The Knesset held a special discussion on Tuesday regarding the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The Armenian Genocide, also called the Armenian Massacres or the Great Crime, was the planned and systematic destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire around the time of World War I through massacres and forced marches.
Between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians died during this period, but Turkey refuses to use the word genocide for the tragedy perpetrated on the Armenian minority. A previous discussion on the issue by the Knesset’s Education Committee, initiated by MKs Aryeh Eldad (National Union) and Zehava Galon (Meretz), was postponed.
In his opening remarks at Tuesday’s discussion, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that the Armenian Genocide cannot be ignored.
“In the Land of Israel of 1915, people did not deny the Armenian Genocide,” he said. “Jerusalem residents saw Armenians arriving in the thousands, starving. The evidence of the massacre was clear and sharp.
“The Jews then asked themselves two questions: Who’s next, and will we shed tears over the Armenians? We were next in line, but did not even know it at that time, nor could we have guessed it. Whoever conceived the Final Solution for Jews was impressed by the fact that, one day, the world will say nothing about it, the same way it was silent over the murder of the Armenians,” added Rivlin.
Some have suggested that it would be in Israel’s interests to avoid recognizing the Armenian Genocide or even discussing it, in the wake of the strained relations between Turkey and Israel. Referring to this issue, Rivlin said, “It is our moral duty to remember and remind of the tragedy that befell the Armenian people, who lost more than a million of its sons during the First World War, and we must not make this a political issue. I am aware of the sensitivity of this issue. But let us be clear: This is not an accusation of Turkey today or of the current Turkish government.”
Rivlin added, “It is because of the fact that the citizens of the State of Israel have heard many outright denials of the horror that befell us, that I think it is inconceivable that the Knesset will ignore this tragedy, of which there are historical and solid facts. We find it hard to forgive others for their disregard of our tragedy, and we must not ignore other people's tragedies. It is our moral obligation as human beings and as Jews.”
MK Eldad told Arutz Sheva in December that the chill in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara is the perfect opportunity to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
“A genocide against the Armenian people was conducted in Ottoman Turkey during the first world war,” he said. “This is a historical fact that cannot be denied and should not be denied.
“The fact that for many years Israel avoided any declaration on this issue because we have very sensitive diplomatic relations with Turkey should not affect our decisions [in the present],” Eldad said.
The Armenian issue has been a sensitive one for the Turkish government for many years. When France ratified a bill in parliament which stipulated that denying the Armenian Genocide would be punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year and a 45,000 euro fine, a furious Turkey responded by canceling all political, economic and military meetings between representatives of Turkey and France.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also forbade French aircraft from landing in Turkey and said French ships were no longer welcome in Turkey's ports.