By Harut Sassounian, Publisher, The California Courier, 25 June 2009
By Harut Sassounian, Publisher, The California Courier, 25 June 2009
Prior to his ambassadorial appointment, Oren repeatedly confirmed the facts of the Armenian Genocide in his writings. In the May 10, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books, he wrote a highly positive review of Taner Akcam’s book: "A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility." The review was titled: "The Mass Murder They Still Deny."
In his most recent book, "Power, Faith and Fantasy," Oren made dozens of references to Armenia and Armenians, including lengthy heart-wrenching descriptions of the mass killings before and during the Armenian Genocide. Here are some of the most striking quotations from his book:
"The buildup of Ottoman oppression and Armenian anger erupted finally in the spring of 1894, when Turkish troops set out to crush a local rebellion, but then went on to raze entire villages and slaughter all of their inhabitants…. Some 200,000 Armenians died — 20 percent of the population — and a million homes were ransacked. ‘Armenian holocaust,’ cried a New York Times headline in September 1895, employing the word that would later become synonymous with genocide."
Oren then went on to establish that more than a century ago, similar to today’s acrimonious political tug-of-war over the genocide recognition issue, the Armenian atrocities seriously affected U.S.-Turkish relations. He wrote: "Maintaining amicability with Turkey would prove complicated, however, because ties between the United States and the Porte [Sultan] had long been frayed. The perennial source of friction was the oppression of Armenian Christians. Though a band of modernizing Young Turks, many of them graduates of Roberts College, had achieved power in Istanbul in 1908 and promised equal rights for all of the empire’s citizens, barely a year passed before the slaughter of Armenians resumed. Some thirty thousand of them were butchered by Turkish troops in south-central Anatolia."
In a section titled, "The most horrible crime in human history," Oren wrote: "The first reports, from December 1914, told of anti-Christian pogroms in Bitlis, in eastern Turkey, and the hanging of hundreds of Armenians in the streets of Erzerum. Armenian men between the ages of twenty and sixty were being conscripted into forced-labor battalions, building roads, and hauling supplies for the Turkish army. The following month, after their defeat by Russian forces in the Caucasus, Turkish troops salved their humiliation by pillaging Armenian towns and executing their Armenian laborers. In the early spring, Turkish soldiers laid siege to the Armenian city of Van in eastern Anatolia and began the first of innumerable mass deportations. The slaughter then raged westward to Istanbul, where, on April 24, security forces arrested and hanged some 250 Armenian leaders and torched Armenian neighborhoods. Interior Minister Talaat Pasha informed the Armenian Patriarch that ‘there was no room for Christians in Turkey’ and advised him and his parishioners ‘to clear out of the country.’"
Oren then exposed Turkey’s attempts to falsify history by pointing out that: "Most contemporary observers agree that the massacres were scarcely connected to the war, but rather represented a systematically planned and executed program to eliminate an entire people. Indeed, foreshadowing the Nazi genocide of the Jews twenty-five years later, Turkish soldiers herded entire Armenian villages into freezing rivers, incinerated them in burning churches, or simply marched them into the deserts and abandoned them to die of thirst…. By the end of summer, an estimated 800,000 Armenians had been killed and countless others forcibly converted to Islam."
After citing numerous eyewitness accounts of the mass killings, Oren concluded: "In all, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocide that the Turkish government would never acknowledge, much less regret."
While it is true that Michael Oren published this book before his assignment as Ambassador to Washington, his compelling position on the Armenian Genocide would hopefully make him refrain from following the footsteps of his predecessors who shamefully lobbied against the congressional resolution on this issue.
The appointment of a staunch supporter of the truth of the Armenian Genocide as Israel’s Ambassador to Washington comes on the heels of a serious rift between Turkey and Israel following the Gaza war earlier this year. On that occasion, there were major manifestations of anti-Semitic statements and acts throughout Turkey, including anti-Israeli remarks by Turkish Prime Minister Rejeb Erdogan. His insulting words to Israel’s President Shimon Peres in Davos, Switzerland, antagonized Israelis and Jews worldwide. Even though Israel downplayed Erdogan’s offensive words, they did a lasting damage to Israeli-Turkish relations.
The combination of an Israeli government that is less sympathetic of Turkey and the presence of Israel’s Ambassador in Washington who is a firm believer in the facts of the Armenian Genocide may facilitate the passage of the pending congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
Dr. Israel Charny Condemns Denial of Armenian Genocide in British Parliament
By Harut Sassounian, June 30, 2009 •
In an earlier column I wrote about the special conference held at the British Parliament on May 7, organized by the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group. Dr. Israel Charny and I were invited as guest speakers. I spoke about “The Armenian Genocide and Quest for Justice.” Dr. Charny could not attend due to illness, however, his prepared remarks were read by Peter Barker, a former broadcaster of BBC Radio.
Dr. Charny is an internationally-known authority on the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. He is the Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, past President of International Association of Genocide Scholars, Editor-in-Chief of Encyclopedia of Genocide, and author of several scholarly books. Dr. Charny’s lengthy paper was titled: “Confronting denials of the Armenian Genocide is not only honoring history, but a crucial policy position for confronting threats in our contemporary world.”
In his remarks presented at the British Parliament, Dr. Charny described the conference on the Armenian Genocide he attended two years ago in Istanbul. He found “the prevailing discourse stilted, blocked and rigid with denials.” The overwhelming majority of the statements were “one-sided rehashes of Turkish denial propaganda; a basic intellectual failure since they did not even mention or refer to or in any way acknowledge any of the voluminous documentation and evidences of the Armenian Genocide that are now part of world culture; and a great number were emotional diatribes rather than ’scientific’ or properly scholarly contributions.”
In his paper, Charny singled out the presentation at the Istanbul conference of Prof. Yair Auron, his colleague from Israel, who spoke “in a strong resonant voice that there was no question but that the Armenians had suffered genocide at the hands of the Turks.”
In his London remarks, Dr. Charny’s also discussed the “failure of the State of Israel, but not of Israelis, to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” expressing his “deep regret and shame” that Israel (where he lives) and the United States (where he was born), “have failed seriously in their moral responsibility towards the Armenian people.” He felt “particularly wounded as well as angry at such failures by my Jewish people when we too have known the worst horrors of being victims of a major genocide, and therefore we should be all the more at your side as deeply committed allies in all aspects of preserving and honoring the record of the Armenian Genocide.”
Dr. Charny announced “the happy news [that] the battle for recognition and genuine respect for the memory of the Armenian Genocide [was won] on the level of everyday Israeli culture.” In great detail, he explained that “throughout the year there are major statements in our culture about the Armenian Genocide, including many full-length feature stories and interviews in all of our major newspapers and on our television. On April 24, there is powerful coverage, for example, this year on Roim Olam or Seeing the World, a major TV news magazine; there is an annual seminar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at which this year the keynote speaker was Prof. James Russell of Harvard University, and it was my honor to be the keynoter the year before together with an influential member of the Knesset who was totally knowledgeable about the Genocide and totally clear about Israel’s error in not recognizing it; and there is of course an annual commemoration by the Armenian Community—it was there that the two ministers in the past announced their recognition of the Armenian genocide. During a too-brief period, we also had two ministers of the Israeli government who officially recognized the Genocide, and although the governments in question promptly disavowed these ministers’ statements as private and not speaking for the country, the records of those ministers honoring the Armenian Genocide on behalf of the State of Israel cannot be erased. I would say that both the everyday Israeli man on the street and the professional scholars of the Holocaust, such as Prof. Yehuda Bauer perhaps the ranking scholar of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, are basically sympathetic and committed to paying homage to the Armenian Genocide. A few years ago four of us, including one of the above former ministers, Yossi Sarid, Prof. Bauer, Prof. Yair Auron, an indefatigable scholar of the Armenian Genocide and of Israel’s denials of same, and myself traveled together to Yerevan to lay a wreath at the Armenian Genocide Memorial.”
As he has done many times in the past, Dr. Charny expressed regret that “sadly and shamefully the pull of practical government politics still leads to official Israel cooperating with Turkey in gross denials of the Armenian Genocide. No less than the arch fighter for peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Shimon Peres, now President of Israel, then serving as Israel’s Foreign Minister, twice went notably out of his way to insult the history and memory of the Armenian Genocide.”
In a scathing letter, Dr. Charny told Peres in 2001: “You have gone beyond a moral boundary that no Jew should allow himself to trespass…. As a Jew and an Israeli, I am ashamed of the extent to which you have now entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian Genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust.”
In response to a second “especially insulting” denial by Shimon Peres in 2002, Dr. Charny sent him one of my columns from The California Courier, with the following note: “I am enclosing with great concern for your attention an editorial in a leading US-Armenian newspaper calling on Armenia to expel the Israeli Ambassador. For your further information, the author of this editorial, who is the head of the United Armenian Fund in the U.S.—comparable to our United Jewish Appeal—was for many years a delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.”
Dr. Charny concluded his London remarks: “I am happy to emphasize that the people and the culture [in Israel] very strongly recognize and honor the [Armenian] Genocide, and know how serious and important it is for us and the whole world.” He expressed his sincere hope that “some day we will succeed in changing the official Israeli government position.”
Azerbaijan is a special country I know I can trust
Interview with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Today.Az 25 June 2009
Question: You are scheduled to visit Azerbaijan next week. What documents will be signed during the visit? How do you estimate the present and how do you see the future of bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Israel?
Answer: Well, there are many things in common. First of all, Azerbaijan discovered the great wealth of gas and is head a cultural bust which is quite impressive. People don’t know it, but Azerbaijan gave a right to women to vote before the Swiss and before the Americans. Azerbaijan has shown patience and respect to the place where the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians can live together without hatred, without fanaticism. So, for me it is a special country that I know I can trust in and has cultural background. Oil you can buy, but culture you have to create. And Azerbaijan created culture.
Azerbaijan is a small people. Azerbaijan and Israel have the same problem. How can small people become greater in spite of their size? You can become great irrespective of the size of your land if you adopt modern science and technology.
President of Azerbaijan Mr. Ilham Aliev provokes the highest respect. I found him extremely humane, almost modest, educated, and sophisticated. It’s a pleasure to talk with him. He showed interest in these domains: agriculture, water, health, and high tech. We discussed it.
Israel doesn’t almost have either land, or water, or gas, or petrol. So, we have to hang in our brains, in our science and we should share whatever we have, whatever Azerbaijan wants. The great thing about Israel is that we are not dangerous. We are too small to danger anybody. But on the other hand we are developed and we are ready to share with our friends whatever we can offer in the domain of development and science and so on. In that we can cooperate fully.
We have the culture, we have the will and the readiness. I also met the father of the present president [of Azerbaijan]. I was impressed of him very much. I have met him twice. He was the man of tradition and intelligence.
I also know that Azerbaijan has problem around. Basically, the problems stem from your neighbors. Because in politics you cannot choose your neighbors, as in the family you cannot choose your parents. It is a fact of life. Israel is totally for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We don’t think that one country can come and annex a part of another land.
So, even before visiting the country (I have been there once) I have a great deal of sympathy. And also historically a profound thing for the way that Azerbaijan has handled the Jewish people. Many of them have emigrated to Israel. They carry with them very warm feeling to Azerbaijan. And they have a special flavor to your own society. So, I think that there is a collection of reasons that makes one very much interested in coming visit to your land.
Q: Do you expect expansion of diplomatic ties between the two countries?
A: I hope you will have a full embassy in Israel. It gets needed. I think more the cooperation goes up it is natural consequence of the relationship. It is going to happen, because I hope that we shall enrich our relations in this visit. There are many people coming from Israel with this matter, accompanying us in this visit. We want to establish better ties in the name of economy and in the name of science. And then the embassies will be very necessary on both sides.
Q: You said that Israel supports territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Israel has been taking constructive role in the regard to resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Is Israel prepared to more active involvement in the process of settlement?
A: We are a small country. We are not a weighty power. We can express our views and with our views we can contribute. But we are not a wealthy power, when it comes to our views, our attitudes and positions. I think else Azerbaijan would like very much to come closer not only with Israel, but with Jewish life abroad, and even in the United States of America. And we can do only what we can – to support the integrity of Azerbaijan in all domains.
Q: Israel has recently expressed its intention to get Azerbaijani gas that runs from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. However, a pipeline that will go from Turkey to Israel through the Mediterranean Sea is needed in this respect. What volume of gas purchase is possible? And what who will undertake the expenses?
A: The minister of infrastructure is coming with me. He handles that issue and I would prefer him to answer this question, because he knows more details of it. But the purpose of his coming is really to check the real possibilities of connecting and bringing the Azerbaijani gas to Israel.