Silence Is Not An Option: ADL Breaks With Israel - and U.S. - To Acknowledge Armenian Genocide

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Marking the Armenian genocide. Photo by Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty

Breaking with Israel's decades-long insistence that Jews hold a monopoly as victims of mass murder, the Anti-Defamation League has for the first time declared the 1915 massacre by Turkish forces of over 1.5 million Armenians "unequivocally genocide,” and called on the US government to recognize the killings as such. The precedent-breaking move by new ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt - which came on the occasion of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, shortly after the 101st com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Armenian tragedy, and shortly after Palestinians marked Nakba Day - was seen by some as a rebuke to the denial of not just Turkey, but the US and Israel, of their respective crimes.

In his statement, Greenblatt stressed the 103-year-old organization's historic task to fight against all forms of big­otry, to "edu­cate and take action against hate in our own time (as) we vow, 'Never again.' Our mis­sion reflects the words of the Jew­ish Sage Hil­lel from 2,000 years ago:  'If I am not for myself, who will be? And, if I am only for myself what am I?'" Citing both a moral and practical responsibility, he went on, "The first genocide of the 20th century is no different. What happened in the Ottoman Empire to the Arme­ni­ans begin­ning in 1915 was geno­cide." Citing the awful progression from arresting and executing intellectuals to expulsion of families to death marches, torture, starvation and massacre - and a failure to act by too much of the world - he proclaimed, "We must edu­cate each gen­er­a­tion about the tragedies of the past. Silence is not an option."

The public support of a major Jewish organization, which came after lengthy dialogue between the Jewish and Armenian communities, is viewed as vital to Armenian advocates who have long fought for recognition of the genocide - including from the ADL, which had resisted it. Noted Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, “We, the Armenians and the Jewish people, have suffered the same fate."   The ADL action could also lend clout to Armenian efforts to get recognition from a mealy-mouthed US government more concerned with Turkish relations and oil than doing the right thing; the US has said it "mourns" the massacred Armenians and urges Turkey and Armenia to "work together to achieve a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts.”


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Turkey, meanwhile, continues to deny those facts, with Israel right behind. In spite of the shared oppression of Jews and Armenians, Israel's government has long and counter-intuitively resisted applying the term "genocide" to the Armenian slaughter - perhaps because they cling to a sort of perverse moral high ground by claiming it belongs solely to the experience of Jews in the Holocaust, or because they have their own political and economic interests in Turkey. Plus, some critics argue, their own denial of another people's national trauma - the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians - is a perfect reflection of Turkey's way denial of ugly historical fact. For the first time, the ADL action thus contradicts all the elements of a steadfast Israeli narrative: It says that yes, other people have suffered genocide; that moral considerations overrule economic ones; and that the trauma of the 1948 Nakba, marked last week by thousands of disenfranchised Palestinians, continues.

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The aftermath in Armenia

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