Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been leading the charge, foaming at the mouth with his repeated rantings and accusations against Israel of “mass murder” and “massacring innocent civilians.” Turkish media outlets have further fomented anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment with similar hyperbole. Mass rallies all over Turkey, some of the largest worldwide, have deteriorated into vile anti-Semitic spectacles.
The height of hypocrisy is self-evident in Turkey’s own highly suspect human rights record. Moreover, its own campaign against Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq has caused thousands of innocent civilian deaths over the years, with little effort to avoid mass casualties.
Israel has carved out a close strategic alliance with Turkey recently, the only genuine one it has with a country in the Muslim world. It was born out of necessity, and Turkey has served as a mediator in peace talks, particularly with Syria, in exchange for advancing Turkey’s military know-how and technology.
In light of recent events, there has been much reflection in Israel on the make-up and tenor of this expedient alliance. I am not going to debate the merits of the relationship. However, there is a very unsettling element to it. This partnership is predicated on pro-Israel groups in the United States working in concert with pro-Turkey groups to prevent the U.S. Congress from passing a resolution (which has passed in Canada) recognizing the genocide of the Armenia’s by Turkish nationalists at the beginning of the 20th century. This denial by Turkey exists despite compelling and irrefutable evidence.
During the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, a group of army officers overthrew the sultan in 1908. Turkish nationalism began to flourish, and the Armenia’s, a significant Christian minority, began to assert their own cultural identity and push for regional autonomy. The Turkish leadership resented the Armenia’s’ resistance to assimilation, and plans were made to exterminate the Armenian population.
It started on April 24, 1915, when Armenian leaders were summarily executed. Men of military age were forced into labour camps, and those who survived starvation and illness were shot in mass graves. Hangings and mass executions continued on a large scale. Women, children and the elderly were forced to march for weeks without food, with few surviving.
Females of all ages were brutally subjected to torture, rape and murder. Those who survived such atrocities threw themselves off cliffs. In the end, 1.8 million Armenia’s perished.
Since the inception of modern Turkey in 1922, resolute denial of the Armenian genocide has been intrinsic to Turkish society. It’s a crime to speak of the genocide.
A further disturbing aspect of this denial of history is that Adolf Hitler used the Armenian genocide as a template for the Nazis’ Final Solution, curtly saying at the time, “Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenia’s?”
As Jews, we are ever so vigilant and outraged whenever diabolical Holocaust deniers rear their ugly heads and spread poisonous hatred. Therefore, it is an absolute moral imperative that Jewish groups not become a party to Turkey’s denial of its crime.
Israel is strong enough to redefine its strategic alliance with Turkey on its own terms. But it is morally unacceptable that a people reborn out of the ashes of the Holocaust be complicit, even reluctantly, in the denial of another genocide. It goes against the very essence of the Jewish soul.
Norman Epstein is a physician in Toronto and the founder of Canadians Against Slavery and Torture in Sudan.