By Prof. Israel Charny
Do you know that there are many publications in Hebrew which refer to the Armenian genocide as “Hashoa HaArmenit” or the Armenian shoah? This is because “shoah” intrinsically means extensive or cataclysmic destruction. The word became so identified with the terrifying destruction of the Jewish people and the Nazi intention to destroy all Jews everywhere that many of us retain a capital letter for the English translation of “shoah” when we are referring to this immense event of the Holocaust (capital H). But it is a mistake to think that either word –- in Hebrew or English –- is limited or “owned” by the Jewish people. In Hebrew, the word first appears in the Bible where it refers to total consumption by fire, and in English, there are many references through the ages long before the Holocaust to other holocausts, including of the Armenian people in the genocide by the Ottoman Turks 1915 to 1922.
Should Israel have recognized the Armenian genocide many years ago? Of course. The logic, fairness, and historical accuracy of this definition are obvious to a child. Israel’s choice to play such a serious version of realpolitik of lying blatantly about a solid piece of evidence in human history because it believed it would gain favor and benefits of such favor from the Turks was, in the eyes of many of us, disgraceful beyond words.
Moreover, it was pointed out frequently that this kind of “practical thinking” would be bitterly condemned were it applied by other countries to denial of the Holocaust — we Jews have been very fortunate that from the outset the German government has taken full remorseful responsibility for the horror it imposed on the Jewish people. Even so, there are thousands of cases of denials of the Holocaust in our world, and, quite properly, we react to them with angry scorn and whatever possible retaliation. Should not the same justice be our due when we assault another people’s minds and sensibilities by denying a known holocaust of their people?
Somehow, people get used to whatever is the prevailing norm in their lives, and stop fighting back, as even their own instincts incline them to do. Thus, prejudices and discriminatory and worse destructive behaviors by the huge authorities in our lives remain fashionable, practiced and accepted. In US history, for example, slavery for many years, or McCarthyism, or elimination of basic medical insurance for millions of people, or laws restricting the right to vote.
However, what is too little realized is that abject unfairness cannot help but be registered in the conscious and unconscious minds of people in the country responsible for hurting human lives severely. And they have consequences for the lives of people.