Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Community*



Image from iWitness, The Armenian Genocide Project

[Hat tip Normblog and Contentious Centrist]

Norman Geras brings attention to an article on the Armenian genocide by Leonard Fine in the Forward. Fine contends that:

It is doubtful that many people are persuaded by the Turks and their lobbyists. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recognizes the Armenian genocide, as does the Reform Jewish movement, as, one assumes, do most Jewish leaders, at least privately — perhaps even the leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and B’nai B’rith International.

Fine concludes the paragraph by noting:

Yet the leaders of these organizations have steadfastly refused to endorse a bill currently before Congress that would formally acknowledge the fact of the Armenian genocide.

On one hand, I strongly agree with Fine. These organizations should absolutely endorse the bill. But Fine asks the readers to make a major leap of faith when he assumes that most Jewish leaders, “perhaps” even the leaders of major Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee agree with him. What evidence does Fine have? Did any of these organizations ever produce a publication, a pamphlet, even a letter confirming Fine’s assumptions? Why doesn’t Fine mention that Bernard Lewis, an expert on Turkish history, does not think that genocide took place?

I’m not that old but I do know Jews have not been of one voice on the Armenian genocide just as we have rarely been of one voice on any issue. For example, in an article in Commentary (“The First Genocide of the 20th Century?” December 2005 you can read it for free here), Guenter Lewey wrote:

The historical question at issue is premeditation that is, whether the Turkish regime intentionally organized the annihilation of its Armenian minority. According to the Genocide Convention of 1948, such an intent to destroy a group is a necessary condition of genocide; most other definitions of this crime of crimes similarly insist upon the centrality of malicious intent. Hence the crucial problem to be addressed is not the huge loss of life in and of itself but rather whether the Turkish government deliberately sought the deaths that we know to have occurred.

It is true that no written record of Hitler’s order for the Final Solution of the “Jewish question” has been found, either. But the major elements of the decision-making process leading up to the annihilation of the Jews of Europe can be reconstructed from events, court testimony, and a rich store of authentic documents. It is doubtful that the Nuremberg trials would ever have achieved their tremendous significance in authenticating the crimes of the Nazi regime if they had had to rely on a few copies instead of on the thousands of original documents preserved in archives. Barring the unlikely discovery of sensational new documents in the Turkish archives, it is safe to say that no similar evidence exists for the tragic events of 1915-16. At the same time, a number of facts about the deportations argue against the thesis that they constituted a premeditated program for exterminating the Armenians of Turkey…


Again, let me clear, I support the bill and think that there was intent to destroy the Armenians i.e. genocide did occur. But the jury is out and historians are not of one mind on this conflict, nor are Jews and Jewish organizations. Contentious Centrist writes:

Personally, I’m quite fed up with kowtowing to any authoritarian regime’s whims and eccentricities. Turkey is a big kid already and should be able to face up to atrocities committed by Turks when Turkey was still an empire. This includes not only the Armenian genocide but also the various massacres and expulsions committed under the Ottomans against Palestinian Jews

Now they are seeking to use Jewish influence in the Congress to block this acknowledgement of a historical atrocity. And the Jewish organizations that help them pretend that they can’t smell the stench of this humongous hypocricy. Why do they agree to do this dirty work for the Turks?


Among mainstream Jewish organizations, Abe Foxman and the ADL have come under intense criticism. Foxman in particular. The Boston Globe reports the regional chapter of the ADL broke with national leadership:

In an emergency meeting yesterday afternoon, the regional ADL board adopted resolutions calling on the national organization, which has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide, to change its policy, according to a source familiar with the proposal.

This is a positive development. Keep the pressure on. Foxman will likely change his position if he gets enough pressure from the regional chapters.

Text of the Armenian Genocide Bill is available here. More coverage at Jewcy.

*Dumb title, I know. We are a people divided into many communities, in Israel, the U.S. and throughout the Diaspora.

[UPDATE (19:31 GMT): Since writing this post Abe Foxman and the national ADL have changed their position and now recognize the Armenian genocide. However, the organization still refuses to support the bill. With continued pressure from regional chapters and concered individuals, this can change. More updates will be provided as they become available.]

10 responses »

  1. I have more than a little trouble with your post.|For crying outr loud the jury is not “still out” and historins do agree a genocide occured.

    Yes you can find revsionists, just like you can find revisionists deniers of the Holocaust or adjusters of fact around the Holocaust..

    Guenter Lewey is not a historian of the Ottoman Empire. He is a highly controversial author whose life work has been to prove the total exceptionalism of the Holocaust and is on the very fringes promting the idea that no other genocide was a genocide.

    Bernard Lewis actually called the Armenian Genocide a “Holocaust” in the 1960’s. He became one of the big revisionists and deniers over the years as he became dependent on his Turkish model. You do realize he is orginally a Turkish Jew and refelcts extreme dhimmitude?

    This leaves Heath Lowry, who it turns out worked for and took money from the Turkish govenment installed lobbying front in DC.

    I think you ought to ask anyone who works in DC what has been going on. The chief deniers of the Armenian Genocide are in fact the organized Jewish American Lobby. It is not even the broader “Pro-Israel lobby” but specifically the Jewish American Lobby.

    The ADL, the Wiesenthal Center, The Washington Institue (orignally set up as a think tank arm of AIPAC) and even wrse, the AJC whose leadership has decided to attack legitimate Armenian American and Greek American interests here in Washington begining in 1996-97. This was at the behest of the government in Jerusalem. The coverage of this can be found in no less than Ha’aretz, the Jerusalem Post, and numerous observations by concerned Jewish Americans.

    Even Ellie Wiesel got initially caught up in it and did a 180 when he realized what was happening.

    I brought this up at my own chapter a number of years ago. The concern was not the legitimacy (which was burshed off by citing deniers) but whether the Armenains were strong enough in Washington to counter it. This is a vcery very ugly way to look at it, and the news is that the Aremanian and Greek Americans are probably strong enough, but thankfully many (most) Jewish Ameircans are going to agree with them as this issue becomes more welll known. And I can assure you we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. There is giong to be significant backlash.

  2. Thanks for your comments, MC. As you can read in my post, I support the bill. I think the ADL and other Jewish organizations should support the bill and I encourage grassroots pressure on the ADL to change their position. All of this is included in my post.

    As far as Lewis, he is an expert on the region. As a historian, I think his analysis results from actually studying historical documents rather than following the orders of his “Turkish masters”. Nevertheless, I disagree with him. That was in my post as well, “genocide did occur.”

    Regarding Lewey, I included the piece from “Commentary” because the magazine is published by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), one the organizations cited in Fine’s article. I realize the AJC makes it clear that the views of writers in “Commentary” are not necessarily those of the AJC. But the very presence of Lewey’s article in “Commentary”–the decision to publish it–displays that there is not uniformity of thought in the Jewish community around this important issue. That was the point of my post, not that I agreed with Lewey. I thought I made that pretty clear.

    Anyway, feel free to visit and comment anytime you like. I appreciate your perspective and agree that pressure needs to be placed on the ADL and other organized Jewish groups.

  3. MC, you may be interested in reading this item from 2005 in “The Boston Globe”. I am unfamiliar with the specifics of this case or how it turned out.

    Censoring History

    The historical dispute involves interpreting what happened to the Armenian population of eastern Anatolia during and after World War I in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Though historians have documented death and deportation of large numbers of Armenians (as well as the deaths of many Turks), they disagree over whether what happened constitutes ”genocide,” a term defined by international law as the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. While many historians argue that it was the intent of the Turks to exterminate the Armenians as a people, others counter that such intent has not been firmly established and that the events more closely resemble a civil war than a genocidal campaign.

    Here is a blog post at Media Nation critical of this perspective:

    “Genocide” and free speech

    One of my favorite Bostonians, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, finds himself — that is, has injected himself — into the midst of a controvery over genocide, history and public education…I’m uncomfortable with Silverglate and Zalkind’s reliance on the legal definition of “genocide” in discussing this issue…What happened during World War I was either genocide or it wasn’t, and it shouldn’t matter what international law has to say about the matter.

  4. On Silverglate and Zalkind if they also argued in their brief for “both sides” on the issue of hte Holocaust (and it there are peer reviewed authors that dispute cannon on the Holocaust) then they are being consistant and would have no problem with this:

    “Though historians have documented death and deportation of large numbers of Jews (as well as the deaths of many Germans), they disagree over whether what happened constitutes ”genocide.”

    Else they argue for exceptionalism. That is a perversion. Genocides have been going on for a long time. So the question is not what happened to that case but whether Silverglate and Zalkind also sued to include opposing points of view on the Holocaust.

    Let’s get beyond that because the question at hand, and generally, is NOT about opposing points of view on any revisionism or extemes in academia and speech. (Although notably Lewey of course is a major ally of Pipes and the McCarthyite tactics in academia himself).

    The issue is plainly of the American Jewish community’s organs proactively spearheading denial or reasons that HAVE NOTHING to do with the historic facts or historic context.

    The fact is the Peres government agreed to attack anyone in the US with an issue regarding Turkey via the Jewish American community’s organizations. This is hardly in dispute, or the view of Antisemites, since this exact background has been discussed in Haaretz, the Jerusalem post and indeed the Forward. This has put quite a few the Jewish American community’s leadership in a per se cesspool and one that will gain more and more infamy over the next few years due to the obvious ironies.

    The ten year program of denying this genocide in direct coordination with Ankara’s most extreme nationalists is now a historic fact in itself and one that will generate a large body of scrutiny and work over the coming years.

  5. From the MediaNation blog entry:

    “The question, then, is whether the historians on the it-wasn’t-genocide wing of the dispute are conscientious scholars or a bunch of David Irvings.”

    I certainly do not place Bernard Lewis in the same category as David Irving. On this we may disagree.

    As to your other points they are well made. Continue the pressure and encourage others to do so.

  6. This is the first I hear that bernard Lewis is a Turkish Jew. I’d like to know where MC got this information.

    But it does make for an ironical anecdote. Here is Bernard Lewis, a famous British historian, suspected to playing dhimmi to Turkish masters in resisting to tag Ottoman atrocities as genocide because he is a Turkish Jew!

    When Orham Pamuk was awarded the Nobel prize, not least for his audacity in questioning the Turkish Party line by asserting his belief in the Armenian genocide, guess what? He was suspected of serving the Jewish masters of Turkey because he was actually a Jew!

    “Orhan Pamuk is a member of religion or practice which is supposedly jews converted islam during ottoman rule , called sabateyism, their messiah called sabatay levy. you can find more information about them. thou why am i giving this information? because they have access to more media channels then anyone else in Turkey. so they get more publicity then anyone else, also supposedly they do practice quite power in turkish media and turkish politics and business thus you hear his book on, ala called power of minorities, i also suspect that , they are the very sole origin of laicism in Turkey”

    Now isn’t it interesting that instead of dealing with the matter at hand, which is actually purely political, both commenters somehow manage to blame it and its reversal on Jews?

  7. As a very minor footnote, one of the first people to champion the Armenian cause was the great maverick Jewish nationalist Israel Zangwill, who said that in the face of the Armenian suffering, Jewry must take off its crown of thorns, i.e. that Armenian suffering outweighed even that of the Jewish people. And, as another very minor footnote, the man who gave us the word “genocide”, was the Jewish Raphael Lemkin, who took the Armenian massacre as his model.

  8. Noga, it is the ADL “blaming it on the Jews.” The ADL’s psotion is that the Turkish Jewish community’s issue.

    This was in a letter authored by the “Turkish Jewish community” and sent to every member of Congress jointly by ADL, AIPAC and AJC in April 2007 asking members to refuse to support the genocide resolution.

    [If you don’t know this they you do not have the factual background on why this exploded in watertown]

    I don’t know what your point is on “blaming it on the Jews.” I am Jewish — and informed Jew with ethics. And since one can find many mainstream press notes that the denial of the Armenian Genocide in Washington is spearheaded by the five largest Jewish community advocacy groups I have to ask why anyone proporting to know the facts would attempt to duck this.

    The entire issue is about what the heck the Jewish American community groups are doing so deeply entrenching in this issue. You cant say people are blaming the Jews. We Jews are blaming our own “leaders”!

    This has all been well covered in the Forward, the Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem post over the past ten years.

    It is precisely the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem that linked the Turkish Jewish community and the Genocide issue in Washington ten years ago.

    The facts are that the Israeli Foreign Ministry — in a move that incredibly reinforces the canard of a international “movement” asked the Jewish American groups to do this in DC for the Turkish Jewish groups.

    Peres removed the Armenian genocide from the Israeli curriculum, Went to Turkey, stood with the Turkish Jewish community and promised advocacy in Washington.

    What then is the denial in the US if not a Jewish issue? Let’s not be silly or naive.

    On Lewis, his parents were Turkish Jewish emigres to London wher he was born. He remains highly connected and involved to the Jewish Turkish community.

    Are you saying you don’t know that Lewis’ background is preciseily the group the ADL is naming, namely Turkish Jews, or that he isn’t highly active in the most hard line lobbying groups? If you are saying so then I suggest your read up. I am not talking about marginal sites I am talking abut he Israeli press.

    So throwing up Lewis and Levy, two of the most infamous Armenian genocide deniers there are, is too much. Lewey insists that there was no genocide against the Gypsies either. What crap. He is an extreme exceptionalist. His line is no other genocide happened. Have you read his work? His specialty is examining mass ethnic killing and then showing why the Holocaust is an exception. His methods follow those spelled out by Samantha Powers,

    Lemkin was certainly a hero and the Jewish American community at large had always supported the Armenian genocide recognition. You should know that on various Holocaust sites the fact that Lemkin had been a student of the Armenian genocide before World War two began being excised in the mid 1990’s as part of this pattern. Also in the mid 1990’s the Museum of tolerance in LA, administered by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, excised for all its own official publications the existing mention of the Armenian Genocide! The administrators of the Museum said they had been lobbied by the Israeli embassy to remove the mention of the Armenians! (LA times February 3 2003)

    NewCentrist: On Lewis here is the WSJ:
    “Mr. Lewis is also close to government circles in Israel and Turkey—non-Arab lands he describes as the only successful modern states in the region. He warmly praises Kemal Attaturk, who made Turkey a secular republic after World War I by suppressing Islam. (He has also said the Ottoman Turks’ killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 wasn’t genocide but the brutal byproduct of war. It was a stance for which a French court convicted Mr. Lewis in 1995 under France’s Holocaust-denial statute, imposing a token penalty.) Israeli experts say Mr. Lewis’s contacts with Turkish generals and politicians helped cement Israeli-Turkish military ties in the 1990s.”

    For goodness sakes there is nobody more closely tied to the Turkish military in the US than Lewis. The WSJ says he is the broker between the Likkud and Ankara!

    In the 1960’s he called the Armenians Genocide a “Holocaust” (this was removed from the “Emergence of Modern Turkey” after the first edition but notes to this fact can be found on google scholar ) after the military gained control and his friends were in power he reversed and became a denier.

  9. Pingback: Thanks (Again!) to Fellow Bloggers « The New Centrist

  10. MC: I searched the Inernet for verification that “On Lewis, his parents were Turkish Jewish emigres to London’ and couldn’t find any information. I’d like to know your source.

    I’m sort of stumped by the callousness of your narrative, casting Peres as a genocide denier and Turkish Jews as a dismissable factor in this terribly complex matter.

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