A Kosher Lecture at a Kosher Armenian Dinner

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

An announcement was sent to the media about a lecture to be delivered on August 18 at the Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, Calif. A prominent scholar in the person of Richard Hovannisian has been invited as the lecturer. The context and the format are both interesting to the academic community as well as the general public. The lecture will follow a “Kosher Armenian dinner” and will deal with the similarities and differences between the Jewish and Armenian genocides.

When the historiography of the Armenian Genocide was still in its infancy, Hovannisian became one of the early pioneers on the topic driving the issue not only to the Armenian audience, but to an international audience. This latest undertaking is also directed at an audience whose sensitivity to the issue cannot be overestimated. Hovannisian is taking the Genocide discussion to the Jewish community, which is also traumatized and tormented with a catastrophic experience that befell Armenians early last century.

Ever since the Jewish Holocaust, it has almost become a cliché to state that had the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide been punished, perhaps the Holocaust would have been avoided. But the cruel logic of history and politics is that human nature will not change and given the opportunity any dictator would become a Talaat, Hitler or Pol Pot.

But by comparing the Armenian experience to the Jewish experience, some lessons could be learned by politicians, scholars and even by the nations affected and shaped by those historic events.

There are similarities and differences between the two cases. The similarities are within the realm of cause and effect. The Ittihadist leadership blamed Armenians as traitors to the Ottoman Empire, just like Hitler blamed the Jews for all the ills of German society and determined to bring the Final Solution to Jewish existence in Europe.

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The dissimilarities are much more pronounced since the Armenians were exterminated in their own native land while the Jews met the same fate in an alien land. As a result of the Genocide, the Armenians lost 75 percent of their population, along with their ancestral homeland of 3,000 years. The Jews received a homeland as a direct consequence of the Holocaust. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 to grant a homeland to the Jews did not become a reality until 1948, when the Jews took their destiny into their own hands and many European Jews sought to live lives as Israelis, not a fearful minority in Europe.

The surviving Armenians lost their homes, houses of worship and all their belongings and at best, they were granted some charity in host countries, while Israel became the beneficiary of the compensation owed to the victims of the Holocaust, despite the fact that it did not exist as a sovereign country during the Holocaust.

Genocide scholars will certainly dig more similarities and differences in these to historic cases. But mutual education is necessary for both nations to understand each other and stand together as a bulwark against any future threat of ethnic cleansing.

Many serious and righteous Jewish scholars, including Israel Charny, Yair Auron and others, maintain that the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Israeli government erodes the moral foundations of the Holocaust itself.

These Jewish scholars consider it a moral imperative for the Israeli government to recognize the Armenian Genocide, over and above the political expediency of placating the Turks. The louder these righteous voices resonate, the better the chances are for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which eventually will pave the way for the US government to join the fray. It is no secret to anyone that the impediment to that recognition comes from the people of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and some pro-Israeli lobbyists in Washington. Whatever these scholars of high integrity believe and profess, does not necessarily translate into political currency.

Every time Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan makes a blunder by accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people, rumors circulate and actual parliamentary hearings are held in Israeli parliament in preparation of the Jewish State’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Those inconsequential rumors evaporate and the hearings are discontinued, as soon as Ankara signals a conciliatory note.

The most outrageous incident took place when Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Ankara and announced that the murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire did not amount to genocide. That was a political compliment presented to his Turkish hosts with the blood of 1.5 million Armenian martyrs. However, history is full of ironies. Not too much later, Mr. Erdogan faced Mr. Peres in Davos, Switzerland and walked away from a dispute shouting in the Israeli president’s face that his country was committing genocide against Palestinians. The Armenian victims insulted by Mr. Peres were vindicated inadvertently by the Turkish leader.

Mr. Foxman and his ilk maintain that holding the Armenian Genocide or any other mass murder on the level of the Holocaust will chip away the political capital of the Holocaust. However, unless the Jewish Holocaust and the genocides perpetrated against Armenians, Cambodians and Rwandans, among an unfortunately long list, are treated as integral dimensions of the universal pain, they will be devalued as moral and historical cases.

We are certain that Prof. Richard Hovannisian will drive the point to his Jewish audience, as have other Genocide scholars, including Vahakn Dadrian, Taner Akçam, Robert Melson and others have done.

In the meantime, we hope Professor Hovannisian will enjoy his well-deserved Kosher Armenian Dinner.