The recent formal recognition by President Biden of the genocide of the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Turks that took place in the early years of the 20th century is not merely a pro forma gesture to the Armenian people. It is of vast historical significance. It corrects a century-old historic anomaly by realistically acknowledging a factual situation that, due to political pressure from Turkey and “political correctness” by many states fearing Turkish retribution, had been deliberately ignored or overlooked over the years.
The U.S. Declaration
On April 24, 2021, President Biden, in an official statement commemorating Armenian Remembrance Day, expressed the United States’ formal acknowledgment and recognition of the Armenian genocide by Ottoman-era Turks during the years 1915-1923.2
The atrocities by the Ottoman authorities included the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders and the systematic deportation and massacre of one-and-a-half million Armenians in different parts of Turkey.
Rejecting the U.S. declaration, the Turkish foreign ministry stated:
We reject and denounce in the strongest terms the statement of the President of the U.S. regarding the events of 1915 made under the pressure of radical Armenian circles and anti-Turkey groups on April 24, ….. This statement of the U.S. … will never be accepted in the conscience of the Turkish people, and will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual friendship and trust.3
The consistent Turkish rejection of the allegations of genocide appears to run counter to considerable real-time evidence pointing to the large-scale massacres that took place. A joint declaration by Britain, France, and Russia, dated May 24, 1915, declared the Turkish government responsible for crimes against the Armenians:
For about a month, the Kurd and Turkish populations of Armenia have been massacring Armenians with the connivance and often assistance of Ottoman authorities. … Inhabitants of about one hundred villages were all murdered. In that city, the Armenian quarter is besieged by Kurds. At the same time, in Constantinople Ottoman Government ill-treats inoffensive Armenian population.
In view of those new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly to the Sublime-Porte that they will hold personally responsible [for] these crimes all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres.4
Were the Jews of Palestine Next?
Testimony of the Turkish massacres was voiced by the Jews of Palestine, who feared a similar fate. One account by Ḥemdah Ben-Yehudah, a journalist and the wife of the pioneering Hebrew scholar Eliezer Ben-Yehudah, was too familiar to those who witnessed the Armenian massacres:5
The [Turkish] military commander Hassan Bey knew no limits to … wickedness. The [Turks] began by a systematic persecution of the Jews….Ten thousand Jews left Jerusalem in one week. The streets were filled with the exiles who had no carriages and conveyed their baggage on their own backs…. Women kept house underground; but there was little food to prepare. They had forgotten the appearance of a loaf of bread. The babies died for lack of milk….Turkish soldiers entered and penetrated down to the cellars and arrested the defenseless Hebrews. They tore the husbands from the arms of their wives and separated the children from their parents…. The wives and the young women threw themselves upon the necks of their husbands and fathers and brothers, insisting that they should share the horrors of this terrible forced journey. The victims were taken away in the direction of Jericho.”
The Turkish Denial
The Turkish rejection of the U.S. declaration is consistent with their standard policy of denial by successive Turkish regimes since the massacres took place. This is despite evidence pointing to the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide, whether through eyewitness accounts, official archives, photographic evidence, the reports of diplomats, and the testimony of survivors.
Turkey has even attempted to disrupt academic conferences and public discussions of the Armenian Genocide. A notable example was the attempt by Turkish officials to force the cancellation of a conference in Tel Aviv in 1982 at which the Armenian Genocide was to be discussed. Such demands were amplified with threats to the safety of Jews in Turkey. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council reported similar threats over plans to include references to the Armenian Genocide within the interpretive framework of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.8
While there seems to have been a general consensus in the international community regarding the fact that a genocide took place, many countries (including Israel) have refrained from formally acknowledging the fact that it was a genocide. The reasons for this reluctance are perhaps because of their bilateral relations and commercial interests with Turkey, or because of Turkey’s status in the international community, or a result of the considerable political pressure employed by the Turkish government.
Israel’s and the Armenian Genocide
Israel’s position has been influenced by many moral, humanitarian, and political factors.
In 2001, Israel’s then-Foreign Minister (and later President) Shimon Peres, basing himself on the uniqueness of the Holocaust and attempted genocide of the Jewish people, refrained from drawing a parallel with the Armenian situation, claiming that “….what the Armenians went through is a tragedy, but not a genocide.”9
In 2011, when the subject was discussed in Israel’s Knesset, Speaker Reuven Rivlin (currently Israel’s president) expressed his intention to convene an annual parliamentary session of the entire Knesset to mark the Armenian genocide of 1915 and 1916 at the hands of the Turks. Speaking to an Israel-based Armenian action committee, Rivlin said, “It is my duty as a Jew and Israeli to recognize the tragedies of other peoples.”
While the issue was referred to the Knesset’s Education Committee for more extensive deliberation, such recognition never materialized. Ultimately, because of Israel’s commercial, security, tourism, and aviation interests with Turkey, as well as its relationship with Azerbaijan (Israel’s leading supplier of oil), then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made it clear in 2015 that Israel did not intend to recognize the Armenian Genocide.10
Implications of the U.S. Declaration on Recent Attempted Genocides
In addition to the historical significance of the U.S. recognition of the Armenian genocide, it portends a serious and significant paradigm-change in the manner in which recent occurrences of attempted genocides, large-scale atrocities, and systematic murder, and repression are likely to be perceived within the international community, in general, and specifically by major powers.
Such recent occurrences of attempted and real genocide include:
- 2015 attempted genocide of the Iraqi Kurds, committed by ISIS and Iraqi government forces and by Iran, and the systematic attempt by ISIS to exterminate the non-Muslim Yazidis, Assyrian Christians, and Shiites in Iraq since 2014;11
- Ongoing attempted genocide by Myanmar of the Muslim Rohingya people that commenced in 2017 involving ethnic cleansing, atrocities, persecution, and violence;12
- Repression of the Turkic Muslim Uyghurs in China, since 2016;13
- Attempted genocide and ethnic cleansing by South Sudan’s president against the Nuer tribal ethnic group in South Sudan, since 2018, and ethnic massacres and killings by Arab militias of minority, non-Muslim groups in Darfur;14
- Attempted genocide, displacement of millions, and ethnic cleansing of Christian militias by Muslim leadership in the Central African Republic;15
- Mass killing of Yemenis by the Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2017;16
- Ongoing persecution of Christians in Nigeria by radical Islamists.17
Threats by Iran to Annihilate Israel
By the same moral and historical logic that brought the U.S. administration to acknowledge and finally recognize the Armenian genocide, one might expect similar acknowledgment of the widely publicized and officially stated genocidal intentions and ongoing existential threats against Israel voiced by senior Iranian politicians and military commanders:
- In 2005, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, called Israel a “tumor” and echoed the words of the former Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by saying that Israel should be wiped off the map.18
- In a 2006 speech during an emergency meeting of Muslim leaders in Malaysia, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “the main solution to the Middle East crisis is for the elimination of the Zionist regime.”19
In 2008, marking Israel’s 60th Independence Day, Ahmadinejad declared:
Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken. Today, the reason for the Zionist regime’s existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation.20
In June 2008, the Iranian presidency issued a statement calling to “wipe Israel off the map”:
O dear Imam (Khomeini)! You said the Zionist regime is a usurper and illegitimate regime, and a cancerous tumor should be wiped off the map. I should say that your illuminating remark and cause are going to come true today. The Zionist regime has lost its existence philosophy… the Zionist regime faces a complete dead-end, and under God’s grace, your wish will soon be materialized, and the corrupt element will be wiped off the map.21
- A 2014 threat by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, conveyed through social media to annihilate Israel: “This barbaric, wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel, which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.”22
A 9-point table, published on Twitter, outlining why and how Israel should be eliminated:
The only means of bringing Israeli crimes to an end is the elimination of this regime…..The only means of confronting a regime that commits crimes beyond one’s thought and imagination is a resolute and armed confrontation.23
- In January 2019, the head of Iran‘s air force, Brigadier-General Aziz Nasirzadeh, called to eliminate Israel from the Earth: “The young people in the air force are fully ready and impatient to confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the Earth.”24
The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide determined in its third article that incitement to genocide is a crime under international law.25 Iran is plainly violating this basic provision of international law.
It is incumbent upon the international community and the UN, in particular, to respond with commensurate measures. The silence of the international community can and will continue to be interpreted by Teheran as a form of acquiescence to Iran’s declarations.
The above panoply of threats, when complemented by Iran’s intentions and ongoing efforts to acquire for itself nuclear capability and weaponry, must surely be taken into consideration by the U.S. administration, as well as by the European countries, as a central factor in any resumed negotiation with Iran.
There cannot exist a double standard that acknowledges and condemns past occurrences of genocide, while out of the same “political correctness” that was demonstrated vis-à-vis Turkey, and “out of fear of offending Iran,” overlooks, ignores, downgrades, and sidelines genuine, ongoing threats by the Iranian leadership to destroy the State of Israel.
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4 Displayed at the site of the official Armenian memorial to the genocide, in Yerevan.
6 “Hangings outside Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem: Arabs, Armenians, Bedouins, Jews.” Official Turkish photo circa 1917. File number FL1533796. State Library, New South Wales, Australia.
10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide_recognition#Position_of_Israel See also https://www.haaretz.com/1.5017931 See also https://www.haaretz.com/no-recognition-of-armenian-genocide-in-the-offing-1.5357941