The Armenian genocide: Face history’s heartbreaking truth

The Armenian genocide

Face history’s heartbreaking truth

The International Herald Tribune
Thursday, August 19, 2004

By Jay Bushinsky

JERUSALEM — When the writer Franz Werfl, visiting this majestic city in
the early 1930s, sought a shoemaker, he was told that there was a very
competent one on Jaffa Road. His wife, the former Alma Mahler, had lost
one of her shoes aboard ship en route to Palestine and was desperate to
have the missing one replaced.

The shoemaker’s name was Garabidian – an Armenian name. Werfl was
surprised to discover Armenians in Jerusalem. When he found out that the
Old City had an Armenian Quarter and that most of its inhabitants were
survivors of the 20th century’s first genocide, he was overwhelmed with
emotion. That conversation inspired his internationally acclaimed novel,
“The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.”

The carnage perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks 89 years ago, in which 1.5
million ethnic Armenians were killed or deported, was a tragic prelude
to the Nazi Holocaust of 1939-1945 in which six million Jews were

Hitler’s determination to destroy European Jewry was encouraged by the
world’s lack of interest in the Armenian tragedy. In a speech delivered
to his troops on Aug. 22, 1939 – nine days before he invaded Poland – he
was quoted as having said: “Who, after all, speaks today of the
annihilation of the Armenians?”

The fact that these words were not included in the official text has
prompted skeptics to contend that they never were uttered. They may have
been said off the cuff, since it is hard to believe that they could have
been invented by others.

Ironically, Hitler’s rhetorical question is inscribed on one of the
walls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, and rightly so. But
there is a vast chasm between moral sentiment and political expediency.
The latest attempt by Armenian-American activists to win Congressional
recognition of the Armenian genocide was a failure. Other interest
groups, including Jewish ones, misguided or opportunistic, convinced a
vast majority of the American lawmakers that a resolution along those
lines would offend the Turks at a time when the United States needs them
as allies.

Israeli diplomacy also puts contemporary priorities ahead of moral
obligations. When a major documentary about the Armenian genocide was
due to be screened here, the foreign ministry intervened out of
consideration for Turkish sensibilities. It is hypocritical to expect
compassion and sympathy from the peoples of the world for the lives lost
in the Holocaust when ‘raison d’état’ prevents Israel and most Israelis
from commiserating with the Armenians.

Israel’s government winced when Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, assailed its policy and behavior in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip as well as toward the Palestinians in general. But neither Israel
nor the overseas Jewish organizations dared remind Erdogan that leaders
of nations that had committed crimes against humanity had best refrain
from preaching to others – a lesson learned and followed by Germany.

Historical truth must be faced regardless of how heartbreaking it may
be. It cannot be subordinated to the ebb and flow of modern
international relations. Anyone who visited the Armenians’ grim memorial
to their martyred brothers and sisters south of Yerevan, Armenia’s
capital, in the shadow of biblical Mount Ararat, cannot but grieve with

Israelis, Jews, Zionists and their supporters should comfort the
Armenians in their national sorrow and the Turks should accept the
photographs, documents and above all testimony, which commemorate the
Armenian genocide, instead of insisting that it never happened.

By Jay Bushinsky is a freelance writer based in Israel.