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."