Friday, May 07, 2010

High Time for a Joint

No, this is not a plug for NORML.

Last month (somehow it does't seem so long ago), we commemmorated Yom Ha-shoah. About the same time, the Armenians commemmorate their own genocide at the hands of Turkey in 1915, where an estimated two million Armenians were murdered. Unlike Germany, the present government of Turkey never owned up to the crimes of the Ottoman sultanate that it overthrew, and never attempted to make amends. To this day the official Turkish line is that they were merely putting down a rebellion.

Anybody who visits Jerusalem and walks to the kotel through the Armenian Quarter (the long way, not through the shuq) sees maps and posters on Armenian shops detailing the crime against humanity. It was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the Shoah. Hitler ym"sh said as much in Mein Kampf: The world let the Turks get away with killing millions of innocent civilians in an attempt to get rid of a competing culture (Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity while Turks are overwhemingly Muslim and, until Ataturk secularized the country, militantly so) and will likewise allow him to get rid of the Jews. "Who remembers the Armenian massacres?" he asked rhetorically. The Turks gave Hitler a green light to perpetrate the Shoah.

I always wondered why, since we and the Armenians commemmorate our respective tragedies at the same time of year, we do not hold joint commemmorations. Of course, such events would have to be secular. We cannot participate in Christian prayer, nor should Christians be expected to listen to El Malei Rahamim; perhaps a reading of appropriate Psalms in English would be acceptable. Such a gathering could be addressed by Jewish and Armenian scholars (Armenian survivors are all gone and Jewish ones are increasingly hard to find) who would remind us how genocide is an ongoing scourge (cf. Bosnia and Rwanda) and how the Armenian genocide provided a historical backdrop and cover for the Shoah. To the best of my knowledge, such a joint observance never occurred. The government of Israel would not have encouraged such an event, if it did not actually discourage it. It was interested in forging a pragmatic alliance with Turkey, a powerful Muslim-majority but secular state. Several years ago, when Hebrew University in Jerusalem attempted to hold a scholarly gathering on the subject, inviting both Jewish and Armenian scholars of genocide, the government exerted heavy pressure on the university to cancel the event. To the university's eternal discredit, it complied. If something similar had happened here in the United States, with the government pressuring a university to cancel an academic conference for political considerations, the entire American academic community would rise as one - k'ish ehad b'lev ehad - to resist the government.

It now appears that the government of Israel is receiving its just deserts for subordinating truth to politics. The alliance between Israel and Turkey has taken quite a beating. An Islamist government that would have Ataturk turning over in his grave cancelled long-standing security cooperation with Israel and is tilting heavily toward the Arab and Muslim states on Turkey's eastern border - Syria, Iraq and Iran. Perhaps now is the time for truth to out. A joint commemmoration, held in the United States, of the Shoah and the Armenian genocide, would not need (and indeed never needed) the approval of Israel's government, and given the present situation between Israel and Turkey, the government might well look the other way and not voice any objections.
We are the "generation after." We came of age in the 1960s and '70s, amidst great political turmoil and cultural upheaval. When we were convinced that something was right, we cared not at all that we would be antagonizing our own government. We wielded the power of truth and justice against the greatest evil empire of our time - the Soviet Union - and won. It is high time that we took a stand for truth alongside victims of the same inhumanity that murdered a third of our own people.

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