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Harut Sassounian: Met with Israel’s President, and spoke at Armenian Genocide conference

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Last week I spoke at the first conference on the Armenian Genocide in Israel, gave a lecture at the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, and attended a meeting with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

Pres. Rivlin was a staunch supporter of Armenian Genocide recognition while he was Chairman of the Knesset (parliament). As President, he is now more circumspect, not wishing to contradict his government’s reprehensible silence regarding the Armenian Genocide. However, during his meeting with the scholars attending the genocide conference last week, Pres. Rivlin left no doubt that his position on the Armenian Genocide has not changed. He even used the term “Armenian Genocide” during the meeting. He also recalled his speech at the UN General Assembly earlier this year in which he specifically referenced the Armenian Genocide.

I reminded Pres. Rivlin that over two dozen countries have already recognized the Armenian Genocide and that Israel should also acknowledge it simply because it is the right thing to do! I expressed the hope that with his continued support Israel would complete ‘the missing page’ of my book which lists the countries that have recognized the Armenian Genocide!

I then handed Pres. Rivlin my book, “The Armenian Genocide, The World Speaks Out: 1915-2015, Documents & Declarations,” a copy of the speech I delivered at the conference, and my newspaper, The California Courier.

The Armenian Genocide conference was organized By Prof. Yair Auron and the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication at The Open University of Israel. Among the distinguished speakers were: Jacob Metzer, President of The Open University of Israel; Prof. Yair Auron; Prof. Israel Charny; Prof. Elihu Richter; Prof. Dina Porat, Chief Historian of Yad Vashem; Dr. Stefan Ihrig, author of “Ataturk in the Nazi Imagination”; Ragip Zarakolu, a prominent human rights activist from Turkey; Prof. Ayhan Aktar from Istanbul Bilgi University; Ya’akov Ahimeir, Journalist and Editor of Israel Broadcasting Authority’s weekly international news survey on Channel 1; Benny Ziffer, Editor of the literary and cultural section of Haaretz newspaper; and George Hintlian from Jerusalem’s Armenian community.

In my conference presentation, I expressed regret that The State of Israel has yet to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Here are excerpts from my remarks:

“I must first draw an important distinction between the position of the Israeli government and the people of Israel and Jews around the world who have been some of the leading voices calling attention to the Armenian Genocide and its recognition:

— Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, during the Genocide;

— Franz Werfel, the Austrian Jewish novelist, who wrote in 1933 the international bestselling novel, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.” His book was translated into Hebrew in 1934 and was widely read by Jews everywhere, particularly in the Warsaw ghetto, as a source of inspiration for survival and resistance to the Nazis during the Shoah;

— Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish lawyer, who coined the term genocide. He disclosed during a 1949 interview on the CBS-TV Program Face the Nation: “I became interested in genocide because it happened to the Armenians”;

— I would add to these historical figures the name of Yossi Beilin, who spoke out on the Armenian Genocide as Israel’s Minister of Justice on April 24, 2000, and as Deputy Foreign Minister in 1994, despite heavy pressures and criticisms from the Israeli government;

— We also fondly remember Minister of Education Yossi Sarid who was the keynote speaker in Jerusalem on April 24, 2000, the 85th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. He declared: “I am here, with you, as a human being, as a Jew, as an Israeli, and as Education Minister of the State of Israel…. Whoever stands indifferent in front of it [genocide], or ignores it, whoever makes calculations, whoever is silent always helps the perpetrator of the crime and not the murdered.”

— I must include in this list of Righteous Jews, Professors Israel Charny, Yair Auron, Yehuda Bauer, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, and a large number of Jewish scholars who were the trailblazers in writing articles and books on the Armenian Genocide, even before Armenian scholars.

— I must also commend Knesset members and former Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin — the current President of Israel — who staunchly supported Armenian Genocide recognition despite his government’s vehement opposition.

As it is well known, the Armenian Genocide was the ‘prototype’ of the Shoah in view of German complicity in the extermination of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. In the process of that criminal cooperation, the German military learned from its Turkish ally practical evil lessons on how to organize and implement the elimination of an entire race! Hitler was emboldened by the silence of the world while Armenians were getting wiped out, to confidently declare on the eve of his invasion of Poland in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Consequently, The State of Israel should have been the first country, and hopefully not the last, to recognize the Armenian Genocide! Who should empathize more with the victims of a genocide than those who have suffered a similar fate?

Those who give Realpolitik reasons to justify Israel’s reluctance to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, should answer the following question: Would they accept the denial of the Shoah by another country, simply because it is in that country’s strategic interest to do so?

Equally illogical is the claim that now is not the right time to recognize the Armenian Genocide! When is a good time to recognize a genocide? Isn’t 100 years of waiting long enough?

Moreover, for years, we were told that acknowledging the Armenian Genocide would ruin Israel’s good relations with Turkey. Now, we are being told that Israel cannot acknowledge it in order not to make its bad relations with Turkey worse!

It would be immoral to exploit the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a bargaining chip between Turkey and Israel. No political, economic or military interest should override the recognition of any genocide!

Israel should recognize the Armenian Genocide for one reason only: It is the right thing to do!”

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