Open letter to Mr. David Harris, Executive Director at AJC Global Jewish Advocacy


Dear Mr. Harris,

I am making this appeal to you in an open letter to draw your attention to the fact that during the recent months articles inciting and propagating hatred towards Armenia and the Armenian people, and to me, as the leader of the Jewish community of Armenia, are published regularly in Israeli newspapers by a number of so called analysts – Arye Gut,  Alexander Murinson, Maxime Gauin (e.g. Baku to the future: Azerbaijan, not Armenia, is Israel's true ally , Anti-Semitism in Armenia.)

Biographies of the aforementioned authors and the content of the articles prove that they try hard to set public opinion and, particularly, the Jews, against the Armenian people, casting shadow on the centuries-old friendship of the two peoples.

Especially worth mentioning is Arye Gut’s latest brainchild – an article built on overtly false facts and attempts of manipulation.

A former citizen of Azerbaijan (he is Jew, not an Azeri), Gut, whose Facebook account provides ample evidence of his attempts to ensure the approval of the Azerbaijani authorities, speculates and manipulates data, positioning himself as allegedly “impartial” analyst.

In this article Gut yet again endeavors to convince the readers of the existence of anti-Semitism in Armenia and Diaspora. It is worth mentioning that Gut, Murinson and Gauin have already written nearly a dozen of articles, trying to provide proof of supposedly numerous cases of anti-Semitism in Armenia. Nevertheless, the examples they cite are either false or distorted. No representative of any political force, political party or NGO in Armenia has ever uttered any anti-Semitic remarks.

Rights of the Jewish community have never been questioned here. The Armenian people always have respected the Jews and admired the rich history of our people. Since time immemorial the Jewish community of Armenia has found favourable environment for free existence and enrichment of their culture on this land of rich culture.

The evidence of the Jewish presence in Armenia is a medieval Jewish settlement and cemetery, both preserved due to Armenian government’s and people’s care for it.

Not only does Arye Gut ignore it all, but also dares to voice poignantly indecent expressions addressed to me and the Jewish community of Armenia which is nothing but an example of anti-Semitism in itself.

As Michael Chlenow, Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress, stressed during the recent Global Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide” held in Yerevan a couple of weeks ago, “Even if the Jewish community of Armenia is small, it is well-organized and proud, and through its activity contributes to both enrichment of the Jewish culture and strengthening of centuries-old friendship of the two peoples.”

Armenia has never denied the Holocaust. This year on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day President Serzh Sargsyan addressed the Jewish community in a statement. During his visit to the USA in May, the President of Armenia also visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Armenia is the only country in the region where school curriculum includes direct reference to the Holocaust; moreover, according to various assessments, from the point of view of the awareness of the Holocaust, the Armenians are amongst the best-informed people in the world.

In his article Gut once again tries to use to his advantage the fact of cooperation between some representatives of the Armenian Diaspora and the Nazis during WWII. It is a historical fact that the Armenian legion did not take part in the combat operations and was stationed in the rear – mainly in France, Holland and Poland. The Nazi leadership never trusted the Armenian legion. On December 12, 1942 Hitler said that “…In spite of all declarations from Rosenberg and the military, I don't trust the Armenians”. The members of the Armenian Legion never missed a chance to revolt against the Nazis and join the resistance groups. The Armenian POWs played important role in the liberation of South France, while another group of Armenian POWs revolted in Holland.

Most probably, Arye Gut is also aware that the Azerbaijani legion in the German Armed Forces was four times larger than the Armenian one. The Azerbaijani legion participated in a range of massacres of the Polish and the Jews (particularly, 40.000 people were annihilated during Volyn massacre). The former President of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920) Mamed Rasulzade, who nowadays is glorified in Azerbaijan, spared no effort to recruit the Azerbaijani prisoners of war to the ranks of the Nazi army.

As for the Armenians, they fought against the Nazis in the frontlines of the Red Army, as well as in Diaspora. More than half a million Armenians fought in WWII, and only half of them returned home. Armenian soldiers fought in all the bloody battles, liberating from the Nazi yoke numerous peoples, including Jews.

As if following a the long-standing tradition, Gut’s article ‘circulates’ the theses of Azerbaijani-Turkish anti-Armenian propaganda, i.e. the blatant denial of the Armenian Genocide and the repetition of the official Baku’s assessment of events in Khojaly in 1992. What is more, all this is by no means done in a professional manner. In reality, Mr. Gut would rather quote the then President of Azerbaijan Mutalibov on the events in Khojaly, who inadvertently exposed the masterminds and those who even today use these clichés for propaganda purposes.

I was raised in a Jewish family. From the very first days of war my father joined up and reached Berlin. He was given numerous military awards and decorations. Together with her parents and my elder brother, my mother was evacuated three times. My husband’s ancestors, Armenians, suffered the Genocide in the Ottoman Empire and a considerable part of the family was annihilated.

My family spares no effort to strengthen the friendly ties between Armenia and Israel. We wish peace and prosperity to the two countries, and, of course, all the people on Earth. Unfortunately, shameless liars and provocateurs like Mr. Gut accuse me of “complicity in Nazism, Fascism and anti-Semitism”.

They must have forgotten that people should think twice before they utter such remarks – one could be detained for that.

It is inconceivable that leading newspapers and journals publish rubbish, without thinking of their own reputation.

Dear Mr. Harris, your organization has always emphasized the importance of strengthening of tolerance between peoples and fight against hate speech.

Authors of articles, pointed out by me, try to manipulate the Jewish media and the Jewish community in their dirty and unacceptable propaganda stunts.

I am grateful to you and proud that for years I have been invited to participate in the American Jewish Committee Annual Forums, which always pay a great deal of attention to strengthening of tolerance and fight against inter-ethnic hatred.

I am full of hope that you will share my concern and together we will be able to exert joint efforts to resist such provocative behavior.

Sincerely,

Rimma Varzhapetyan-Feller,

President of the Jewish Community of Armenia

 

Armenia immortalizes fascists, anti-Semites who participated in the Holocaust


A few days ago, former Armenian Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan submitted a draft resolution recognizing the Holocaust in the country`s legislative body. However, when further explaining his move, he told the media: “Some say that we should not recognize the Holocaust unless Israel recognizes the genocide of Armenians.” This is just one bit of vivid evidence of the fact that anti-Semitism in Armenia exists at a state level.

Although the entire world community recognized the Holocaust as genocide of European Jewry right after the Nuremberg Trials, Armenia is reluctant to do so 70 years later. In Europe alone, German fascism annihilated six million Jews only because they were Jews; in contrast, Armenians became victims of the policy of Tsarist Russia, which promised to establish a state for them in the territory of the Ottoman Empire.

The end of Soviet rule removed constraint and anti-Semitic attacks in Armenia rose dramatically. That, and Armenia`s ongoing economic collapse, drove the Jews of Armenia to flee the country. In addition, the cultural violence has continued: Anti-Semitic books and TV programs are presented to the Armenian public and the Holocaust memorial in the capital of Yerevan is repeatedly defaced. Of course, many countries have suffered such unfortunate incidents — the product of an ignorant populace. Nevertheless, in Armenia such views even have been espoused by mainstream politicians and media personalities.

[A RESPONSE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF ARMENIA]

One should mention the remarks of acclaimed scholar Moses Bekker, who said that it was Rimma Varzhapetyan (the so-called head of the Jewish community in Armenia) who saw no wrong-doing with the textbook and mass media glorification of antisemetic activists, such as Dramastamat Kanaya —  the fascist general  “Dro.” During World War II, general Dro personally took part in the annihilation of thousands of Jews. In her works, Ms. Varzhapetyan states that the current leadership of Armenia needs this “fighter” for the freedom of Armenia, thus employing the image of an ardent anti-Semite and fascist as a symbol for justifying Armenian expansionism and cultivating hatred amongst the younger generation. One must ask if, despite being Jewish herself, Ms. Varzhapetyan is ready to justify the murderous acts of Nazi criminals only because they are Armenians?

History seems to have forgotten the cruelty of the 20,000-strong Armenian legion that participated in the Wehrmacht in the WW II. Nationalist Commander Dro led the Armenian legion to fulfill its mission: to persecute and annihilate Jews via death marches. In his book “Death Tango,” the late Azerbaijani historian Rovshan Mustafayev presented evidence of Armenian involvement in the genocide of Jews, particularly a report from Sonderkommando “Dromedar” about operations in Western Crimea. “From November 16 to December 15, 1941, some 17,645 Jews, 2,504 Karaims, 824 Gypsies and 212 partisans were executed. Simferopol, Eupatorium, Alushta, Karasubazar, Kerch, Feodosia and other regions of Western Crimea were cleaned of Jews,” Rovshan Mustafayev notes in his book. Austrian historian Erich Feigl wrote that in December, 1942, Dro visited Himmler. “Dro had a practice of killing without any compassion, and this strongly impressed Himmler.”

What causes great concern today are the many media and the cultural spaces of Russia and by extention Armenian that provide a channel to present fascists as national heroes, including Dro, as well as Garegin Nzhdeh, an Armenian hero and Nazi collaborationist. Said the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia (published December 17, 2014), the “Outstanding hero of our people Garegin Nzhdeh believed that ‘the main law of life is a struggle as a method of self-perfection of personality, society and state. This struggle is manifested in the striving for progress of the country and nation.’”

Sadly, there are successors to General Dro and Garegin Nzhdeh: incumbent Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan and Minister Seyran Ohanyan. These men led a bloody massacre of civilians in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly in the late 20th century.

Suffice it to remember Serzh Sargsyan`s words: “before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that stereotype.” This bloody act of genocide, which was committed with incredible barbarism, is one of the horrible tragedies of the late 20th century. As a result, 613 people were killed, 487 wounded, and 1,275 civilians (including elders, children and women) were taken hostage and subjected to unprecedented torture and brutality. This tragedy is an act of evil against all of humanity.

The government of Armenia is doing almost nothing to prevent the growing anti-Semitism in the country. Several hundred Jews who now remain in Armenia will continue to suffer unless Armenia quits its policy of limited nationalism and stops blaming foreigners for their own economic and political problems.

Gut is an expert on international affairs, based in Israel

Khojaly: Fighting for justice for innocent victims of a massacre


On January 28, addressing the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Reuven Rivlin of Israel said: “On this day we must ask ourselves honestly, is our struggle, the struggle of this Assembly, against genocide, effective enough? Was it effective enough then in Bosnia? Was it effective in preventing the killing in Khojaly?​… Are we shedding too many tears, and taking too little action?”

A similar question could be posed to the leaders of the U.S Congress. Will this Congress get more actively engaged in supporting the growing number of civilian populations that are being impacted by painful conflicts in various corners of the world like Iraq, Nigeria and Syria among others? Will they non­selectively condemn these and similar atrocities and do more to stop them? Congressional leaders have a unique position to engage the world's attention in so many ways. But treating equally all atrocities, past and present, no matter where they take place and who the culprits are, is an important prerequisite for preventing the future tragedies.

The town of Khojaly that President Rivlin referred to might sound unfamiliar to some. But Khojaly was the scene of one of the most horrific tragedies in modern European history.

Twenty-­three years ago, I watched in horror as TV screens in Azerbaijan showed the aftermath of a brutal event: dead women, children and elderly, mutilated bodies, frozen corpses scattered across the ground. This shocking footage was taken at the site of the Khojaly massacre. 613 Azerbaijani civilians, including up to 300 children, women and elderly, were ruthlessly murdered.

The massacre took place on Feb. 26, 1992 when Azerbaijani civilians, attempting to evacuate the town of Khojaly in freezing cold after coming under attack, were gunned down by Armenian troops as they fled towards the safety of Azerbaijani lines. This brutal attack was not simply an accident of battle, it was part of Armenia's deliberate policy of terror to intimidate others into fleeing the region, allowing Armenia's army to occupy Nagorno­Karabakh and other regions of Azerbaijan. This was ethnic cleansing, pure and simple.

This policy of terror was acknowledged by the very men in charge of it. Serj Sargsyan, then one of the most senior Armenian military commanders and now the country's president, told the British journalist Tom de Waal in 2000 that “Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against thecivilian population. We needed to put a stop to all that. And that's what happened.”​The international human­rights group Human Rights Watch called Khojaly the “largest massacre in the conflict”​.

Ever since, Azerbaijan has worked for the Khojaly massacre to be recognized by the international community. And the world has responded: countries from Mexico to Peru and from Bosnia­Herzegovina to Colombia, as well as over a fifteen U.S. states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and others ­ have all passed relevant resolutions condemning the Khojaly massacre and its brutality.

More than two decades after Khojaly, Armenia's illegal occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory still continues, and nearly a million Azerbaijani refugees remain uprooted.

This illegal occupation has not brought any benefits to Armenia – on the contrary, it has only weakened the country. Its economy is quickly plummeting, and its population is dwindling.

By contrast, Azerbaijan has become the world’s fastest growing economy of the last decade. The country is also a vital strategic partner for the U.S., especially in the areas of the fight against terrorism and global energy security.

Azerbaijan is looking towards the future. But it can never forget the Khojaly tragedy. The perpetrators of this terrible act, not only remain at large: many of them hold office and are feted as 'war heroes' in Armenia, while justice for the victims of the massacre remains uncertain at best.

Azerbaijan will continue its struggle to remember the victims of Khojaly. And we would like to see the U.S. Congress join this struggle for justice for those who died in Khojaly. A Congressional recognition of the Khojaly massacre would be the first step in the right direction. It is important, for the sake of the future generations, to make sure that such examples of callous human cruelty do not occur again.

Based in Los Angeles, Nasimi Aghayev is Azerbaijan’s Consul General to the Western United States

The Arab Spring springs surprises


When a popular uprising started in Tunisia less than two years ago, it took the world by surprise. Not many observers had anticipated the outbreak, let alone the success, of popular uprisings in a region far better known for the longevity of its tyrants and despots.

Contrary to what some analysts have stated, the region loosely known as “the Arab world” had in fact seen important, albeit failed, uprisings: the Muslim Brotherhood’s revolt against Hafez Al-Assad’s regime in Hama, Syria, was brutally put down in 1982. The mass uprisings in both the northern and southern parts of Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991 were crushed just as mercilessly by the Saddam Hussein regime.

This time, however, it was different. The Tunisians succeeded with breathtaking speed in overthrowing Zine El-Abidine’s dictatorial and corrupt regime. But what turned those events into something really unique in the modern Arab world was the domino effect which followed. Shortly after the Tunisians won their battle with their government, there ensued a confrontation between the Egyptians and their own government. Before long, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to step down. The ripple effect of those cataclysmic developments was subsequently felt in other Arab countries, such as Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and, later, Syria.

Despite the apparent similarities noted in the Arab rebellions taking place in the Middle East, there were nevertheless some notable differences in the way the uprisings happened in the aforementioned Arab countries: the relatively benign dictatorships-Tunisia and Egypt- collapsed much more easily than did the far more ruthless tyrannies in Libya and Syria. One reason may be that Zine El-Abidine’s regime in Tunisia was caught napping by the sudden nature of the revolt in that country. And while Hosni Mubarak’s regime had some forewarning of the possibility of similar developments taking place in Egypt, this was not early enough for members of the Egyptian political elite to successfully contain and defuse the situation.

By contrast, the Qaddafi regime had ample time to prepare for such an eventuality, and the regime of Bashar Al-Assad had even more time than Qaddafi’s to brace itself for a similar insurgency occurring in Syria. Coupled with the horrifically brutal nature of both of these regimes, the spread of the “Arab Spring”, as it came to be known, lost momentum. Despite some initial successes achieved by anti-Qaddafi rebels in Libya, the tide was turned fairly quickly as Qaddafi’s forces rallied to roll back the rebels’ advance speedily and efficiently. Before long, Qaddafi’s fighters had overcome the rebels in Zawiya, laid siege to Misrata, and beaten the eastern region’s rebels from near Sirte, his own birthplace, all the way back to my own city, Benghazi. Terrified and thrown into panic by the merciless, ruthless nature of Qaddafi’s threats and his declared intention of vindictively seeking out his enemies “street-by-street, alley-by-alley, house-by-house”,  France, along with the United Kingdom and, after some hesitancy, the United States successfully obtained the Arab League’s consent to a possible aerial intervention in Libya in order to protect civilians from what looked like a potentially hair-raising massacre not very different from what had happened in Srebrenica in the ex-Yugoslavia back in the 1995. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States also succeeded in persuading reluctant members of the United Nation’s Security Council, most notably Russia and China, of the need to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The French, the British, and the Americans also took advantage of the wording of UN Resolution 1973, especially one of the points authorizing all necessary means to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, to justify the active, pre-emptive aerial attacks against the Qaddafi regime. The famous French air attack on Qaddafi’s lethal forces on the outskirts of Benghazi in March 2011 achieved the goal of preventing a large scale massacre of civilians in that city. Consequently, Qaddafi’s forces quickly retreated all the way back to Sirte. Buoyed up by such speedy withdrawal, the eastern rebels advanced just as speedily all the way to an area not very far from Sirte, while exuding their newly-found confidence that the Qaddafi regime would crumble in few weeks or less.  That, of course, did not materialize, and the Libyan conflict entered thereafter a phase of prolonged stalemate which lasted for many months before the Qaddafi regime collapsed in the city of Tripoli and Qaddafi himself was captured and killed near his hometown of Sirte in October 2011.

Once the Syrian people saw what was happening in other Arab countries, and how France, the United Kingdom, and the United States were striving for intervention in the Libyan conflict, they plucked up enough courage to launch mass protests against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. This began when protesters called for the “Friday of Dignity” and Syrians initiated their first serious challenge against their own government. Unlike the Libyans before them, the Syrian protesters did not want outside intervention and were intent on fighting the Assad regime alone. When it gradually dawned on the Syrian rebels that overthrowing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime was not as feasible as they had imagined, they little by little started to have second thoughts concerning the idea of requesting external armed involvement.

Nonetheless, this time the situation in Syria was significantly different from the Libyan situation: First, both Russia and China objected to outside intervention à la Libyan case. Second, important regional players such as Iran, along with organizations like Hizbollah in Lebanon, backed up the Syrian regime and reportedly propped it up with arms, financial, personnel, and diplomatic support. Third, despite the longtime enmity between Israel and Syria, the Israelis, and quite a few of their American supporters, balked at the idea of Syria being run by an actively anti-Israeli, perhaps theocratic, government should the Assad regime disintegrate. After all, both Bashar Al-Assad and his father before him often barked at Israel, but they never did much biting. The anxiety concerning a possible Islamist takeover in Syria was compounded by the early results of regime change in the Arab Spring: Major Islamist successes in Tunisia and Egypt, and significant Islamist influence in Libya’s post-Qaddafi politics, scared outside powers which feared that, yet again, the “Arab Spring” in Syria could very well lead to an “Islamist winter”.

The differences between Libya’s situation and that of Syria did not emerge only in terms of geopolitical dynamics, but also extended to include internal differences: To an extent far greater than the national makeup of Libya, Syria’s is a mosaic of various religions, sects, and ethnic groups: Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Armenians, Turkmen, Circassians, Muslims, Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, and so forth. These groups had been held together by Hafez Al-Assad and later his son Bashar. If the son’s regime were to collapse, it is not inconceivable that this might bring about the fragmentation of the country, resulting in extensive massacres. The relations between Muslims and Christians in Syria are already very tense, as are many of those between Syria’s other ethnic and sectarian groups. But the Syrian regime’s most-intensely feared scenario is the fate of the Alawite minority, to which Bashar Al-Assad belongs. The end of their tight grip on power could very easily become a prelude to their mass murder at the hands of other groups, especially the Sunnis who have long resented being governed and oppressed by the Alawites. This is one of the most important reasons why the Bashar Al-Assad regime is fighting tooth and nail to hold on to power: what is at stake is not merely the regime’s survival, but above all that of the whole Alawite sect.

Having previously worked for several years as a university professor of political science, I am fully aware that forecasting in the area of international politics is a very difficult undertaking; there are far too many unknown quantities and variables involved for this to be easily doable. All the same, it does look at the moment as if the Syrian situation will continue to be a war of attrition, with neither side being able to gain the upper hand in a decisive and conclusive manner. One is then left wondering whether this might lead to yet another “Lebanon”.


Husam Dughman’s family was both educated and liberal.  They heroically stood up to the Qaddafi regime and endured the dire consequences. This gave him a first-hand experience of what dictatorship, bigotry, and intolerance are about, and what kind of price has to be paid in order to stand up to them.  Coupled with his experience of religious intolerance, Mr. Dughman resolved to fight against zealotry, hate, and extremism, come hell or high water. Thus, the idea for Tête-à-tête with Muhammad began to germinate in his mind.

Husam Dughman was born in Libya and educated in Libya and the U.K. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in Political Science from the University of Kent at Canterbury, where he won several awards for academic excellence and graduated with a First Class with Honours. In 1993, Mr. Dughman returned to Libya and was successful in securing a position as a university professor of Political Science. Due to political reasons, he left his university position in 1997 and subsequently worked in legal translation. He immigrated to Canada in 2002, where he has been helping new immigrants with their settlement.

Dughman’s new book, Tête-à-tête with Muhammad, is available for purchase at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, as well as other online booksellers.  To learn more visit: http://www.husamdughman.com

Israeli lawmakers weigh recognizing Armenian genocide


Israeli lawmakers debated on Monday recognizing the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide but were warned by the Foreign Ministry about further damage to frayed relations with Turkey.

The issue has stirred deep emotions in Israel, where some legislators have said the Jewish people, who suffered six million dead in the Nazi Holocaust, have a moral obligation to identify with the Armenian tragedy, even at the risk of a Turkish backlash.

No decision was taken by parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, which said it would hold another session at a future date.

“I can say that at this time, recognition of this type can have very grave strategic implications,” said Irit Lillian, a Foreign Ministry official who addressed the forum.

“Our relations with Turkey today are so fragile and so delicate that there is no place to take them over the red line, where we have been, I’m sorry to say, for many months,” she said.

Ties between the two former strategic allies were strained by Israel’s killing of nine Turks in a commando raid on a Gaza-bound ship in 2010. Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel after the incident and suspended military cooperation.

Israel said its marines acted in self-defense after an initial boarding party was attacked.

Zahava Gal-On, a lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz party, said Israeli governments have refused to define the 1915 killings as genocide “for cynical, strategic and economic, reasons, connected to ties with Turkey.”

Israel, she said, has a “moral and historical obligation … to recognize the genocide of the Armenian people” and ensure the subject is taught comprehensively in its schools.

The committee session was the first public parliamentary hearing on the issue.

Last week, Turkey cancelled all economic, political and military meetings with its NATO partner France after the French National Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a draft law outlawing genocide denial.

Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.

Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues that there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.

Editing by Myra MacDonald

White Houses demands Belarus chief retract anti-Semitic remarks; Sarkozy and Israel


Bush Administration Slams Lukashenko

The Bush administration called on the president of Belarus to retract anti-Semitic remarks.

“We have seen reports of President Lukashenko’s disturbing and irresponsible comments,” a State Department statement said. “We find them deeply offensive and call upon him to disavow these remarks. World leaders have a special responsibility to combat anti-Semitism, not perpetuate it.”

In an Oct. 12 broadcast, Alexander Lukashenko said of Bobruisk, a Belarusian port city: “This is a Jewish city, and the Jews are not concerned for the place they live in. They have turned Bobruisk into a pigsty. Look at Israel — I was there.”

Lukashenko was apparently soliciting favorable reaction from Iran, which has increased trade with Belarus in recent months. A Democrat and a Republican are soliciting signatures among U.S. House of Representatives colleagues for a letter slamming the remarks.

“Your government’s tolerance of state-sponsored anti-Semitism is well documented,” says the letter to Lukashenko initiated by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, the congressional body that monitors human rights overseas, and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). “Anti-Semitic acts are only sporadically investigated and the Government allows state enterprises to freely print and distribute anti-Semitic material. Anti-Semitic acts of vandalism, intimidation and violence are on the rise. Amid this climate of anti-Semitism, your public statements are particularly dangerous.”

Sarkozy: Israel’s a Miracle

Ehud Olmert won rare French endorsement for Israel and its diplomatic policies. The Israeli prime minister, on a European tour to drum up support ahead of his U.S.-sponsored peace conference with the Palestinians, was hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Monday. Israeli officials quoted Sarkozy as telling Olmert that he considers Israel’s creation a “miracle” of the 20th century.

Though the French president had a Jewish grandfather, he described his pro-Israel sentiments as less a matter of ancestry and more an acknowledgment of the country’s role in introducing democracy to the Middle East. During his meeting with Olmert, Sarkozy reiterated his strenuous opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and said Israel’s security is a “red line” that must not be crossed. But France has yet to support the idea of preventive military action as a last resort for blocking Tehran’s atomic ambitions.

In a further departure from France’s traditional equivocation on Middle East affairs, Sarkozy came out against the Palestinians’ demand that their refugees get a “right of return” to land now in Israel. According to Israeli officials, Sarkozy said it is unreasonable for Palestinians to expect statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while wanting their compatriots resettled in the neighboring Jewish state. Olmert traveled to London Tuesday for talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Coulter: For Jews, Jesus Was a ‘Lunatic’

Jews believe Jesus was a “raving lunatic,” Ann Coulter said. The celebrity pundit appeared on Oct. 15 on Michael Medved’s radio show to defend comments on another show that she hoped Jews would be “perfected” by becoming Christians. Coulter told Medved, an Orthodox Jew, that the sentiment was unremarkable; most belief systems wish for universal conversion, she posited.

“Of course a Christian wants everyone to be a Christian,” she said. “I assume all vegans think the world would be better if everyone were a vegan. And the global warming wackos would like everyone to believe in their crackpot global warming theory. And nonsmokers would like everyone not to smoke.” However, she added: “Jews don’t accept the New Testament, so, you know, as long as we’re playing this new sport of ‘he who is offended first wins,’ if anyone’s going to be offended by anyone else’s religion, the Jews believe that my savior, a Jew, was a raving lunatic, and you don’t see me sniffling and crying.”

There is no Jewish theology of Jesus. There are a small number of isolated talmudic and midrashic references describing him as a rabbinical student who strayed and who lured others into heresy; these have had virtually no impact on Jewish views of Christianity. Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog, first highlighted Coulter’s remarks.

Ahmadinejad Honor Outrages Armenian Jews

The Eurasian Jewish Congress condemned Armenia for honoring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president was presented with an honorary doctorate Monday at Yerevan State University, as well as a gold medal. Ahmadinejad was visiting Armenia for a two-day state visit. In an interview with the Rosbalt news agency, Eurasian Jewish Congress representative and Armenian Jewish community President Rima Varzhepetyan expressed outrage at the decision to honor Ahmadinejad.

“The constant anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric of the president of Iran, as well as the regularly organized statements in denial of the Holocaust, place Ahmadinejad in line with theories not unlike those of Dr. Goebbels, one of the chief ideologues of Nazi ideology in Germany,” Varzhepetyan said.

Court Lets Neo-Nazis March in Prague

A Prague court ruled that a neo-Nazi group can march through the city’s Jewish quarter on Kristallnacht. This is the second time that the court has overturned a City Hall ban on the march by the National Resistance, according to the Czech daily Lidove noviny.

The rally is scheduled for Nov. 10, the anniversary of the 1938 German pogrom.

Prague officials banned the march, saying it would contribute to inciting intolerance and hatred against citizens on the basis of their ethnicity, origin and religious conviction. Prague’s Jewish community will gather the same day for prayers to remember the victims of Kristallnacht, according to Lidove noviny.

Florida Governor Chided Over Mezuzah

Florida’s governor has been criticized for hanging a mezuzah outside his office in Tallahassee. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said it could turn the state building into a shrine for other religious icons, the Palm Beach Post reported Friday, and is the equivalent of the government endorsing a religious symbol.

“The problem is that if he says yes to this religious symbol, he’s not going to be able to say no to any other religious symbol,” Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU, told the Post. “While it may look like a lovely gesture, it’s very short sighted.”

Truth and Consequences


From 2000 to 2002, I led a graduate seminar titled, “Post-Holocaust Ethical and Political Issues,” at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Among the topics covered was the politics of memory.

One of the case studies we explored was the controversy surrounding language and its power. We looked in depth at the massacre of Armenians and how its depiction had become a subject of fierce debate, primarily between Armenians, who insisted on calling the events of 1915 a genocide, and Turks, who adamantly refused to countenance the “G”word.

Essentially, this was a zero-sum game. Either one supported the Armenian or the Turkish position, whether for historical or political reasons, but neither side allowed room for compromise.

The basic Armenian argument was that up to 1.5 million Armenians were deliberately targeted and massacred by the Ottoman Empire, eight years before the modern Turkish republic came into being. At the time, the word genocide didn’t exist. It was Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born Jew, who coined the term.

The Holocaust was the most immediate frame of reference for him, but he was also haunted by the slaughter of the Armenians – and by the need to prevent a repeat of any such occurrences – throughout his career. But had the word been in use, it no doubt would have been invoked by Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. envoy to Turkey at the time and one of the primary sources on the tragedy cited by the Armenians.

No, replied the Turks. This was a time of war. The Armenians sided with Russia, the enemy. Many people, both Turks and Armenians, were killed, but that was the regrettable, if inevitable, consequence of conflict and not a deliberate campaign to wipe the Armenians off the face of the earth, as the Nazis later sought to do to the Jews.

In recent years, of course, the survivors and eyewitnesses have disappeared. But each side has marshaled as much documentary evidence as it can to buttress its assertion. Yet neither side has been talking to the other. Instead, both have been appealing to the rest of the world, seeking supporters.

Not surprisingly, each has sought to draw the Jews to its ranks. The Jews’ moral voice, they reckoned, far exceeds actual numbers. The people of the Shoah are best positioned to tip the scales in one direction or the other.

The Armenian position has been straightforward. As victims of the Holocaust, who can better understand the Armenian ordeal and anguish than the Jews? Fearful of the danger of Holocaust denial, aren’t the Jews most aware of the slippery slope of distorting historical truth? And wasn’t it Adolf Hitler who reportedly asked, “Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” – in effect, paving the way for the Final Solution?

Meanwhile, the Turkish stance has been that Jews shouldn’t simply accept the Armenian version of history lock, stock and barrel, as it’s fraught with distortion and deceit, but rather bear in mind the traditional Turkish welcome of minority communities, especially the embrace of dispersed Jews from Spain by the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 15th century.

Moreover, Turkish leaders have also at times taken a tougher line, suggesting, in barely veiled language, that a Jewish acceptance of the Armenian version of history could have negative consequences for other Jewish interests, whether in Turkey or beyond.

And it is in this vise that many Jews have lived for years, essentially pitting principle against pragmatism. For armchair observers, that may look like an easy choice, but in the world of policy, where actions can have real-life consequences, it’s anything but.

Look at successive governments of the United States, whether under Democratic or Republican leaders. All have reached the same conclusion: Turkey is of vital importance to U.S. geo-strategic interests, straddling as it does two continents, Europe and Asia, bordering key countries – from the former Soviet Union to Iran, Iraq and Syria – and serving as the southeastern flank of NATO. Each administration has essentially punted when asked about the Armenian question, seeking to discourage Congress from recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide, while arguing that a third-party parliamentary body isn’t the right venue to settle a heated historical dispute.

And now I come back full circle to my Johns Hopkins classroom. I had four or five Turkish students in the course. All but one proudly defended Turkey’s historical record, stubbornly refusing to consider any competing narrative.

But there was one young woman who, on reading the assigned material and much more, came to me and said that for the first time, she doubted the official Turkish version of events. There were simply too many compelling accounts of the suffering of Armenians to swallow whole the Turkish line.

She then went a step further and shared her thinking with our class. Regrettably, the other Turkish students distanced themselves from her, but the other students admired her for her courage. They instinctively understood that it wasn’t easy for her to express her sorrow and confusion, but that, under the circumstances, it seemed the right thing to do. I, too, admired her.

I have a strong connection to Turkey, a country I have visited on numerous occasions and to which I feel very close. Few countries have a more critically important role to play in the sphere of international relations.

I remain grateful to this day for the refuge that the Ottoman Empire gave to Jews fleeing the Inquisition. I am intimately connected to the Turkish Jewish community and admire its patriotism and enormous contribution to its homeland.

I deeply appreciate the link between Turkey and Israel, which serves the best interests of both democratic nations in a tough region. And I value Turkey’s role as an anchor of NATO and friend of the United States.

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: America 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 30 years before the term was coined.

ADL’s decision doesn’t go far enough


Last week’s news that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had reversed course and decided to recognize the Turkish massacres of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as a genocide is a necessary step forward for that organization.

Unfortunately, it does not go far enough in rectifying the ADL’s mystifying policy on this question. For while acknowledging that the massacres were a genocide, the ADL and its national director, Abraham Foxman, continue to refuse to support the congressional resolution (HR 106) that officially recognizes the Armenian genocide.

This points to a logical inconsistency, as well as lingering obduracy, on the part of the ADL. There is also a certain disingenuous quality to the ADL’s half-shift.

For years Foxman has repeatedly stated, when asked why his organization holds to its stance, that the issue of whether there was a genocide of Armenians should not be decided by American Jewish communal leaders but rather left to historians. And yet, he has repeatedly ignored the opinion of an overwhelming majority of historians that the Turkish massacres were a genocide. Moreover, his decision last week to acknowledge the genocide was based less on any serious and sober consultative process (precisely what he should have engaged in years ago) than on a hurried decision to avoid intense public pressure and calls for his resignation.

What precipitated this abrupt change of course was a spiraling set of developments in the Boston area several weeks ago. Controversy had been brewing for some time in Watertown, Mass., home to a large number of Armenians, over the ADL’s sponsorship of its No Place for Hate program in that town.

A groundswell of popular concern led the Watertown town council to sever its relationship with the No Place for Hate program in light of the ADL’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide. Throughout this controversy the ADL’s regional director, Andrew Tarsy, heeded the ADL line that Armenians did not suffer a “genocide,” — until on Aug. 16 when he broke with the organization’s declared position and decried it as “morally reprehensible.”

For this brave act of conscience Tarsy was summarily fired, prompting several members of the ADL’s New England board to resign in protest. Shortly thereafter on Aug. 21, Foxman issued a statement asserting that “the consequences of those (i.e., Turkish) actions were tantamount to genocide.” However, he continued by proclaiming that “a congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion.”

But how, in light of the first statement, could acknowledgement of a genocidal atrocity be a “counterproductive diversion?” And why should Tarsy, whose courage and conviction set in motion the ADL’s shift, be the victim of his own organization’s bad judgment?

These questions push to the surface a set of larger and troubling concerns about American Jewish organizational life.

First, the ADL’s clumsy and insensitive handling of the Armenian question exposes the way in which shortsighted political goals can easily cloud the moral judgment of the organized Jewish community. Foxman and others who resist HR 106 fear that the resolution will antagonize the Turkish government and prompt it to rethink its military alliance with Israel and the United States.

Yes, Turkey is Israel’s best friend in the Muslim world. But apart from the improbability of that country severing its relations with either Israel or the United States, we must ask whether supporting those who falsify and distort the historical record is ever in our or their interests.

Moreover, do not Jews, of all people, have a special responsibility to raise their voices at the sight or prospect of genocide? The answer, as groups such as Jewish World Watch make patently clear, is that we can never abdicate our responsibility to act against ethnic cleansing or genocide, whether committed by friend or foe.

Second, this episode reminds us of how detached and undemocratic our Jewish communal leadership is. No referendum has ever been held in the Jewish community on the question of the Armenian genocide or, for that matter, on any other major issue of substance. And yet, Foxman and his counterparts at other national Jewish organizations routinely adopt policies and speak on behalf of the community based on their own sense of what is best for the Jews.

Often, and surely in this case, their judgment rests on what they deem to be in the best interests of the State of Israel. But who appointed or elected them to speak in our name — either on the question of what’s in Israel’s best interests or of whether to recognize the Armenian genocide? The time has come to scrutinize anew the power that these communal leaders arrogate to themselves.

Finally, this episode raises serious doubts about the leadership of Foxman at the helm of one of the country’s most venerable Jewish organizations.

There can be no question that Foxman has fought tirelessly against anti-Semitism over the course of his career. For that he is to be commended. But he has also grown imperious and detached, playing the role of defender-in-chief of the Jews with a somewhat dictatorial air.

He has brusquely pushed out colleagues in the ADL, such as Tarsy in Boston and David Lehrer in Los Angeles, talented and devoted community leaders who dared to speak their mind. He has created an organization in his own image, one that breeds obeisance rather than independence.

As the Armenian genocide debate makes so clear, what is needed from our Jewish communal leaders is a different set of qualities than those evinced by Foxman — open-mindedness, nuance, historical knowledge and fealty to core Jewish values. Enough is enough. We deserve better.

Foxman should follow the logic of his own statement and take the essential next step of supporting HR 106. Further, he should admit the error of his abrupt action and restore Tarsy to his position.

In parallel, our local Anti-Defamation League board should either announce its support for HR 106 –if not here in the heart of the Armenian diaspora, then where? — or renounce the organization’s declared mission “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

ADL reverses policy, finally recognizes Armenian genocide


In a dramatic reversal, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) national director has issued a statement describing the massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as “tantamount to genocide.”

The ADL and its national director, Abraham Foxman, faced mounting criticism in recent weeks for refusing to use the genocide label and for firing Andrew Tarsy, head of the organization’s Boston office, who publicly challenged that policy.

Tarsy’s dismissal sparked a furious backlash from local community leaders — including critical statements from prominent Boston Jews, a “community statement” calling for the ADL to change its position, and the resignation of two members of the ADL’s regional board.

But in a statement issued Tuesday, the ADL said, “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 statement said.

When asked in a Boston Globe interview last month if he believed what happened to the Armenians was genocide, Foxman was quoted as saying: “I don’t know.” Critics argued that Foxman’s remark portrayed the issue as open to debate, with some calling it genocide denial.

ADL insists the change stems from its concern for Jewish unity at a moment of great peril for communities around the world.

“I was just disheartened by how the Jewish community was being torn apart,” Foxman said Tuesday as he traveled to Boston to meet with community leaders. “We were being criticized by other Jewish organizations. And out of a tremendous concern to keep that unity, because the Jewish community is under increased attack in Europe, Latin America and even in this country, the imperative is to try to find unity.”

The turnaround comes just weeks before the release of Foxman’s new book, “The Most Dangerous Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.” Foxman, whose book attempts to debunk claims that Jewish groups stifle debate on Israel and control U.S. foreign policy, said that some advocates of these views were emboldened by the attacks on the ADL.

In recent days, ADL has faced a budding rebellion on the part of the organization’s Boston leadership, which adopted two resolutions on the issue last week, one expressing confidence in Tarsy and the other supporting legislation in Congress acknowledging the Armenian genocide.

Two prominent members of the ADL’s regional board — former chairman of the Polaroid Corp., Stewart Cohen, and Boston City Council member Mike Ross — reportedly resigned in protest over the issue.

The ADL has been under fire since the Armenian community in Watertown, Mass., one of the country’s largest, began agitating to have the town rescind its participation in “No Place for Hate,” a popular anti-bigotry program the ADL sponsors.

On Aug. 14, the Town Council unanimously voted to end its relationship with the program, and other Massachusetts communities were reported to be considering similar moves.

Watertown’s Armenian community was piqued by the ADL’s longtime refusal to support the congressional legislation, which is vigorously opposed by Turkey, Israel’s closest Muslim ally.

Despite the shift on the genocide question, Foxman says he still does not support the legislative measure, which he described in his Tuesday statement as “a counterproductive diversion” that could threaten the Turkish Jewish community and “the important multilateral position between Turkey, Israel and the United States.”

That position is exceedingly unpopular in Boston, where a large Armenian population has developed close ties with the Jewish community. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the David Project, and eight other groups signed on to a “community statement” Monday urging the ADL to reconsider its position.

“We must never forget the Armenian genocide and maintain our guard against those who deny its occurrence,” that statement said. “We stand with them and in support of the local Armenian community, who like the Jews, have suffered greatly at the hands of others.”

An early version of the statement had also called for Tarsy’s reinstatement, but that clause was later dropped.

“Abe Foxman had every right in the world to fire Andy Tarsy,” said Nancy Kaufman, executive director of the Boston JCRC. Tarsy “knew what he was doing.”

Along with other major Jewish groups, the ADL has said the genocide question should be resolved by historians rather than by Congress. Their position is motivated in part by concern for Israel’s close military alliance with Turkey and for the country’s Jews, who have warned that congressional action could create problems for them.

Earlier this year, the ADL — along with the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith International, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs — transmitted a letter from Turkish Jews to congressional leaders opposing the legislation.

While Foxman has previously acknowledged that Turkish Jewry is a factor in his thinking, the letter to the Boston board provided the clearest glimpse yet of the difficulties inherent in balancing the ADL’s universal commitment to human rights and the particular needs of the Jewish community.

We recognize that “we are a Jewish agency whose mission is to work for the community while paying attention to the more universal goals we share with others,” the letter stated. “And when those two elements of our mission come into direct conflict, we do not abandon the Jewish community.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena.), who is the lead sponsor of the congressional resolution, rejected any attempt to connect the controversy to the Israeli-Turkish alliance.

“There is no connection between what the U.S. Congress does on this resolution and Israel, unless ADL makes one,” Schiff said. The ADL “may end up hurting Israel by bringing Israel into the fight.”

For The Journal’s May 2007 cover story on the controversy,