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.