Israel's Torch: Shedding Light on Turkey's Armenian Genocide

The Armenian holocaust occurred nearly a century ago, but it has been garnering special attention lately. Israel’s Knesset recently held a public conference on whether or not the state should honor the victims of the genocide, which left nearly 1.5 million dead. These moves come at the expense of Turkish leadership, who for decades have rejected calls for acceptance of the country's own culpability in the Armenian holocaust. In spite of Turkish angst, the time is ripe for Israel and the rest of the world to fully recognize Turkey’s role in the genocide. In doing so, Turkey can begin to get past this brutal episode in its history, and proceed unburdened into holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime responsible for its ongoing crimes against humanity.

In fact, for Israel to have waited this long is shameful, given that it was a state born from the carnage of the Jewish Holocaust. Israel, though, has had sound, practical reasons to avoid the issue. After all, Israel and Turkey were relatively-democratic allies who worked closely together against radical Islam and terrorism in the Middle East. Since early 2009, however, Turkish leadership has turned against Israeli efforts to curb Palestinian terrorism. In doing so, it has ignored its own rough history with anti-terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Through its actions, Turkey has shown little interest in healing the rift it has created in the once-strong alliance. In order to respond accordingly, it is past time that Israel recognized the plight of the Armenian people.

Currently, over 20 countries around the world (and 43 U.S. states) recognize the Armenian genocide. The U.S. government has yet to officially acknowledge the atrocities perpetrated by the Ottomans during World War I. Like Israel, American hesitation thus far has stemmed from a pragmatic approach to foreign policy throughout the Cold War and the War on Terror. Turkey proved to be an invaluable resource to U.S. efforts in containing Soviet communism and global terrorism. It would not serve America’s main diplomatic goals to upset such a prominent ally in the region, but with Israel making moves towards formal recognition of this event, the U.S. should do the same.

Acknowledging the Armenian genocide would be the moral thing to do, but it would be only the first step. The U.S. should also use its global influence to persuade other countries around the world to follow suit. Of course, Turkey will initially respond negatively towards Israel and the U.S., but if enough countries follow in their footsteps, Turkey may have no choice but to do the same and move beyond the blemish on its otherwise proud history. If Turkey can come to terms with the crimes of its past, much as Germany did regarding the Holocaust and America has done regarding its treatment of African slaves and American Indians, then it can progress on its path toward modernity. If it truly wishes to play a stronger role in the greater Middle East, it needs to remove this weight from its shoulders. Only then can it become the credible leader in illuminating crimes committed by the Assad regime in neighboring Syria.

Photo Credit: dogwelder

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Daniel Bender

Daniel received his BA in International Affairs from the George Washington University in 2009. He has traveled extensively throughout India, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey and his academic and writing interests include Middle Eastern politics, geography, philosophy, and history.

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