One hundred six years ago, 1915, the Ottoman Turkish Muslim regime in Turkey massacred and expelled many millions of the Christian Armenian population within the Turkish Empire. More than one million Armenian children were separated from their parents and were murdered.
Even Jews who lived in Ottoman Turkish Palestine were expelled or were murdered. Among them were thousands of Jews living in Jaffa and hundreds who lived in Jerusalem. The lucky Jews who survived fled to Alexandria in Egypt and remained there until the 1918 arrival of a British Mandate in Palestine and the end of the Ottoman Turkish regime forever.
Much, perhaps most, of the world remained silent during and after the bloody Turkish holocaust years.
It was Adolf Hitler who in 1939 made the remark “the world has forgotten the Turkish genocide. They will not remember our treatment of the Jews”.
But Hitler was both right and wrong. The Turkish genocide of Christian Armenians has been sadly forgotten while the massacres of six million Jews is widely remembered.
While many nations today recall the Ottoman Turkish genocide, seventy-three years have passed and Israel has not publicly acknowledged the inhuman tragedy of innocent Christians, the decent Armenian people. We are living seventy-three years of immense shame.
A nation and a people who suffered the greatest holocaust in world history, who endured the genocide of millions of Jews in every land where German Nazi boots trampeled, who witnessed death by poison gas and by flaming fires, by ghettos and mass killings such as Babi Yar, have closed eyes and mouths to our great shame and disgrace in not protesting Turkey’s annihilation of the Armenians.
Today’s Germany is not the Germany of its cruel past. Neither is today’s Turkey responsible for the genocide of its previous Ottoman government.
But today’s Germany admitted its previous guilt and made restitution while today’s Turkey denies guilt and refuses restitution to surviving members of murdered families. Land, home and property of Armenians were confiscated by Turks together with Armenian lives whose blood covered the lands of the Turkish Empire.
It is of interest to know that Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity as its state religion. The Armenians are the world’s first Christians. Thousands of them succeeded in fleeing the massacres and made their way to the Holy Land in Palestine, settling mainly in Jerusalem where they work, live and pray in their communities today.
Israel has claimed that a reason for their withholding of recognition of the Turkish genocide between 1914-1918 was due to its favorable relations with modern Turkey, the first Muslim nation to recognize the Jewish State of Israel in 1948. Ultimately, Turkey became a favorite country for Israeli Jews to visit.
Gold jewelry and fine clothing were better buys in Istanbul than in Tel-Aviv. And gold was to be treasured more than remembrance of the deaths of millions at the hands of the many jewelry merchants and their past families in all the cities of modern Turkey.
We, as a Jewish nation and people, must recognize the tragedy suffered by the Armenian people. We owe it to their surviving families and to all our fellow Armenian citizens living in Israel among us.
Two years ago while spending a day in Jerusalem, I made my way to the Armenian Patriarchate and asked permission to enter. I was welcomed and was led to the office of the religious authorities of the Armenian monastery.
I spoke of my shame as an Israeli Jew in the failure of our country to officially recognize the genocide of the Armenian people which preceded the genocide of the Jews. I was offered a cup of coffee (hoping that it was not what is commonly called Turkish coffee which would have been inappropriate) and I listened carefully to the soulful remarks of the priest who was speaking with me.
At the end of my visit, I opened my wallet and handed a large bill of Israeli shekels to the priest and asked him to accept it as a donation to the Armenian poor from a Jew who suffers from their suffering.
It frankly surprised me to hear him telling me that my donation was the first he had ever received from a Jew living in Israel. Happy to be the first and hopefully never the last.
We owe much to the survivors of the Turkish tragedy. We owe them a recognition of the massacre of their families. We owe them our respect and our sympathies. As they recognize the tragedy of Jewish suffering so too are we obligated to recognize theirs.
Israeli Jews and Armenian Christians living as brothers in Israel, a land holy to us both, share a common devastation. Let us never forget our suffering nor theirs.
Speak up and let your voices be heard. It is time, after seventy-three years, to erase the shame of our silence.
Demand that our government join with other decent nations and peoples by officially recognizing the Armenian massacres by the genocide committed by the Turkish Ottoman regime 106 years ago.
We dare not remain silent any longer. We must not. We must cleanse ourselves of our national shame.
As our Jewish religion teaches us “v’im lo achshav, aimatai”. And if not now, when?