Esor Ben-Sorek

Armenia and the Jews

Our connection with Armenia has its origin in our Bible. After the great deluge, Noah’a ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat which is a famed Armenian mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples began preaching and teaching a new faith which, like the Jewish Bible recognized the One-ness of One God,  Armenia was the first nation in the world to accept Christianity as its national religion.

Armenia never had a very large Jewish population but Armenian Jews were respected and well-treated.

The Armenian nation, like much of the territories in the Middle East, was conquered by the Ottoman Turkish regime and Islam was introduced into the country. The Ottoman Turks were not generally hospitable to non-Muslims but they  tolerated them as a dhimmi status which required payment of a protection tax to the Muslim Ottoman Turkish regime.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914 the Ottoman Turkish Empire was on the side of Germany. Fearing revolution in wartime by the non-Muslim minorities, Armenians, Greeks and Jews, the Ottoman Turkish government sent troops to prevent an outbreak against the tyrranical  Ottoman empire.

Beginning in 1915, hundreds of thousands of Armenians and several thousand Greeks were brutally treated by the Turkish army which led ultimately to forced marches, deprivation of food and water, and the massacre…the world’s first genocide… against one and a half  million Armenian Christians.  Young and old, small children and babies in their mothers’ arms, were lined up and shot by the Turkish soldiers under orders from the Sultan in Istanbul.

Some Armenians were able to escape and many made their way to safety in Greece and in Palestine where they settled and established their community in Jerusalem.

From July to September 1915, 4,200 Armenians fled to the mountain of Musa Dagh, called by the Armenians Musa Ler, and they held out for 53 days and nights  against the might of the Turkish troops.

Their resistance  inspired the Austrian novelist, Franz Werfel, who wrote his novel, “Forty Days at Musa Dagh”.  Shortly after their resistance, a French naval vessel rescued them and brought them to safety.

The tragic fate of the Armenian people living in Turkey between 1915-1918 has been recognized by 29 countries of the world not only as a massacre, but a new word was created… genocide.

Sadly, Israel is not yet among the nations who recognize the Ottoman Turkish genocide of the Armenian people.

In later years when Nazi Germany began plotting its entlosing… its final solution of the Jewish problem, Hitler was known to have said “No one remembers what happened to the Armenians, no one cared; so it will be when we rid Germany of all its stinking Jews”.

But he was wrong. The world does remember the Shoah. And may non-Jews cared.

In Israel, the Armenian community in Jerusalem is famed for its creative artists, its unique pottery and ceramics, and one of the oldest photography shops in Jerusalem was owned by Armenians.

They are a people of unique faith in God. They are extremely devoted to the Armenian Quarter of the city and do charitable work for their people within the walls of the community. Their magnificent monastery is the place for their daily devotions.

I first became acquainted with some Armenians 25 years ago and I have supported their cause ever since. Ten years ago I was invited to deliver a sermon on a Sunday worship in an Armenian church. I spoke of our similarities, our history, our culture and our faith. My remarks were deeply appreciated. At that time I spoke of my personal disappointment with the Government of Israel’s stubborn refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide.

It was our politicians’ policy to abstain from recognition due to our good relationship, at that time, with Turkey. But there is a place for politics and a place for morality. Our government chose politics over morality.

Can you imagine our feelings if some nations, not only individuals, but entire countries, refused to recognize the Holocaust of the Jewish people? To deny that such an atrocity never happened?

We would be angered at their immorality. So too is the case for our Armenian citizens.

Recently a member of our Knesset proposed that we should formally recognize the Armenian genocide. It is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. And it is the Jewish thing to do.

In a short time the proposal will be put to a vote. I have hopes that the hearts and the consciences of our legislators will direct them to vote unanimously for the proposal. The decision ultimately rests in the hands of our Prime Minister who does not wish, chass v’chalila, to offend the offensive President of Turkey, Recip Erdogan.

The only step that Turkey may take would be to sever diplomatic relations with us. They would be the losers and we will be able to join with the moral nations of the world who have called a spade a spade.

The Armenian genocide was the handiwork of the Ottoman government, NOT the democratic nation of Kemal Ataturk Pasha,  just as modern Germany is not responsible for the crimes of Nazi Germany but they are obligated to admit it and to include it in the history of the German nation. So too must modern Turkey find the courage to admit the crimes against humanity of their predecessors.

We as a Jewish people and nation have a moral and ethical obligation to publicly condemn the Armenian genocide.   Hitler was wrong.   We do remember and we do care.

May Tzur Yisrael, the Rock of Israel, inspire the hearts of our legislators to vote for the recognition of the Armenian genocide at the hands of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire from 1915-1918.

Why?     Because it is the very moral,  right,  and Jewish thing to do.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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