Photo: Ido Erez
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein
Photo: Ido Erez

Knesset speaker urges official recognition of Armenian Genocide

Yuli Edelstein is first Knesset speaker to urge that Israel revisit its position and recognize the Armenian Genocide, a move that would anger Turkey.

In an unprecedented move, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday urged official Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide during a session marking the centennial of the First World War.



While the previous Knesset discussed commemorating the systematic extermination of the Armenian people, this was the first time a Knesset speaker has ever openly supported such a measure.


Edelstein's proposal could strain Israel's rocky relationship with Turkey. As the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, the perpetrator of the genocide, Turkey vehemently denies that genocide took place. Turkey claims that Armenians were exiled to different provinces in the empire and that none were systematically massacred.


Eternal flame seen last month at the ceremony marking a century since the genocide (Photo: gettyimages)
Eternal flame seen last month at the ceremony marking a century since the genocide (Photo: gettyimages)


Those who died, says Turkey, were killed in warfare against Kurds. Turkey often decries international attempts to officially recognize the genocide. While the death toll is difficult to estimate, up to 1.5 million Armenians are believed to have died during the genocide that began in 1915.


"This was one of the most dramatic and contemptible events that occurred in the region during the early twentieth century," said Edelstein in the Knesset. "Over a period of a few years, more than a million Armenians were led to their deaths, and according to most estimates the number of victims reached about 1.5 million people. This was done through massacres and deportation motivated by racism and hatred of the other."


Edelstein noted that Israel has long taken an ambivalent stance towards the genocide. "A tangle of constraints, diplomatic and otherwise, led to an Israeli official stance that was too hesitant, too restrained, and as a result this ostensibly downplayed the value and importance of this event."


He added that as victims of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis, the Jewish people cannot remain silent. "We are not entitled to turn a blind eye or downplay the Armenian tragedy," he said.


The Knesset speaker concluded with a call for reconsideration of Israel's stance on the issue. "Israel must thoroughly revisit its official position, because of course none of us can change history," he said. "The scale of the disaster that befell the Armenian people and the depth of the moral stain that was inflicted on humanity – we cannot, and are not entitled to, obscure these with rhetorical sleight of hand."


Meretz MK Zehava Galon concurred with Edelstein, saying the issue was not political, but human. "Unfortunately, for too many years this topic has been and continues to be a pawn in Israel's foreign policy, which chooses to sacrifice truth and memory on the altar of diplomatic interests."


Members of Knesset Nachman Shai and Anat Berko recently traveled to Armenia for events commemorating the centennial of the genocide.


"At the official ceremony in which we participated they spoke of the Holocaust," MK Shai said on Tuesday. "Nowhere is the Armenian Genocide discussed without also mentioning our Holocaust. We returned with the sense that we have to pass it on and do so from every stage.


"What happened in Armenia was genocide. We reached the conclusion that after 100 years it's time for humanity to wake up."



פרסום ראשון: 05.13.15, 10:23
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