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November 23, 2000 Armenian genocide recalled



by Joseph Berger

The Jewish settlements in Israel before and after the creation of that state have demonstrated an embarrassing attitude towards the Armenian genocide of 1914-15, an Israeli lecturer told Concordia in a lecture in November.

“The attitude of the various Israeli governments to the Armenian genocide has been characterized by evasiveness and denial,” said Dr. Yair Auron, Senior Lecturer at the Open University of Israel. “The state of Israel has officially refrained from relating to the genocide.”

Auron, speaking before about 150 people in the Faculty Club, said that Israel is not unique in neglecting the Armenian genocide at the hands of Turkey before and during World War I, but its attitude of indifference is especially disheartening, Auron said.

“We tend to say over and over that Israel, the national home of the Jews, who were victims of the most horrendous of all genocidal acts, has a special moral, as well as political, responsibility to place the issue of genocide on the world agenda,” Auron said.

He gave two reasons: unwillingness to upset the Turkish government, and fear of damaging the uniqueness of the Holocaust. This type of behaviour contradicts Jewish values. “It is essential to develop greater sensitivity among our youth to the suffering of others, and to strengthen universal, humanistic values which are an integral part of the Jewish tradition.”

Auron, addressing a mostly Armenian audience, said that there are striking similarities between the Armenians and the Jews. For long periods, they lived as ethno-religious minorities among majorities different from, and hostile to, them. Furthermore, as the 19th century ended, both groups experienced a national awakening.

However, he said, “their fates were different. The Jews in Israel succeeded in surviving their Turkish rulers, while the Armenians experienced genocide.”

Early in the last century, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed, starved or burned to death under the Ottoman Empire, and many others were deported from their homeland. Despite evidence, including eyewitness accounts of foreigners and survivors, the Turkish government and some other countries, including Britain, France and the United States, have not recognized this as genocide.

Not all Jewish settlers in Palestine were indifferent towards Armenian suffering, however. Aaron Aaronson, Britain’s top Jewish spy in Palestine, Bernard Lazar, a French Jew, and Itamar Ben-Avi, the editor of a Jewish newspaper in Palestine, all spoke out against the Armenian genocide, but their cries went unheard.

“The reaction of a great many people towards the victims is characterized by indifference, conformism and even opportunism,” Auron charged.

Despite this, he spoke optimistically of a time when the world, led by Israel, would recognize the Armenian suffering. He argued for incorporating the genocide into the current Israeli study of genocide.

“This integration will add universal, moral and spiritual significance and power to the remembrance of the Shoah [Holocaust],” he said.

Auron, author of The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide, was invited to speak at Concordia on behalf of the Zoryan Institute, Concordia’s Department of History, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights, and the Armenian Students Association of Concordia, which has about 200 members.

With additional information from Carine Sroujian