PROF. ISRAEL CHARNY CALLS ON ISRAEL TO PUT ARMENIAN SUFFERING BEFORE POLITICS
By Raphael Ahren, Haaretz.com
If Israel recognizes the Turkish genocide of over 1 million Armenians
in the near future, it may be largely due to the decades long efforts
of American-born scholar Israel Charny. But Charny, now living in
Jerusalem, is wary of a renewed push for detente between Israel and
Turkey, which may torpedo his campaign for recognition.
“The whole business of rapprochement with Turkey is a game that
politicians should and must play, because we want to get out of that
process as much as possible,” Charny told Anglo file this week. “But
I don’t think it should be done with the illusion that we’re dealing
with anything but a totalitarian, dangerous government. I don’t think
we should ever compromise again on the ethical principal whether to
deny the Armenian genocide or not – that should not be a basis for
the attempt to remarry after the divorce.”
Turkey vociferously objects to calling the events between 1915 and 1923
during which Ottoman forces killed more than a million Armenians as
genocide. Israel, which considered Turkey an important regional ally
until recently, never officially recognized the genocide. But after
bilateral relations cooled down in recent years, especially after the
last year’s flotilla to Gaza, during which Israeli troops killed nine
Turks – the demand to recognize the Armenian genocide gained strength.
The Knesset’s tackling of the issue represents the fruition of decades
of work by Charney, the longtime director of the Institute on the
Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem. In May he received a prize for
his work fighting for the recognition of the Armenian genocide by
the southeastern European country’s president.
“Professor Charny is a very fair person who stand on his principles
– there is no one like him,” said Georgette Avakian, the leader of
the Jerusalem-based Armenian Case Committee, adding that if Israel
ever recognized her people’s suffering, it would to a great extent
be thanks to Charny. “He is one of the few people in the world who
really look for the truth,” she said.
Charny, who was born in New York, co-founded and presided over the
International Association of Genocide Scholars.
“Professor Charny is a true pioneer in the field, he is probably the
first to introduce the people to comparative genocide studies, which
includes recognition of the scope of the Holocaust but not forgetting
about the suffering and genocides of other people in the world,” said
Marc Sherman, the New York-born director of information services at
Jerusalem’s Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide.
In the past, when Israel enjoyed better relations with Turkey, Charney
often fought for recognition of the genocide, against Jerusalem’s
wishes. In 1982, he organized in Tel Aviv the first international
genocide conference that featured Armenian speakers, Sherman said.
A few years later, after state TV was pressured not to air a film
about the Armenian genocide, Charny arranged a private screening in a
Jerusalem cinema. He also testified against revered American-Jewish
historian Bernard Lewis, who was on trial in France for denying the
genocide. “Charny never backed down from standing up and confronting
the denial of the Armenian genocide,” Sherman said.
But Charny does not deny Jerusalem’s need for realpolitik.
The Knesset discussed recognition of the genocide for the first time
on May 19. On June 29, MK Arye Eldad introduced a bill to declare
every April 24 Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
His bill was rejected but will be discussed, together with a possible
official recognition of the genocide, by the Knesset’s education
However, no date has been set yet for the discussion, the committee’s
spokeswoman told Anglo File. It is unlikely this will happen before
the Knesset goes into summer break next month, she said.
“I totally understand that the people who run our country periodically
have to make decisions that on the surface are not ethical and of
the highest values because there are other value issues that take
precedence. The survival of Israel absolutely is first priority,”
he told Anglo File in his book-cramped study in Jerusalem’s Baka
neighborhood. “But I’ve got lines to draw.”
Despite legitimate political, economic or military concerns, Israel
must not continue to deny the suffering of another people, if only
because of its own suffering, Charney said.
“When it comes to Israel’s denial of the Armenian genocide, I ask
first of all: what would our government’s and our people’s reaction
be to any government that denies the Holocaust?” he said.
A clinical psychologist by profession, Charny became interested in
genocide studies in the 1960s after having a dream.
“I wake up and the dream has led me to very powerful emotional
experiences, including rage: How could they do what they did to
our people in the Holocaust? How could human beings exercise such a
beastly cruelty?” he recalled. “Then I had a horrible realization: I
was a specialist in human behavior, accredited from the best American
educational and clinical systems, and I never learned one miserable
word about human cruelty and evil.”
It was then that Charny decided to dedicate himself to the study
“The first thing I did was I wrote Yad Vashem and I asked them to
direct me to books in their library about the psychology of the
Holocaust and genocide. The answer was, we’re so sorry, we have no
Since then, Charny has written and edited more than a dozen books
on the topic, three of which won the American Library Association’s
Outstanding Academic Book of the Year award. His latest work, “And
You Must Destroy the Evil in You: We Are the Human Beings who Commit
Holocaust and Genocide,” came out this week in Hebrew.