By Howard L. Jaffe and Laura Boghosian
Lexington – We write this piece, a Jew (in fact, a rabbi) and an Armenian, to express our mutual disappointment in the failure of the Jewish community to take a more active, principled stand on recognition of the Armenian Genocide than has been taken to date.
Ironically, the term ?genocide? was coined by a Jew, Raphael Lemkin, in response to the 1915-1923 Turkish massacres of Armenians. Lemkin, a jurist, was appalled that Turkish ?criminals were guilty of genocide and were not punished.? This impunity later emboldened Adolph Hitler who proclaimed, ?Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians??
The word ?genocide? has been applied not only to the Holocaust, but to massacres from Cambodia to Darfur. The call for similar recognition of the Armenian Genocide has come from many quarters, including the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS). Over 20 countries, the Vatican, the European Parliament, and a United Nations sub-commission have officially affirmed the Armenian Genocide, as have 40 U.S. states including Massachusetts. Presidents since Woodrow Wilson have referenced the Armenian massacres, but only Ronald Reagan employed the term ?genocide.? The House of Representatives has twice passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide as such, but the Senate has never done so, leaving America in the shameful position of not being on record on the right side of this issue.
What is especially troubling is that while Jewish Holocaust scholars and some Jewish groups have recognized the Armenian Genocide, most Jewish bodies have not. And the one organization whose mission statement includes the words ?to secure justice and fair treatment to all? ? the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) ? has steadfastly refused to issue a strong, unambiguous acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide.
More disturbing, the ADL has joined others in lobbying against official U.S. affirmation in deference to Israel?s strategic alliance with Turkey, which threatens retaliation against countries recognizing the genocide.
The ADL?s position is simply not justifiable. Recently, three prominent Israeli genocide scholars condemned an Israeli ambassador?s comments supporting Turkish genocide denial by writing that Israel?s relationship with Turkey ?does not require public displays of obsequiousness and participation in genocide denial.?
Even if Turkey?s threats are not mere saber rattling, as many believe, the consequences to Israel are not great enough to legitimize the ADL?s actions. By engaging in such realpolitik, the ADL forfeits its moral authority to speak on matters of conscience. Thus, the ADL must choose: it is impossible to function simultaneously as a human rights organization and as an advocate for any sovereign nation. Conflict is inevitable, as became apparent last fall when numerous Boston-area communities, including Lexington, voted to sever ties with the ADL due to its unacceptable stance.
Although the ADL?s New England region and its former director, Andrew Tarsy, attempted to alter portions of the national organization?s policy on the Armenian Genocide, they were unsuccessful in effecting meaningful change. Sadly, the New England chairman later said he was ?comfortable? with national ADL?s position.
Yet last year?s events have awakened some in the Jewish community to the continuing injustice done the Armenians. We are hopeful that the efforts of those attempting to alter the policies of the ADL and other national Jewish organizations from within will succeed and that more will join in working to promote Congressional legislation officially acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. Through such joint activism, change will occur.
Why is this important? Because by neglecting to acknowledge all genocides and by failing to condemn decisively genocide denial, individuals, organizations, and governments do immeasurable harm ? not only to the victims and their descendants, but to future generations whom they put at risk.
Genocide scholar Israel Charny brands denial a renewed attack on the victim group that mocks its suffering and celebrates the success of the genocide. Current IAGS President Gregory Stanton warns that genocide denial ?is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres.?
As the field of genocide studies has grown in recent years, the nexus of the Jewish and Armenian experiences has become ever more apparent, leading to conferences, papers and books that explore the inextricably interwoven threads of these two dark chapters of the 20th century. However, few remembrances of one community have been shared with the other.
As part of the Friday, May 2 Sabbath service of Temple Isaiah at which the congregation will commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, one of the country?s foremost scholars of the Armenian Genocide will speak to the interrelationship between these two experiences. Temple Isaiah warmly invites its friends in the community to attend this 8 p.m. service and address by Dr. Richard Hovannisian of UCLA.
May this be a small step forward in bringing our two communities even closer together in our mutual efforts to acknowledge past genocides and to prevent this most horrendous crime against humanity from occurring ever again.
Howard L. Jaffe is rabbi at Temple Isaiah. Laura Boghosian is a resident of Russell Road.
Source: “Wicked Local Lexington”, 31 March 2008
Caricature by Tom Toles, Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2007