All that lying about the Armenian genocide did not help

All that lying about the Armenian genocide did not help

05 November 2009

IJN Editorial Staff (

We could use the word “diplomacy” or “politics” or “ignorance” or “objectivity” or “fairness.” In truth, there is only one word: lie.

For many years, some national Jewish organizations lied about the Armenian genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks during WW I. These organizations said it didn’t happen, or that it was a matter of “historical dispute.” Replace the world “Holocaust” for “Armenian genocide.” We would not regard it as “diplomacy or “politics” or “ignorance” or “objectivity” or “fairness” to say that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that it was a matter of “historical dispute.” We would say: Holocaust denial is a lie.

On the grounds that Israel had to maintain good relations with Turkey, these national Jewish organizations — not to mention Israel herself — accepted Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide, or said it was “disputed.” Good relations with Turkey could only be purchased by acceptance of Turkey’s lying about the Armenian genocide, we were told.

It was disgraceful.

As if one genocide can be covered up any better than another one.

As if the descendants of the Holocaust could go blind or bigoted, or could sell out to “diplomacy” or “politics” or “ignorance” or “objectivity” or “fairness” — and expect it to be effective.

It wasn’t. Lo and behold, as the realpolitik world turns, Turkey is now turning against Israel. All of that genuflection on the Armenian genocide did not help. Turkey cancelled military exercises with Israel last month. After Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza some 11 months ago, Turkey denounced Israel. Now, Israelis are retaliating the only way they know how: by cancelling their considerable tourist travel to Turkey.

Naturally, we hope that Turkish-Israeli relations improve. But the only way to pay for them is in the coin of standard fare in international relations: trade and mutual support in foreign capitals. Lying about the Armenian genocide should not be part of the currency of Israeli — or American Jewish — diplomacy with Turkey.

Israel and these national Jewish organizations should now see that, even pragmatically, the lying did not help. And morally? When it comes to genocide, diplomacy and politics have no place. There can be no denying, ignoring or low-prioritizing genocide. Israel and national Jewish organizations denied that principle — and this denial is now coming back to bite them.

We are not surprised. Something so immeasurably and absolutely immoral as genocide cannot effectively be subjected to diplomacy or politics. FDR tried regarding the Holocaust; it substantially soiled his posthumous reputation. Henry Kissinger tried regarding Cambodia; it reinforced his reputation for deviousness. Bill Clinton tried regarding Rwanda; it is an indelible stain on his presidency.

Regarding genocide, posterity is enormously unkind. Today, even in
Turkey the number of scholars who acknowledge the Armenian genocide is
growing. Various counter-claims, denying the Armenian genocide, look
ever more outlandish. Can you imagine anyone credibly claiming that the
Warsaw Ghetto revolt in 1943 shows that the Holocaust was just a “civil
war” between the Jews and the Germans? That’s how ridiculous the “civil
war” characterization of the Turkish prosecution of the Armenian
genocide is coming to look. Posterity, we repeat, treats genocide
deniers very unkindly.

As Professor Ronald Grigor Suny cuttingly put it in the current issue
of the American Historical Review:

“What appears in the sources to have been the Turks’ panic and paranoia
at an imagined danger from their Armenian subjects has metastasized in
the hands of apologists into justification for state-ordered murder.”

When bad people murder a whole population, good people must respond, as
respond we must in Darfur today. When time passes and we look back on
people who murdered a whole population, we must never allow that
transcendent evil to be denied or downplayed because of diplomatic or
political considerations. It’s wrong. And it won’t work.

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