Armenians, Jews mark genocide in Jerusalem

The Daily Star, Lebanon
April 26 2004

Armenians, Jews mark genocide in Jerusalem
‘the world must recognize that this took place. That is the first

Historian says political pressure has prevented 2 key countries – the
United States and Israel – from recognizing the crime

By Omar Karmi
Special to The Daily Star

JERUSALEM: It was, according to most, a good turnout. Nearly 1,000
people came to commemorate the Armenian genocide on April 24; a
pleasant, sunny day that belied the solemnity of the occasion.

Armenians, mostly from Jerusalem, but also from Jaffa, Haifa,
Nazareth and as far away as North America, congregated at the
Armenian Convent in the Old City of Jerusalem where mass was held.
Prayers were recited, hymns from the Armenian liturgy were sung and
amidst the incense and candle smoke, some were moved to tears.

“Today we are remembering the diabolical scheme that started the
murder of almost the entire Armenian nation,” said Elie Dickranian,
70, headmaster of the Armenian Secondary School in Jerusalem.

On April 24, 1915, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community
leaders were arrested and later killed by the Ottoman authorities in
Constantinople (Istanbul) accused of cooperating with Russia, then at
war with the Ottoman Empire.

This day has come to mark the beginning of the “diabolical scheme,”
when Armenians say Ottoman Turks slaughtered some 1.5 million people
in massacres that carried on until 1923. Turkey denies the charges of
genocide, acknowledging only that Armenians were among the many
victims of war as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

It is because of this denial – by Turkey and many other countries –
that the events of those years came to be known as the “forgotten
genocide,” something Armenians worldwide are trying to change.

“At least the world must recognize that there was a genocide,” said
Angela Dikbkian, 24, who works in a local travel agency. “That is the
first step. Maybe my great-grandchildren will be able to return to
their land and get restitution. That remains a dream for the future.”

There have been some successes along the way. On April 21 the
Canadian Parliament voted 153-68 to support a motion declaring the
events of 89 years ago as genocide. France and Switzerland have done
the same, angering Turkey so much that in 2001 the country canceled a
large defense contract from France.

But two countries other than Turkey matter more to the Armenians in
Jerusalem: the US and Israel, both of whom consider Turkey a
strategic ally, and are loath to alienate the country.

“I can understand the US feels Turkey is a great ally,” said
Dickranian, “but the truth is a greater ally to America.”

The United States came close in 2000 to doing what Canada did in
2004. Yair Auron, a Israeli historian and specialist on the Armenian
genocide, claims that not only Turkish but Israeli pressure played a
part in the motion not being adopted then.

Auron, a professor at Tel Aviv’s Open University and author of two
books on the Armenian genocide, The Banality of Indifference: Zionism
and the Armenian Genocide, and The Banality of Denial: Israel and the
Armenian Genocide, was among the crowd at Saturday’s commemoration

“I feel it is my duty as a human being and … a Jew to protest my
government’s attitude,” he said. “Most Israelis don’t know about the
genocide and I can feel from Armenians that they are very hurt by
this because they feel Jews especially should understand.”

Auron, who said he was almost successful in lobbying the Israeli
Education Ministry to include the genocide as part of its holocaust
curriculum in 1994 – only to see the project deemed too pro-Armenian
and subsequently dropped – believes there are two reasons for the
Israeli position.

“One is political; Israel considers Turkey its most important
regional ally. And another has to do with the concept of the
uniqueness of the (Jewish) holocaust. Some people feel that if
something like the Armenian genocide is studied it would detract from
the uniqueness of the holocaust.”

In fact, the Armenian commemoration fell only a week after Israelis
commemorated their Holocaust, while on May 15 Palestinians will mark
the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948 that left several thousands of
unarmed Palestinians dead at the hands of Jewish militias, and some
800,000 homeless and destitute.

The similarity between the three peoples’ histories is not lost on

“Of course there is an analogy between the three people. They have
all suffered the same trauma. The only difference is that Israel and
Armenia exists, while Palestinians are still striving (for their own

The Armenian community does its best to stay out of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, even though their links to the
Palestinians are longer and deeper. The Armenian presence in
Jerusalem predates Muslim rule, and the community always enjoyed
protected status from their Muslim rulers in Jerusalem.

Many Armenians lost property in West Jerusalem in 1948, and Armenians
fought against the Jewish militias to defend the Old City. Since the
occupation in 1967, the Armenian Patriarchate has also lost land to
Israeli confiscations, and suffers from the same difficulties that
other non-Jewish institutions have in obtaining building permits.
Armenians have been killed and imprisoned alongside Palestinians in
both intifadas.

Nevertheless, Armenians are, in the words of Dickranian, a
“negligible” ethnic minority and, while he hopes an eventual
political solution to the conflict will also address the property
they have lost, “we try not to interfere.”

The commemoration ended at the Armenian graveyard in the Old City.
There, around a monument to Armenian soldiers who fought with the
British against the Ottomans, a final hymn was sung and children held
aloft a banner driving home the message: “World Silence: Complicity
to the Crime.”

“In,” said Dickranian, unable to hide his headmasterly instincts. “It
should be ‘Complicity in the Crime.'”