April 24, 2014 is 99th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government during WW I. As it was unfolding, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., America’s ambassador in to the Ottoman Court, tried in vain to stop it. In his memoirs, Morgenthau later suggested that,
When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact (Wikipedia).
The strategy was crude by Nazi standards but it was systematic and large scale. It involved deportation marches over hundreds of miles, allegedly for security reasons, which left most of the participants dead along the way with a toll estimated at over a million.
The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin who first considered the problem before WWII in reaction to the Armenian massacres. Hitler was confident that he could pull off a genocide without international interference, because, as he said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Turkey still refuses to admit it perpetrated a genocide. To oblige their government, the US and Israeli governments will also not condemn those events as genocide.
According to a CNN headline, today, For 6th year in a row, Obama breaks promise to acknowledge Armenian genocide. The article goes on to say:
For the sixth year in a row, President Barack Obama has broken his promise to the Armenian community, made when seeking their votes as a senator and a presidential candidate, to use the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. He did this in deference to the government of Turkey, which – historical revisionism aside – the Obama administration regards as a more crucial ally……
The President’s statement today alludes to what he actually thinks, without stating it forthrightly. “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” Obama said in a statement that avoided use of the “g” word.
The disappointment from Armenian-Americans is all the more profound because not only did then-Senator Obama promise to call the massacre a “genocide,” he held up his willingness to do so as an example of why he was the kind of candidate the nation needed, noting as a presidential candidate that in 2006 he had criticized then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for firing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans “after he properly used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Turkey’s slaughter of thousands of Armenians starting in 1915.
Israel also has not recognized the genocide to date, though there are unconfirmed reports of yet another Knesset initiative to finally do it, but again, avoiding the “g” word.
It is time for the world to recognize this tragedy for what it was, and what it presaged for the century that followed: a world in which genocide became a word and a thinkable policy.
P. S. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued a statement, noteworthy because it is the first time he said anything and he seems to be aiming to open up the topic. But if you are reading this with Jewish sensibilities, subject it to the following evaluation. Imagine it was made by the German prime minister and addressed to Jews on Yom Hashoah. Here is that statement rewritten as a shoah response:
THE MESSAGE OF THE PRIME MINISTER OF GERMANY ON THE EVENTS OF WW II
Shoah carries a particular significance for our Jewish citizens and for all Jews around the world, and provides a valuable opportunity to share opinions freely on a historical matter.
It is indisputable that WW II was a difficult period, full of suffering for many Europeans, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.
Any conscientious, fair and humanistic approach to these issues requires an understanding of all the sufferings endured in this period, without discriminating as to religion or ethnicity.
Certainly, neither constructing hierarchies of pain nor comparing and contrasting suffering carries any meaning for those who experienced this pain themselves……
It is a duty of humanity to acknowledge that Jews remember the suffering experienced in that period, just like every other European citizen.
In Germany, expressing different opinions and thoughts freely on the events of WW II is the requirement of a pluralistic perspective as well as of a culture of democracy and modernity.
Some may perceive this climate of freedom in German as an opportunity to express accusatory, offensive and even provocative assertions and allegations.
Even so, if this will enable us to better understand historical issues with their legal aspects and to transform resentment to friendship again, it is natural to approach different discourses with empathy and tolerance and expect a similar attitude from all sides.
The German Republic will continue to approach every idea with dignity in line with the universal values of law.
Nevertheless, using the events of WW II as an excuse for hostility against Germany and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible.
The incidents of WW II are our shared pain. To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility.
Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in WW II. Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences – such as relocation – during WW II, should not prevent Germany’s Jews and Christians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes among towards one another.
In today’s world, deriving enmity from history and creating new antagonisms are neither acceptable nor useful for building a common future.
The spirit of the age necessitates dialogue despite differences, understanding by heeding others, evaluating means for compromise, denouncing hatred, and praising respect and tolerance.
With this understanding, we, as the German Republic, have called for the establishment of a joint historical commission in order to study the events of WW II in a scholarly manner. This call remains valid. Scholarly research to be carried out by German, Israeli and international historians would play a significant role in shedding light on the events of WW II and an accurate understanding of history.
It is with this understanding that we have opened our archives to all researchers. Today, hundreds of thousands of documents in our archives are at the service of historians.
Looking to the future with confidence, Germany has always supported scholarly and comprehensive studies for an accurate understanding of history. The people of Europe, who lived together for centuries regardless of their different ethnic and religious origins, have established common values in every field from art to diplomacy, from state administration to commerce. Today they continue to have the same ability to create a new future.
It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Jews who lost their lives in the context of the twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.
Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins, we pay tribute, with compassion and respect, to all European citizens who lost their lives in the same period and under similar conditions.”
Having just ridiculed Erdogan’s statement, the one thing that impressed me was the commitment to open the WW I archives to historians. If this promise is kept and independent scholars get access it could be the beginning of genuine acknowledgement. As a Jewish community I feel we should keep on pressuring Pope Francis to finally open up the Vatican archives about their conduct in the holocaust.