05/18/07: Cleveland Jewish News: Armenian genocide denial: The case against Turkey

The official policy of the government of Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide ever happened.

The genocide occurred in the twilight years of the Muslim Ottoman Empire at the outset of World War I.

Jews ought to be in the forefront of those who condemn this policy of denial because many scholars refer to the Armenian genocide as “a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust.” (In fact, a number of officials in the Nazi Reich got their early training by helping the Ottoman Turks deal with their so-called “Armenian problem.” In addition, the Jewish community grasps well the malicious, cynical effects of government-sponsored Holocaust denials.

The deliberate falsification of historical realities denies to an aggrieved people (the Armenians) the right to have their history publicly validated and to have claims for restorative justice fulfilled. Yet, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abraham Foxman, recently advised against our involvement in this matter since it is between Turkey and Armenia. Unlike Foxman, I believe no political considerations are sufficiently worthy to falsify or ignore genocide.

The Turkish Penal Code (Art. 301) makes it officially punishable to “insult Turkishness.” This code has been used to prosecute prominent Turks like Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk (2006), who write or speak about the Armenian genocide; some, like journalist H. Dink, have even been killed. The Turkish government insists that Turks, Armenians and Kurds were all victims of killings and of the chaos that enveloped the region as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Countries like Canada, Germany and Austria criminalize the teaching or preaching of Holocaust denial. In France, it is now illegal to deny an instance of genocide when history proves otherwise. The European Union has just ratified a law “banning incitement to or denial of genocide” (arguably including both the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide).

In a full-page statement in The New York Times (June 9, 2000), I and 125 other scholars, including Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, historian Yehuda Bauer, and sociologist Irving Horowitz, signed a document “affirming that the WW I Armenian genocide is an incontestable historical fact and accordingly urge the governments of Western democracies to likewise recognize it as such.” We called the genocide “a dark chapter of Ottoman-Turkish history.”

Subsequently, the U.S. Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to pass a non-binding resolution to ask the government of Turkey to acknowledge this reality.

In any case, a true friendship between Turkey and America, Israel (with whom it often shares military exercises and intelligence), and some other nations should not be based on sidestepping or supporting a deliberate falsification of history as important as genocide.

Like promoting hate speech, it degrades the humanity of the truly “victimized” by denying them the right to possess their own history.

Alan S. Rosenbaum, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy, Cleveland State University and editor of Is the Holocaust Unique? (2nd edition).

Source: http://www.clevelandjewishnews.com/articles/2007/05/18/community/letters_opinion/arosenbaum0518.txt

05/04/07: Jewish World Watch: The Armenian Genocide Debate Pits Moral Values Against Realpolitik

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor, Jewish Journal
MAY 4, 2007

The Turkish ambassador to the United States, Nabi Sensoy, dropped in at The Jewish Journal a couple of weeks ago for an hourlong conversation with its editors. Last Friday evening, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Church of North America stood on the bimah of Valley Beth Shalom, hugged its rabbi and called the occasion a turning point in Armenian-Jewish relations.

All the attention is flattering, but its underlying cause confronts the Jewish community with choices that -- perhaps oversimplified -- pits its moral values and sympathies against the realpolitik of American and Israeli policymakers.

At the root of the split is a wound that has been festering since 1915, when Muslim Turkey and its Ottoman Empire were fighting Russia, France and Britain during World War I. Charging that the Christian Armenian minority in eastern Turkey was collaborating with the invading Russians, Turkey deported, starved and brutalized much of its Armenian population.

According to the Armenians, backed by predominant historical analysis, between 1915 and 1923, Turkey killed 1.5 million Armenian civilians in a planned genocide. Turkey maintains that some 300,000 Armenians died, but that an equal number of Turks perished, and that both sides were victims of chaotic wartime conditions, disease and famine, not a predetermined extermination.

Turks refer to the wartime slaughter by the Arabic word mukapele, which Sensoy translated during a phone interview as "mutual massacre."

Year after year, Armenian Americans have commemorated the beginning of the slaughter by demanding that modern Turkey formally acknowledge the persecutions and deaths of their ancestors as the Armenian Genocide. Just as consistently, the Ankara government has refused.

This year, the inflammation of the old wound has intensified, marked by the introduction of a congressional resolution that the U.S. government officially recognize the killing of Armenians as a genocide. Both on Capitol Hill and on the grass-roots level, the strongest outside voices supporting the Armenian cause are those of Jews, Los Angeles Jews at that, and the reasons seem obvious.

"How can we, the people decimated by the Holocaust, stand on the sidelines?" asked Rabbi Harold Schulweis. "Perhaps if the world had stood up against the first genocide of the 20th century against the Armenians, the Holocaust might have been prevented.

"It is obscene for us, of all people, to quibble about definitions," said Schulweis, spiritual leader of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and long in the forefront of social and interfaith initiatives.

In 2004, Schulweis channeled his demand for action against world genocides by founding Jewish World Watch, focusing first on the ongoing massacres in Darfur. This year, the nonprofit was organized well enough to expand its reach, sponsoring a joint commemoration of "the 92nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide" at Shulweis' temple.

At a dinner preceding the Friday evening Shabbat service, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Derderian and Janice Kamenir-Reznik, president of Jewish World Watch, struck a common theme. Jews and Armenians, two ancient peoples who have preserved their faiths and cultures through long diasporas, must be as one in remembering both their genocides and preventing such catastrophes in the future.

At the overflow dinner for 500, the majority Armenians, Rabbi Edward M. Feinstein of the host synagogue noted other striking similarities between the two ethnic groups.

"We both like to talk, loudly, we both like to eat and we both have reverence for our churches and synagogues, even if we don't attend services," he said.

Derderian, a youthful-looking prelate at 49 and a striking figure in a black robe and hood, pointed to some demographic similarities, as well. There are some 450,000 Armenians in Los Angeles, compared to 550,000 Jews, he said, and as primate of his church's Western Diocese, encompassing 14 states, he leads a flock of 800,000.

During the Shabbat service attended by some 1,100 Jewish and Armenian worshippers, Schulweis summarized his position, saying, "Of genocides, we cannot say, 'Mine is mine and yours is yours,' because both are ours."

The combined choirs of Valley Beth Shalom and St. Peter Armenian Church movingly concluded the evening with the singing of the Armenian and Israeli national anthems, both expressing the longing for lost homelands, followed by "America the Beautiful."

The Jewish and Armenian communities will come together again on May 15, when Jewish World Watch, now supported by 54 synagogues, will honor two Armenian scholars and activists at Adat Ari El synagogue. The honorees of the I Witness Award will be filmmaker Michael Hagopian and UCLA professor Richard G. Hovannisian.

Jewish support for the Armenian grievances has not been unanimous. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who represents a large Armenian constituency and has introduced House Resolution 106 calling for U.S. recognition of the 1915 genocide, has sent letters to four Jewish organizations criticizing their positions.

The Jewish legislator admonished the American Jewish Committee (AJ Committee), B'nai B'rith International, the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which had jointly transmitted to House leaders a letter from the organized Jewish Community of Turkey.

In the letter, addressed to the AJCommittee, the Turkish Jewish leaders expressed their concern that the Schiff resolution "has the clear possibility of potentially endangering the interests of the United States" by straining Turkey's relations with Washington and Israel.

JINSA supported the letter's view, while the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted ADL National Director Abraham Foxman as stating that "I don't think congressional action will reconcile the issue. The resolution takes a position, it comes to a judgment."

Foxman added that "the Turks and Armenians need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn't be the arbiter of that history nor should the U.S. Congress."

In his written response, Schiff took the action of the American Jewish organizations as "tantamount to an implicit and inappropriate endorsement of the position of the letter's authors."

He added, "I cannot see how major Jewish American organizations can in good conscience and in any way support efforts to deny the undeniable."

In a phone interview, Schiff reaffirmed his criticism of the Jewish organizations and surmised that their opposition was influenced by Israel, worried about harming its good relationship with Turkey.

"It would be a terrible mistake if the Israeli government became involved in this matter," he said.

Schiff noted that his resolution, now under consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), is co-sponsored by 21 out of 30 Jewish representatives and by eight out of 13 Jewish senators in a companion resolution. He acknowledged that he is under considerable pressure by the Bush administration and by former fellow legislators now working for the Turkish lobby, which Schiff described as "one of the most powerful" in Washington.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., has also joined directly in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the American people in general and American Jews in particular. It has cultivated close relationships with Jewish leaders and has retained a well-connected Jewish lobbyist to work with the Jewish media.

The embassy recently placed full-page ads in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times outlining a proposal to Armenia to appoint a joint commission of historians, with full access to national archives, "to study the events of 1915 and share the findings with the international public." In a phone call from his embassy, Sensoy confirmed Turkey's 2005 offer to Armenia for establishing a joint commission and urged that the United States and other countries participate in the investigation.

Citing the Turkish version of the 1915 events, Sensoy said that during the Russian-Turkish battles of World War I, a large number of Armenians supported the enemy, "and we had to relocate the Armenians in eastern Turkey to Syria and Lebanon." The result, he said, was "a kind of civil war," in which each side lost hundreds of thousands of lives.

"We are not saying we have all the truth, but we cannot accept guilt for the worst of crimes without knowing what the truth is," Sensoy said.

Asked why Turkey could not put the whole problem behind it by issuing an apology for deeds committed by a different regime at a different time, Sensoy replied, "The Ottoman past is part of our glorious history, and we cannot disassociate ourselves from the past."

On his special outreach to American Jews, Sensoy commented that "Jews are in the best position to understand the problem. We also have the best relations with Israel."

Drawing a parallel between Auschwitz and the disasters of 1915 "would be a disservice" to the memory of the Holocaust, said Sensoy. "After all, no Jews took up arms against the Germans and killed thousands of them."

Caught somewhat uneasily in the middle is the small, unorganized Turkish Jewish community of 100-200 residents of Los Angeles.

Dr. Moshe Arditi, vice chair of the pediatrics department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said he is pleased by "the recent movement toward an opening up in Turkey." He pointed to a massive rally by both Turks and Armenians in Istanbul to protest the murder of a local Armenian journalist.

Arditi endorsed a "historical fact-finding study" of the 1915 events that "could lead to dialogue between the parties."

But the joint commission proposal finds no resonance among critics of Turkey. Derderian, who described himself as "a grandson of survivors," rejected any dialogue before Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Schiff commented that "there is no question among historians that what happened was genocide. It's like asking the Sudanese government to judge what's happening in Darfur."

Schulweis drew a different analogy, saying, "The proposal is similar to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling a conference to examine the truth of the Holocaust."

Genocide' reporting rankles newsroom at Times

While the pending congressional resolution to officially designate the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as the "Armenian Genocide" has affected the Jewish community, it has also triggered an acrimonious confrontation at the Los Angeles Times.

The tempest at the already storm-tossed Times, according to aggrieved reporters, goes to the highly sensitive question of whether a journalist can write an objective story on an emotional topic affecting his own ethnic group.

In other words, can a Jewish reporter write a balanced article on Holocaust denial, or a black reporter on racial discrimination?

As the current Times imbroglio shows, these are not abstract debating points, especially in as diverse and multicultural a city as Los Angeles.

Here is how the story developed, as mainly reported through internal Times' emails with some added commentary posted by former Times staffer Kevin Roderick in his blog www.laobserved.com, a daily must-read for journalists and media mavens.

In the middle of April, veteran Times reporter Mark Arax, of Armenian descent, wrote an article on the pending congressional resolution, focusing on how it had split the Jewish community into opposing sides.

In a highly unusual move, the story was killed by managing editor Doug Frantz because he felt that Arax "had expressed personal views about the topic in a public manner and therefore was not a disinterested party."

The "personal view" cited by Frantz was apparently a letter sent in 2005 reminding Times management that the paper's established policy was to refer to the 1915 killings in the old Ottoman Empire as the "Armenian Genocide."

The letter, which Frantz has described as a "petition," was signed by six journalists -- Arax and four other Armenian Americans and Henry Weinstein, the paper's respected legal correspondent, who is Jewish.

As anger about the article's fate inside the newsroom and outside in the Armenian community rose, top editor Jim O'Shea sent a memo to his staff. He declared that Arax's story had not been spiked but merely held for additional reporting, and that he said he would never take a reporter off a story on the basis of his ethnicity.

Also stoking the fire were charges that Frantz, who served as bureau chief in Turkey for both the New York and Los Angeles Times, was taking a pro-Turkish view on the Armenian question, a charge denied by Frantz and his superiors.

At press time, Arax was demanding a public apology from Frantz. Weinstein and Frantz declined to comment for this story.

Whatever the outcome of the Times conflict or the congressional resolution, we are again reminded that the ethnic wounds of 60, 90 or 1,000 years ago rarely heal completely.

Source: http://www.jewishworldwatch.org/news/press_articles/05_04_07-1.html

05/01/07: LA Times: 'Never again' for Armenians too

Several American Jewish groups abandon their anti-genocide zeal when it comes to Turkey's massacre of Armenians.

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers
DANIEL SOKATCH is executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. DAVID N. MYERS teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

May 1, 2007

THIS YEAR, Congress established April 15 as Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. Just nine days later, on April 24, Armenians throughout the world observed the commemoration of their great tragedy: the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks that began in 1915.

In many ways, it was the 20th century's first genocide that helped set the stage for its largest, including Rwanda and now Darfur. Adolf Hitler reportedly said, on the eve of his invasion of Poland in 1939, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

For the last 60 years, the Jewish community has labored to avoid granting Hitler, in the words of philosopher Emil Fackenheim, "a posthumous victory." Jews have taken as their motto "never again," and most tend to understand that this charge refers to all of humanity, not only to fellow Jews. One of the last surviving leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Simha "Kazik" Rotem, once said that the central lesson of the Holocaust to him was that the Jewish people should stand vigilant against genocidal acts directed at any people.

This is why it is troubling that some major Jewish organizations have lined up in support of Turkey's efforts to keep the U.S. Congress from recognizing the Armenian massacres as an act of genocide. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and B'nai B'rith International recently conveyed a letter from the Turkish Jewish community opposing a resolution recognizing the genocide.

The ADL and the JINSA also added their own statements of opposition, suggesting that the massacre of Armenians was a matter for historians, not legislators, to decide.

The American Jewish community has insisted, and rightly so, that the U.S. Congress, the United Nations and other governmental bodies formally commemorate the Holocaust. Why should Jews not insist on the same in this case, especially given the widespread scholarly consensus that what happened to the Armenians from 1915 to 1923 was genocide? After all, the man who coined the term "genocide" to refer to the Holocaust — the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin — cited the Armenian massacres as a precedent.

The unfortunate and well-known answer to the question is that Turkey has fiercely opposed efforts to call the Armenian massacres "genocide." Moreover, it has asked its friends to help beat back the attempts at historical recognition.

Jewish opposition to recognizing the Armenian genocide comes mainly from a desire to safeguard the important strategic relationship between Turkey and Israel. Alone among the world's Muslim nations, Turkey has forged close military, political and economic ties with Israel. In addition, Jews remember with a deep sense of gratitude that Turkey served as an important haven for their forebears fleeing persecution, from the time of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 to the dark days of Nazism and beyond. And it is not just that Turkey has been kind to Israel and the Jews. It is a critically important U.S. ally in a dangerous region racked by religious extremism.

Nobody is suggesting that Jews forget Turkey's historic friendship. But it is a mistake for Jews — or, for that matter, anyone — to surrender the moral imperative of condemning genocide in the hopes of avoiding a perceived, but by no means necessary, strategic loss. Similarly, it would be a mistake for Turkey to hinge its own strategic interests on the denial of past criminal acts. Coming to terms with the past, as democratic Germany has done in the aftermath of the Holocaust and South Africa in the wake of apartheid, is the best path to political legitimacy.

Turkey, a trusted ally and friend of the Jews and the United States, must come to terms with its past for its own sake. It is that battle that leading Turkish intellectuals, including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and martyred Armenian activist Hrant Dink, have been waging so nobly. We should do all in our power to strengthen the hands of these figures and avoid the abyss of historical revisionism.

Sixty years (and millions of historical documents) later, the world still has to contend with those who deny the Holocaust. We need only recall the shocking words and deeds of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on this score.

In response to such denials, all decent-minded people, and Jews in particular, must continue to declare loudly "never again" — not only to future genocides but also to the attempted denial of past genocides, regardless of who the perpetrators or victims are.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-myers1may01,0,2074553.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions