Image from iWitness, The Armenian Genocide Project
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.
*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.]