On the eve of Yom Hazikaron, some thoughts on the Armenian Genocide

More than 60 years ago, my Aunt Ruth and her family escaped through the back door of their home as Nazi soldiers broke down the front.
April 21, 2015

More than 60 years ago, my Aunt Ruth and her family escaped through the back door of their home as Nazi soldiers broke down the front.  She spent the next seven years of her life hiding in basements, monasteries and praying that she would survive.  She went on to have four children, naming her eldest, Vita, proving that life could persist even the darkest of moments. 

Aunt Ruth was able to live with the memory of the Holocaust, joined by a global community who never questioned her harrowing escape nor the near annihilation of our people. April 24 marks the 100-year anniversary of the systematic murder of at least 1.5 million Armenian grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters and children. As the Jewish community prepares to hold days of remembrance for the Holocaust, I can’t help but reflect on a century Armenian Genocide denial and the deafening silence from too many.

Like Jews, the Armenian people were relocated, sent on death marches, starved and burned. The Ottoman Turks waged a campaign of ethnic cleanings from 1915-18 well documented by The New York Times, which published more than 100 articles documenting the mass murder. Henry Morgenthau, the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire wrote a detailed account of the horrific scenes he witnessed and of the “men reeking with the blood of nearly a million human beings.”

Reading Morgenthau’s “The Murder of a Nation,” I am reminded of the stories of my own grandfathers’ accounts when they liberated Auschwitz and Dachau just 25 years after the genocidal campaign ended in the Ottoman Empire. Yet the truth remains silenced.

Honoring a person’s memory is integral to Jewish tradition.  We sit shiva for seven days when a person dies, and we light yahrzeit candles every year on the anniversary of their death. Each year, we commemorate the 6 million Jews were murdered during Yom Ha’Shoah and on Yom Ha’zikaron – which annually occurs around the same time as remembrances for the genocide – we remember those who died fighting for our Jewish homeland. Why don’t we dissent louder for our Armenian cousins when only days later we commemorate the slaughter of 1.5 million?

The world has been fed a false narrative that the campaign of horror inflicted by the Ottoman Turks was not a one-sided attempt to wipe out an entire people, but a two-sided war of aggression. All evidence to the contrary, the world has held its nose and implicitly agreed to silence its conscience. Would we also hold our nose if Germany decided to reject the historical nature of the Holocaust or persist in flipping the narrative that the Jews fought just as hard against a German army bent only on defending its Fatherland?

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to remember history as it happened. I am also thankful we have an opportunity to rightly call wrongs for what they are. In 2004, Congress passed a joint resolution calling what was happening in Darfur “genocide.” In 2007, Rep. Adam Schiff introduced a measure to justifiably label the genocide, rendering peace of mind to survivors, families and a world seeking truth. Passage of the measure would put the U.S. along side 22 countries that have recognized the genocide and 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Turkey scuttled it, warning that any passage of this non-binding resolution would threaten its strategic partnership with the U.S.

This is the play. Turkey is an ally, one of the only moderate governments in the region, and open to Israel using its airspace. As a result, the U.S and many Jews fear that an acknowledgement will result in alienation and a retraction of our diplomatic allowances.  If this pretense once held sway, it no longer does.

Turkey’s relationship with Israel has disintegrated since 2010, when nine people died aboard a Turkish flotilla at the hands of Israel navy soldiers attempting to secure Israeli ports. Just last year, during the last conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan accused Israel of genocide. In a fiery speech, he said,  “We have been witnessing this systematic genocide every Ramadan since 1948.”  These are not the sentiments of an ally nor someone interested in maintaining cool diplomatic alliances.

Domestically, Erdogan has been called an autocrat and lashed out at protestors throughout his country. Internationally, Turkey’s growing alliances with Hamas and al-Qaida financiers make its so-called ally’s in the Western world nervous.

But putting geo politics aside, recognizing the genocide is the right thing to do. As the granddaughter of liberators, grandniece of survivors, and as self-avowed Zionist, I strive to live a life of kavanah integrating my Jewish values into daily life. This is what compels me to implore our community to stand b’yachad – together – with the Armenian community, to call and write our members of Congress to ask that they stand on courage to properly honor and remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were deliberately murdered. Let’s demand that they call the systematic ethnic cleansing what it was:  Genocide. 

On August 22, 1939, less than two weeks before the invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” History has shown that we are what we do not what we say we are.  If we are a people who never forget, a people who do not stand idly by the spilled blood of our neighbors, then now is the moment that we must act.  Today is the day that we say, 100 years is long enough to deny an undeniable truth. Dayenu. Enough.

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