Being True to Yourself: A Genocide is a Genocide
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Several years ago I gave a sermon about people who took risks in their careers to speak the truth. One of them was Andrew Tarsy regional director of the Anti Defamation League – the ADL – in New England. In August of 2007, Mr. Tarsy spoke openly about Turkey needing to come to terms with the Armenian genocide in its past. He nearly lost his job by challenging the ADL’s official position of neutrality on the Armenian genocide, and soon after he did resign from his job. It was a sad moment for the Jewish community, where someone who speaks the truth is punished for doing so.
I am reminded of Andrew Tarsy just a week after commemorating Yom HaShoah veHagvura, Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. With three years hindsight, where we see the leader of Iran denying our Holocaust, and the right of Israel to exist, and at the same time being invited to speak in the United Nations, I think we see how serious a blunder it has been for the Jewish people to not speak louder about another genocide, that of the Armenian people during World War I.
I have no doubt that there are differences between the genocides, just as the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Dafur were all unique. What they all have in common is that the world basically did not care enough to stop them. Perhaps there was more cheering done by the world when Jews were being sent to gas chambers and killed in Babi Yar, but the world has done a great job being in denial of genocide until it is too late.
After I gave the sermon, one member of my shul castigated me – in a loving way – about the foolishness of the likes of Andrew Tarsy and those like me who supported his courage: didn’t we care about the Jews of Turkey or the Israel-Turkish alliance who could all be damaged by angering Turkey? Well, again in hindsight, I think we all see how damaging it is to deny truth, to pander to the evil of genocide-denial, even when we do it out of love for Jews or Israel. Now Turkey is not such a friend of Israel’s. In addition to supporting anti-Semitic television shows, the government of Turkey is one of Iran’s greatest supporters diplomatically as that great enemy of the Jewish people and the Jewish state appears to be building up its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Did all this pandering to Turkey do any good?
If our friendship with Turkey, and Israel’s friendship with Turkey, is dependent on a lie, then it is not a friendship at all. And that is exactly what we are finding out now: Turkey just a few months ago scuttled a joint exercise between Israel, the US and other NATO forces. Denying the Armenian genocide, or refusing to recognize its existence, is an attempt to rip out a scab which point to real, national tzara’at. And when we allow for genocides to be swept under the carper, then our enemies use that to deny the genocides perpetrated against us, and even more malicious, they equate Israel’s struggle for survival, such as the recent war against Hamas in Gaza, as a genocide. Tragically, we the Jews know what genocide is, and we have the obligation to remind the world about its existence. We are a Kingdom of Priests (Mamlechet Kohanim): it is our task, always painful and unpopular, to tell the world when there is a blemish, when there is a moral wrong. If we don’t, not only are we shirking our duty, but the world will redefine morality to suit its needs and to absolve itself of any evil.
Kamal Ataturk, the great founder of modern and secular state of Turkey, was not afraid to call the Armenian massacres a genocide. We need to push what remains modern and secular in this Muslim state to recognize their past in order to move forward. Could it be this lingering moral blemish that is holding back Turkey from resisting the fundamentalist Muslim drive that threatens the dream Ataturk had for his people and for Islam as a whole?
Let us Jews not be afraid to be the Kohanim, the priests and teachers of the world we are supposed to be. Let us pay tribute to the Six Million murdered as the world looked on by speaking out against immorality and genocide in this world – when it is directed against our brothers and sisters in Israel, or when it is directed against our fellow human beings in the past or in the present.
“Eretz, al tichasi damam” – “Earth, do not hide their blood.”
Rabbi Asher Lopatin