Why Israel does not recognize the Armenian genocide
Here’s one instance where Israel is on the same side as many other countries in the Middle East.
On Friday, April 24, Armenians around the world will mark the centennial of what they call the “Great Catastrophe,” when an unraveling Ottoman Empire ordered the forced deportation of ethnic Armenians. Estimates vary, but between 300,000 and 1.5 million Armenians perished in 1915 and 1916 — victims of hideous abuse and systematic slaughters that WorldViews detailed here.
The Armenian government and diaspora are insistent about what this was: a genocide. But many other countries, including Israel and the United States, don’t recognize what happened a century ago as a “genocide.” Instead, official statements refer to the “Events of 1915,” massacres, “terrible carnage” and a “humanitarian tragedy.”
The reason for this skittishness is nationalist politics. Successive Turkish governments have roundly rejected the idea of genocide, and argue — somewhat against the historical consensus — that the Armenian suffering should be seen in the wider context of the implosion of the empire.
Current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a significant departure from previous Turkish leaders last year when he offered condolences for the “inhumane” treatment of Armenians by the Ottomans. But last week, after Pope Francis invoked the “g-word,” the Turkish government responded angrily to the Vatican. Prime Minsiter Ahmet Davutoglu even suggestedthat the pontiff had joined “an evil front” against Turkey.
“Ankara continues to consider the use of the word genocide a hostile act,”writes Negar Goksel, of the International Crisis Group. “That reflex runs counter to the tone of empathy, freer debate, and an expressed eagerness for an unbiased examination of history that has crept into the government’s statements in recent years.”
For decades, the stubborn Turkish position compelled the United States, a staunch ally, to avoid ruffling Ankara’s feathers. The same was true for Israel, which, ironically until Erdogan’s rise, had close political and military ties to Turkey.
Recently, a host of Western governments have passed resolutions recognizing the genocide. And the voices within Israel for a shift in its position are also getting louder — not least given Israel’s unique history as a state created in the wake of the 20th century’s most well-documented genocide.
“In foreign policy, there are interests and there are values,” said Nachman Shai, an Israeli lawmaker who is part of delegation attending the centennial commemoration in Armenia, in an interview with the Associated Press. “In this case I think values should trump interests. As Jews, we must recognize it.”
That’s an argument echoed by Aris Shirvanian, the archbishop of the Jerusalem Armenian Patriarchate. “We, the Armenians and the Jewish people, have suffered the same fate, and the Armenian genocide has served as a predecessor to the Jewish Holocaust,” Shirvanian told the AP. “So Israel should have been actually one of the first countries to support and recognize the Armenian genocide.”
That’s not about to happen, given Israel’s careful stance on the matter.
There’s also another curious geopolitical wrinkle, reports Al-Monitor. Israel has a conspicuously close relationship to Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority state that, like Armenia, emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Israel imports 40 percent of its oil from Azerbaijan and exports a considerable supply of weapons and defense systems to Baku.
Armenia and Azerbaijan do not get along, and still feud over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a largely Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan that the two countries battled shortly after winning independence in 1991.
Last week, after the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry spokesman said it was an example of European double-standards — since Armenia has yet to atone for its alleged role in deadly massacres in the 1990s.
There are multiple, complicated layers of history here, but Israel knows what’s clearly in its interest. Azerbaijan, petro-rich and perched on Iran’s border, is a useful friend — at least more so than tiny, land-locked Armenia.
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