now growing calls in Turkey for changes to the infamous Article 301. But if there is such a furor now about a House resolution, I don't see how this is strengthening the extremists. I think there is also some confusion of cause and effect. Haven't the Article 301 prosecutions actually emboldened the violent extremist groups in Turkey? Why is it that the onus of responsibility for fostering a more democratic climate in Turkey and for a real engagement with the past is placed on people in the U.S. who want recognition of the Armenian Genocide? It's pretty clear that this is a ploy, an affectation of concern for justice and reconciliation, which is being instrumentalized to prevent passage of the recognition resolution.

Fried reached another low when he claimed to speak on behalf of the "60,000-70,000 Turkish Armenians" who oppose the U.S. measure because it would "dramatically ... threaten their personal security." Sorry, but the Dink assassination demonstrated all too clearly that the Armenians in Turkey are living in a state of fear. The Turkish government bears responsibility for their security - it cannot blame America for supposedly "inciting" violence.

Thanks to Taline for bringing this report to my attention.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Israeli Parliament Narrowly Votes Against Discussion of Genocide

Meretz MK Hayim Oron (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Knesset, Israel's legislature, on Wednesday narrowly voted against an initiative by MK Haim Oron (Meretz) to convene a parliamentary discussion on the Armenian Genocide in the Culture and Education Committee. The vote against this initiative came after heavy pressure from both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni, who expressed concern about the negative fallout the initiative would have on Turkish-Israeli relations, Ha'aretz reports.

Fifteen members of the governing coalition voted against Oron's proposal, while a group of 12 MKs, which included legislators from the opposition parties, as well as MKs Shelly Yahimovich (Labor), Nadia Hilo (Labor), and Yitzhak Aharonovitz (Yisrael Beitenu) voted for it. MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), who has previously signed a petition calling for recognition, implored the legislators not to remove the issue from the agenda.

Meretz, the party to which Oron belongs, is a leftist, social democratic party, somewhat comparable to the European Greens. It has a faction of five seats in the current Knesset (its lowest total ever). One of the party's past leaders, Yossi Sarid, has supported official recognition of the Armenian Genocide. I could not obtain a complete list of the breakdown, but I assume that the other people who voted for the initiative included the rest of the Meretz parliamentarians, and members of parties from across the political spectrum. As Oron said, "this is not about left-wing and right-wing" - a statement confirmed by the presence of both members from the left (Meretz) and the right (Likud and Yisrael Beitenu) on the side voting for the bill.

Yahimovich, a former media personality and a rookie MK, is part of the left-wing of the Labor Party (Avodah). Hilo, a Christian Arab who hails from Yafo (Jaffa), is active on social justice causes. Aharonovitz, on the other hand, belongs to the far-right party Yisrael Beitenu associated mostly with Russian immigrants, though he himself was born in Israel. A former Lieutenant-Colonel in the Israeli Army and a past Deputy-Commissioner of the Israeli Police, he is respected for his expertise on security matters. The recently-deceased, Moscow-born MK Yuri Stern, also of Yisrael Beitenu, had previously supported recognition efforts.

Oron said that he wanted to bring the topic up for discussion now because this was the last opportunity to do so before April 24 - the day on which Armenians commemorate the Genocide. He said that

it is incumbent especially upon us, members of a people which experienced genocide [Shoah] and fights against its denial, to show sympathy for the tragedy of another people.

To me, the debate in the Knesset as well as the coverage again illustrate that there is nearly unanimous consent in Israel that what happened to the Armenians was a genocide. Ha'aretz referred matter-of-factly to "the Armenian Genocide which took place nearly 100 years ago." But of all countries, Israel can least afford to anger the Turks right now. There is no doubt that the relationship with Turkey is of paramount strategic interest to the country.

And yet, Health Minister Ya'akov Ben-Yizri, speaking on behalf of Foreign Minister Livni, must have realized just how unconvincing the official explanation, defending the government's position, sounded:
As Jews and Israelis we have special sympathy and a need to commemorate the massacres [מקרה ההרג] that were perpetrated against the Armenians in the last years of Ottoman rule. We also understand the significance of the sensitivity [sic. maybe someone can suggest a better translation] of the Armenian people, but over the years this has turned into a loaded topic between the Armenian and the Turks, and each side is attempting to persuade [others] to affirms its claims, and we hope that both sides will reach an open dialogue that will enable them to heal the wounds that have been left open.

כיהודים וכישראלים יש לנו רגישות מיוחדת וגם צורך להזכיר את מקרה ההרג שנעשה בארמנים בשנותיו האחרונות של המשטר העותומני", אמר בן יזרי. "אנו גם מבינים את חשיבות הרגישות של העם הארמני, אך במהלך השנים הוא הפך לנושא טעון בין הארמנים לטורקים וכל צד מנסה להוביל לצדקת טענותיו, ואנו מקווים ששני הצדדים יגיעו לדיאלוג פתוח שיאפשר להם להבריא פצעים שנשארו פתוחים

Oron responded that he hoped the topic would remain on the agenda, because "we owe this clarification [i.e., recognition] to the Armenian people, precisely at this time when we are struggling to preserve the memory."

Ha'aretz also noted the presence, in the public gallery, of the leaders of the Armenian community, "who did not hide their disappointment."

Oron's last name, in Hebrew, has the same spelling as that of Prof. Yair Auron (for more on him, see this partial review of one of his books, and this one on his activism). I am not sure whether they are related.

An English version of the Ha'aretz article is now up, but it is only an abridged translation. Thanks to John and Ima for their help.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

From the Jewish Grassroots

A lead editorial in the Wednesday, February 28 edition of The Jewish Press condemns the efforts by the Turkish government to enlist Jewish organizations in a bid to prevent the passage of House Resolution 106, which would officially recognize the Armenian Genocide:

We are certainly not insensitive to the significance of Turkey’s support of Israel. But the Turkish government’s attempt to capitalize on that support by pressing the American Jewish community to oppose a Congressional resolution that condemns as “genocide” Turkey’s murder of a million and a half Armenians during World War I strikes us as being the height of chutzpah.

The editorial refers specifically to the February 5 meeting of Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül with several American Jewish organizations, where Gül solicited their support in blocking passage fo the resolution (see my previous post).

The Jewish Press's implicit support for House Resolution 106 is very significant. The weekly has a circulation of at least 95,000. Its orientation is generally right-wing, and most of its readers identify as "Modern Orthodox." The paper's editorial line is unequivocal about its support for the State of Israel, and many of its readers identify with religious Zionism; in the past, one could be sure that they would support the Likud or parties to the right of it. It would certainly be hard to accuse them of not having the national security and strategic interests of Israel in mind. Having said all this, the paper's editorials frequently provoke controversy in the religious Jewish community in New York and elsewhere. Its columns are often widely discussed.

While the Jewish Press editorial argues that "opposition to House Resolution 106 does not necessarily signify lack of sympathy with the victims, or, indeed, sentiment against the concept itself," the board is unequivocal about its own position on the genocide:

Anyone who seriously and objectively considers those events cannot but conclude that there was a calculated and purposeful effort to exterminate the Armenians. After all, approximately 1.5 million perished.

The Jewish Press especially condemned Foreign Minister Gül for using the argument of the Shoah's uniqueness to make the case that Jews should quash an Armenian Genocide resolution:

The Turkish official reportedly appealed to the participants by noting – outrageously, we think – the uniqueness of the German genocide against the Jews.

It concludes that

acknowledging as genocide the systematic murder of a million and a half human beings of a particular ethnic heritage in no way detracts from recognition of the Holocaust as a uniquely monumental evil in the blood-soaked annals of human history.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


... would be the pretext once again invoked to avoid a public event talking about the Armenian genocide. It has been a couple of weeks now that I have been receiving the excellent news that the Taviani brothers' film, "Masseria delle Allodole", was in the run up for the Berlin film festival. In "The Lark Farm", Paolo and Vittorio Taviani are setting up the story of a family which lives in Western Armenia and awaits the arrival of their parents from Italy. Alas, the First World War prevents this family from joining and the family members became victims of the genocide perpetrated by the Turks. The scenario is inspired by the autobiographic novel of Antonia Arslan. But a news reported by PanArmenian.Net suggests that the film is eventually being put aside the main lineup in order to avoid a "contreversial" topic. We need to wait for further information, but, if true, this would but one more piece to the already wide file of movies censored or marginalized for dealing with the Armenian genocide, from the Forty Days of Musa Dagh to Ararat and others.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Recognizing the Armenian Genocide: Another Round

Much will depend on Congressman Tom Lantos,
Chair of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs

On January 30, 2007, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California, 29th District) submitted House Resolution 106 to the 110th U.S. Congress. The bill
Call[s] upon the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide (...).
It was co-sponsored by Congressmen George Radanovich (R-California, 109th District), Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey, 6th District), Joe Knollenberg (R-Michigan, 9th District), Brad Sherman (D-California, 27th District; member of the Foreign Affairs Committee), and Thaddeus McCotter (R-Michigan, 11th District). The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is chaired by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-California, 12th District), a veteran legislator and the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve as a House representative. The Committee will decide whether the resolution should be considered for a vote on the floor of the House. The sponsors of the bill are upbeat that the 110th Congress might finally pass this resolution, assuming that it passes the Committee. But House Resolution 106, which would call for American official recognition of the Armenian Genocide, faces formidable obstacles.

After Turkish diplomacy's recent defeat in France, where a bill outlawing denial of the Armenian Genocide was passed in in October (see my post on Kishkushim - it also includes coverage to the resolution's pre-history), and in the wake of the Hrant Dink assassination, Turkey is doing all it can to thwart the passage of the House resolution. As in previous years, it is attempting to enlist Jewish organizations in its fight. I do not have space here to get into the complex history of the relationships between Turkey, the U.S., Israel, and American Jews. I leave this for a future post. Suffice to say, that some Jewish organizations have in the past supported Turkey's efforts, with an eye to geopolitics - specifically, Turkey's relations with the U.S. and Israel. It is possible that we are witnessing the beginning of a shift in the positions of these Jewish organizations (groups concerned primarily with foreign policy), but it is still too early to tell.

On February 6, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Turkish Foreign Minister
Abdullah Gül met for 90 minutes Monday night [February 5] with representatives of the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, American Jewish Congress, Chabad-Lubavitch, B’nai B’rith International and the Orthodox Union. He asked for assistance in facing down legislation sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who is Jewish and who has a substantial Armenian-American constituency.
The article also mentioned that the bill had picked up 169 co-sponsors (JTA).

In fact, the meeting was held after a direct appeal by the Turkish government to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which explains the presence of such communal and religious groups as Chabad-Lubavitch, B'nai B'rith, and the Orthodox Union. It is probable that Gül appealed directly to the foreign policy groups to urge House representatives not to pass the bill. Significantly enough, no Jewish organization has come out with a statement on the matter yet, which suggests that most of the Jewish groups are lukewarm about engaging in this dirty work.

But Turkish diplomacy has certain carrots and sticks that it brings to the table. Disregarding the Jewish angle for a moment, Turco-American relations matter a great deal to most members of the current U.S. administration as well as to many Democrats from the Clinton years. Most of the State Department, Pentagon, and other foreign policy types are deeply invested in America's special ties to Turkey. They frequently cite the importance of Incirlik Air Force Base, and the symbolic value of having a Muslim ally such as Turkey more or less (indeed, these days it is less and less) behind America. American Jewish organizations dedicated to foreign policy are also concerned about the prospects of the U.S. losing a strategic ally such as Turkey. They carry two additional concerns - the state of Turkish-Israeli relations and the position of the Jewish community in Turkey. The Turks know this and they will most likely do what they can to use these pressure points.

As was to be expected, the Turkish moves have received a fair amount of coverage, certainly among Armenians in the diaspora and in Armenia. Collectifvan posted a French translation of the JTA article, and PanArmenian.Net cited the Armenian Assembly of America's Regional Director for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Arpi Vartanian, who at a Yerevan press conference remarked that
the Turkish delegation uses the large influence of Jewish Lobby, which strongly supports Turkey. “Almost there are no relations between Armenian and Jewish lobbies, they meet rarely for the sake of certain common issues. But recently here too we notice some changes. Some influential Jewish lobbyists started to speak about the Armenian Genocide, they bring as evidences the words of U.S. Ambassador to Ottoman Turkey Henry Morgenthau during World War 1, archival documents. Moreover, Turkey has already approximately calculated that the 106th resolution can be adopted and has doubled its efforts in this direction,” Vartanian stressed.
Talk about the "large influence of [the] Jewish Lobby," especially with the latter term capitalized in this manner, is unlikely to endear the AAA to ordinary American Jews. It would have been wiser to speak with more nuance. There are different Jewish organizations who lobby Congress; they have distinct interests and do not really act cohesively. How large their influence is continues to attract significant debate. Armenians probably realize better than anyone that Jews are sensitive about accusations that "the Jewish Lobby" exercises disproportionate influence on American policy. But Vartanian is right about the state of Armenian-Jewish relations (at the level of organizations) in America. I do not expect much progress on this front over the next year.

However, as I do not tire of repeating, the Jewish grassroots will support this resolution if they are engaged and mobilized. Jews at the grassroots and at the organizational levels are at the forefront of the Darfur struggle. Some Jews, as individuals, have long supported the Armenian struggle for genocide recognition. Given the compelling moral arguments in favor of recognition, there is no reason why an equally large number of Jews might not be enlisted in the recognition cause as well. All it takes is a little more effort.

The Jewish organizations dedicated to foreign policy know that their grassroots membership largely supports recognition. The geopolitical concerns, which require a great deal of explanation, are simply not that compelling when stacked up against the moral arguments. But so far the foreign policy types have counted on the relative lack of awareness among the American Jewish public (though the awareness is probably higher than among Americans as a whole). Given access to the right information, many ordinary Americans would no doubt support the efforts for official recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Among American Jews, the connection is even more intuitive. Jews cannot help but sympathize with the efforts of Armenians to achieve recognition of the tragedy that befell the Armenian people. They know how painful it is to have the historical reality of genocide denied to spite the victims and their descendants. Indeed, there is no doubt in my mind that most American Jews would agree with me that we have a moral responsibility to support the passage of House resolution 106 to achieve the long overdue official recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

I hope that we can reach out to each other and ask American Congressmen to vote for the bill - together and in one voice.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fighting Denial: Yad Vashem Launches Farsi Site

The homepage of Yad Vashem's Farsi site

Yad Vashem, the Jewish people's memorial to the Shoah in Jerusalem, recently launched a Farsi-language site with information about the Holocaust. Since it went online about two weeks ago, more than 20,000 people have accessed the site, including 6,000 from Iran. This is equivalent to the number of people who access the English-language site every year (Ha'aretz).

The Farsi site contains a history of the Holocaust as you might see it at the Yad Vashem museum, beginning in the late 19th century and including information about such events as the 1881 and 1905 anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia (see the first page). It covers the period of Hitler's rise to power and has a detailed section on such markers as the Nuremberg Laws. From there, it proceeds via the appeasement of the 1930s to the outbreak of World War Two, the literal ghettoization of the Jews in Poland, the murders of the Einsatzgruppen during the invasion of the USSR, the Wannsee Conference, and the extermination camps. The whole effort strikes me as a great response to appeal directly to Iranians, many of whom in any case believe that Ahmadinejad's negationist games are not only damaging to Iran's reputation but also morally reprehensible.

I would greatly appreciate hearing some reviews from those of you who read Farsi!

I am sure something like this has been attempted before, but perhaps it is worth another try to launch a similar site on the Armenian Genocide in Turkish.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

American Jewish Committee: Abolish 301

One of America's most respected Jewish organizations is calling on Turkey to abolish article 301, in the wake of Hrant Dink's assassination. The American Jewish Committee declared on January 24 that

Law 301 is widely believed to have created the atmosphere that encouraged those responsible for the murder of Hrant Dink, the Turkish Armenian editor of Agos, who was shot at his Istanbul office last Friday.

The AJC urged Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to "take steps to guarantee the full rights of expression in the media and other forums."

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Manipulations of Alexandre Adler

Alexandre Adler

Hrant Dink must be turning in his grave about all the articles that have invoked him to argue for causes quite foreign to his own. While we might applaud the fact that Dink's murder has forced many Turks to speak out publicly against the nationalist ideology that caused his death, some unsavory characters have perversely seized the occasion to attack diaspora Armenians and the Republic of Armenia. Alexandre Adler's recent column in Le Figaro to me represents the height of this kind of cynicism.

Adler's essay crafts "connections" between ideas and events that are hallucinatory at best. After eulogizing Dink for one paragraph, Adler proceeds to launch into a vicious tirade against Armenia only to end with a melodramatic paean to the founder of post-Soviet Azerbaijan and the father of the state's current ruler:
Héros de l'Union soviétique, fils de mollah, excellent connaisseur de la poésie persane et patriote turc à la Mustafa Kemal, Haidar Aliev synthétisait ces courants culturels apparemment incompatibles, en tout cas aujourd'hui, en un espoir uto­pique pour demain : la grande alliance des trois cultures russe, turque et persane dans un nouvel ensemble producteur de laïcité et de démocratie.

[A USSR hero, son of a mullah, remarkable connoisseur of Persian poetry, and a patriotic Turk, Haidar Aliev combined those cultural currents which, at least today, seem incompatible, with a utopian hope for tomorrow: the great alliance of three cultures - Russian, Turkic, and Persian in a new fusion producing secularism and democracy.]

Adler then has the audacity to declare that
Si un jour nous parvenons à réaliser cette ambition, on se souviendra de Dink comme de l'un des héros stoïques de cette indispensable longue marche

[If one day we manage to achieve this ambition, we will remember Dink as one of the stoic heroes of this long, vital march.]

Adler's enlistment of Dink in his ode to Haidar Aliev is distasteful enough, as is his characterization of Armenia as a "violent, aggressive, and inept" country. But even more insidious is Adler's effort to link Armenia to Russian and Arab terrorism, and, along the way, to establish some kind of moral equivalence between the genocide of 1915 and Armenians' alleged crimes in recent times:
Certes, la Turquie devrait avancer avec retenue et dignité vers une prise en compte de plus en plus lucide de la tragédie de 1915, mais l'Arménie d'aujourd'hui a aussi son chemin à accomplir pour conjurer une bonne fois pour toutes son alliance faustienne avec les éléments les plus terroristes de l'ex-Union soviétique et du monde arabe, le moment Asala, si on cherche à lui donner un nom.

[Surely, Turkey must advance with self-restraint and dignity toward a more and more lucid accounting of the tragedy of 1915. But today's Armenia also has a ways to travel to conjure {i.e., "do away with"} once and for all its Faustian deal with the most terrorist elements of the former Soviet Union and the Arab world, the Asala moment, if one is looking for a name to give it.]

Few would deny that Armenia, like a host of other former Soviet republics, is experiencing some serious problems. The most serious challenge facing the country is the ongoing blockade against it by Turkey, and by Azerbaijan, with which it continues to be embroiled in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Other troubles include corruption and authoritarian tendencies among some of its leaders - tendencies that are abundant elsewhere in the region (indeed, Azerbaijan probably takes the prize). But to link Armenia to Islamist or ex-Soviet terrorism is an insidious lie.

Asala (the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) was a terrorist group active in the late 1970s and until the early 1980s, which assassinated Turkish diplomats in the West. It was founded and based in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. But it had no connection at all to Armenia, which in any case was a Soviet republic then. Nor was it ever embraced by the vast majority of Armenians in the diaspora.

Finally, as horrible as the actions of the now defunct group may seem today, anyone who seeks to compare them with the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians is nothing but a vicious demagogue.

On top of all this, after linking Armenia to the attempted assassination of John Paul II (a connection that seems as solid as the visions produced by the mushrooms he must have ingested), Adler also manages to drag the Jews into the whole mess, of course on his side. As if the innuendo about Armenian connections to Arab terror weren't enough, he praises Haidar Aliev as someone "qui aurait banni ... racisme et antisémitisme" [who would have exiled racism and antisemitism].

Both advocates for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as well as their opponents have appealed specifically to Jews and their historical experience to aid their respective causes. One canard circulating among various denialist groups is the claim that Armenians were or are antisemitic, which is part of a transparent effort to impugn Armenian credibility and to provoke antipathy toward the cause of genocide recognition among Jews. Adler seems to be employing a similar strategy by linking Armenians to Arab terrorism, while presenting Aliev as a heroic vanquisher of antisemitism. I think I speak for many Jews when I say that I want no part in Adler's dangerous game.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Le juste

Ce weekend a eu lieu une cérémonie importante à Paris, présidée par Jacques Chirac : le Panthéon s’est ouvert pour ceux et celles, Justes, qui durant la seconde guerre mondiale avaient pris le risque de cacher des Juifs, alors que la France vichyste faisait le jeu de l’occupation et de son programme infâme. Dans son discours, le Président français a qualifié le négationnisme de la Shoah de crime. On ne peut que l’approuver… mais regretter l’insuffisance d’un propos à vocation pourtant universelle. C’est également le message de Serge Klarsfeld que l’on peut entendre dans la vidéo sur YouTube.

Serge Klarsfeld, fondateur de l’Association des Fils et Filles des Déportés Juifs de France, fait partie de ces personnalités, encore trop peu nombreuses, qui à partir de leur expérience individuelle et de leurs racines, vont au-devant d’autres expériences communes quoique nées sur un sol différent. Mercredi dernier, lors d’un meeting organisé par le Conseil de Coordinations des Arméniens de France, Serge Klarsfeld, Me Christian Charrière-Bournazel, représentant de la LICRA (Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et l’Antisémitisme), et à leur côté le très médiatique Bernard-Henri Levy se sont tous exprimé en faveur de la loi sur la pénalisation du négationnisme du génocide arménien. Je ne reviendrai pas ici sur le contenu de leur argumentation, qui ne leur est pas spécifique, mais sur ce qui fait la richesse de leur point de vue. Ces trois hommes ont explicitement lié leur conviction sur la nécessité de cette loi au fruit de leur histoire familiale et/ou de leur réflexion professionnelle. Ils ont démontré une fois de plus que sur un sujet aussi sensible pour les Arméniens que celui du négationnisme, la mémoire et le travail fait autour du négationnisme de la Shoah est une perspective qui permet de mieux cerner les enjeux du délit. Les deux génocides ont leur spécificité bien sûr - comme aussi les génocides cambodgien et rwandais - mais les négationnismes ont aussi leur. Alors que la Shoah n’est contestée que par quelques affiliés de sectes révisionnistes, fous dangereux mais solitaires et traduisibles en justice, le génocide arménien est nié par l’Etat turc héritier du gouvernement Jeune turc responsable du crime, et nié avec tous les moyens d’un Etat puissant et influent, qui a fait de la négation un de ses chevaux de bataille, et produit des émules féroces dans de nombreux pays, de l’Union Européenne aux Etats-Unis. Pour eux point de peine. Pourtant, le négationnisme est un crime organisé qui nécessite une réponse irrévocable et sans ambiguïté ; et pour ses relais coupables, un juge, ayant en mains la loi lui permettant d’exercer son office.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Reactions after a Tragedy

Today was Hrant Dink’s funeral in Istanbul's Armenian cathedral. The event brought 100,000 people to the street, Turks and Armenians united in their mourning for the journalist and in anger toward the Turkish state. With their presence around Dink today and their demand for an explanation other than the crazy face of a lone teenage nationalist, this crowd gives some credit to the following lines I wrote a couple of hours after the killing.

First, Hrant Dink was no vociferous nationalist. He saw his struggle in Turkey as one for democratization and freedom of speech. The fact that he talked openly about the Armenian Genocide was meant to open up a space for expression on the subject which is a very strong taboo in the country. He had managed to change things a little bit. Something like the beginning of a change could be felt from the Turkish civil society on which Dink and others, such as Zarakolu, Orhan Pamuk, Halil Berktay, and Taner Akçam had placed all their hopes for democratization, and, linked to it, recognition of the genocide. Concerning such subjects as joining the EU, Dink was in favour of it, because he reckoned that this was a way for his country to advance on democratization.

Secondly, we can already see that the Turkish government is trying to present this crime as an attack against Turkey, saying that the killers are trying to destabilize the country, and to divide citizens from different religions. They also pretend, as always, that Armenians there live with no trouble, when the reality is that the 57,000 Armenians remaining in Turkey, who live mainly in Istanbul, can hardly identify in public as Armenians and are subject to all kinds of discrimination. Worse, the government wants to make the death of Dink a common outrage to all democrats, including themselves obviously. Erdogan has declared that this murder was "a bullet fired at democratization and freedom of speech" in Turkey. This is a total shame, given that the very same Dink was on trial last year for having touched the limits of democracy and freedom of speech in his country - limits which we know to be very low- that is for having used the G-word. He was condemned to a 6-months suspended sentence for this reason, convicted of having insulted Turkish identity, under article 301 of the penal code.

Turkish here share a part of the responsibility in distorting the meaning of what happened. Their ignorance, added to the political line of each of them, making them write nonsense. Since Friday, I’ve read that Dink was unwelcome in the Diaspora and in Armenia because his opinions were not those of the majority; allegedly because the Diaspora is made of extremists who don’t want any reconciliation with Turkey; allegedly because Armenia has something else on its plate than genocide recognition, and that hard economic realities made this issue disappear. Today, 2,000 people gathered in Yerevan at the same time that the funeral was taking place. Certainly, we Armenians are not of one mind on how to further genocide recognition; but we are united about the necessity of achieving it and we are of one heart about what Dink was doing, saying and writing in Turkey. If those same media had taken a look at the reactions all around the Armenian world, at the commemorations in all Armenian churches since Friday, they would not have written such silly things.

I’ve also read articles toeing the line of Turkey’s Prime Minister, saying that this crime was in fact directed against the Turkish state. And now, four days after the tragedy, four days after having spread absurdities, I don’t hear anything anymore. Silence, disinterest, oblivion. And I can’t help but noticing the huge difference between similar cases. Anna Politovskaya, well-known Russian journalist and human rights activist in her country, was killed last October. For days and days, even weeks, that was a big topic in the media; Putin was the target of accusations, and the opportunity was seized to recall what was going on in Chechnya. In Istanbul, a lot of people whether Armenian or Turkish, want explanations.

I believe that unless Turkish civil society and its intellectual leaders sincerely committed to democratization claim justice for Hrant Dink’s murder, and satisfaction on the issues he was struggling for, nothing will come out of it. All I can do is hope that their reaction will be strong enough to sustain a wave of change such as the crowd of this morning was promising.