Armenian ‘genocide’ Mission Sparks Dispute

By Bernard Josephs

24/ 08/2007

A British Liberal rabbi is to travel to Armenia to pay tribute to
the victims of the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman
Turks, despite fears expressed by Jewish leaders that his plan could
complicate relations between Israel and Turkey.

Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, told the JC he
had called on Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Reform Movement and
the Board of Deputies to send representatives on the trip next week,
during which he plans to plant a tree at the genocide memorial in
the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

However, he said he had received no response.

A source, whom he declined to name, "warned me off, saying I should
not be asking people to come with me because of the situation between
Israel and Turkey". Turkey — one of Israel’s closest allies in the
Middle East — is known to be acutely sensitive about the Armenian
massacre, in which over one million people were slaughtered around
the time of the First World War.

"It would have been better if the Jewish community as a whole had
been represented: instead I will be taking a small group from the
Liberal Synagogue. The Armenian genocide was horrific. By 1923,
virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had been
‘cleansed’. Jewish history reminds us of the importance of remembrance,
and the ethical imperative of Judaism says that the pain of one people
ought to be the tragedy of all peoples."

A spokesperson for the Chief Rabbi denied any knowledge of Rabbi Rich’s
initiative. Reform’s Rabbi Tony Bayfield said he was "very sympathetic"
to the move, but added: "There are complex political issues relating to
Israel and its relations with Turkey. I would be loath to do anything
without the support of the Board of Deputies." Board president Henry
Grunwald said he too was aware of political considerations but hoped
the visit would "go very well". A row over whether or not the Armenian
deaths should be categorised as genocide erupted this week when the New
York-based Anti-Defamation League fired one of its directors, Andrew
Tarsy, for backing a Congressional resolution on the subject. Later,
Abe Foxman, national director of the ADL, reversed the position and
said he did believe that a genocide had taken place — but Mr Tarsy
still lost his job.