91st Commemoration of Armenian Genocide Held at Hebrew University
The Hebrew University in Israel held its commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at its Givat Ram Campus in Jerusalem on Wednesday 26 April 2006 with some 200 people in attendance.
The annual event, organized by Armenian Studies Professor Michael Stone, came two days after 24 April; the official day Armenians mark the deportation and murder of 1.5 million of their people between 1915 and 1917 by the Ottoman Turks.
As in previous years, the commemoration of the Genocide coincided with the State of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which pays tribute to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis in World War II.
The striking similarity in the history of both peoples is often spoken about in Jewish and Armenian circles as both have experienced tragic periods and ironically, when Hitler was asked how he planned to get away with the systematic extermination of the Jews he answered, “who remembers the Armenians?”
However, despite overwhelming documented evidence, the Genocide, to the dismay of many Armenians, is not recognized by much of the international community, most notably the State of Israel.
“I feel pride that the Jewish community is interested and sympathizes with the Armenian people and it makes me happy to be a citizen of Israel whose people really do care about the Genocide,” said Jerusalem resident Serop Sahagian whose grandparents were survivors.
“But, I am very disappointed with the government’s policy. Israel should have been the first nation to recognize the Armenian Genocide and now they are one of the last and that is very bad,” Sahagian said.
During the course of the evening, several of the Jewish and Armenian speakers touched on this sensitive matter.
At one point, His Excellency Mr. Tsolag Momjian, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia read a letter he received the previous week from Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada that was sent to the Armenian community.
In it Harper stated Canada’s support for Armenians and their right to have the Genocide recognized by all nations. The declaration prompted Mr. Momjian to say, “I read this tonight because I have a question for the Prime Minister of Israel,” referring to the Jewish State’s official silence on the issue.
Meanwhile, Keynote speaker Yossi Sarid, a former Education Minister in the Israeli government who fought to have the Genocide placed in the Israeli curriculum, said there were two reasons for Israel’s silence.
The first, he explained was relations with Turkey.
“Who doesn’t think we should have relations with Turkey? They are important? But, when you are talking about the murder of a nation, all self interests must be overlooked,” Sarid said.
“When we talk about the democratic state of Israel, Israel must be the state, if necessary the only state, that says to all the people of the world ‘we won’t make considerations because we know, we were born out of genocide,” he added.
Sarid presented the second reason as a worry in the Jewish community that recognizing any other genocide will take away from the enormity of the Holocaust and said, “there is no greater educational mistake than this.”
Also in attendance was the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian who cited the Jewish US Ambassador to Ottoman Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, and his first hand account of the Genocide as it was happening.
“When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for deportations of the Armenian People, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race, they understood this and in their conversations with me they made no attempt to hide the fact,” the Archbishop read from Morgenthau’s writings.
The concluding remarks were given by distinguished Fulbright Scholar, Professor Abraham Terian who warmly thanked Jewish People for their efforts to help stop the denial of the Armenian People’s tragedy.
“We Armenians whether here in Jerusalem, in the US or wherever we are in the world are so truly grateful to our Jewish brothers and sisters who so conscientiously stand by us as we decry genocide and perpetrators of inhumanity,” Terian said.
Born in Jaffe near Tel Aviv but currently the Academic Dean of a small Armenian Seminary in New Rochelle, New York, the professor returned to the topic of the commonality that exists between Jews and Armenians and said:
“We have so much in common that we speak the same language, our Jewish brothers and sisters have theirs and we Armenians have ours but beneath it all there is a subtext that is existentially the same.”
“Who should know ‘genocide’ or ‘holocaust’ any better than people that have experienced it and we of all people should be foremost in decrying what is generally called genocide, something that needs no explanation or definition anymore,” Terian said.
He explained that Armenians understand why at the official level, Israeli leaders are slow to acknowledge the Genocide but believe, just as many Israeli scholars believe, that Israel it strong enough to tell Turkey:
“In all matters of political expediency, whatever the mutual interests are politically, all is fine. But, when it comes to denial of the Armenian Genocide, somehow it goes against the grain of Jewish conscience after what happened to the Jewish people in their recent past.”
Professor Terian added that for Armenians, just as for Jews, the psychology of denial in 2006 is sometimes what hurts most. Still, Jews and Armenians can form a concerted voice because they “understand each other as to how it feels when they encounter those who deny the veracity of the Armenian Genocide or the Jewish Holocaust.”
Finally, it should be noted that all speakers during the evening recognized that the magnitude of the Holocaust far surpasses any genocide in the 20th century till today and that there is no intention of drawing parallels as the Holocaust was a unique event in human history.
However, Armenians say they expect the Israeli government not to wait ‘for the right time’ to officially acknowledge the Genocide just for acknowledgment’s sake.
In the words of Professor Terian, “if there is any country that should be leading the way, Israel should be at the forefront of telling the Turks how it is.”
Today Turkey is a strategic ally for Israel and the United States and while every US president has voiced support for recognizing the Genocide, none have taken that important step.
Also, the Turkish government continues to blatantly deny the atrocity ever took place and the US and Israel are not willing to step forward and condemn the deniers as they do when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust “a myth.”
However, there is renewed optimism that the people of Turkey may soon come clean with their past.
Turkish intellectuals are beginning to openly write about the Genocide and a milestone was achieved in March when for the first time, Henry Morgenthau’s personal chronicle of his service as the US ambassador and witness to the massacres was published in Turkey.
That book was first released in November 1918.