One of the most puzzling events of the first 100 days of the Biden Administration was the president’s declaration that the deaths of Armenians that occurred in 1915 constituted genocide. Was Hunter Biden dating Kim Kardashian? That was certainly more plausible than Joe dating Kim, but not really an explanation of what was actually going on. The New York Times made a stab by invoking the Biden administration’s “commitment to human rights,” which according to the Times was “a pillar of its foreign policy. It is also a break from Mr. Biden’s predecessors, who were reluctant to anger a country of strategic importance and were wary of driving its leadership toward American adversaries like Russia or Iran.”1 Did that explain why the president said that, “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Mr. Biden said in a statement issued on the 106th anniversary of the beginning of a brutal campaign by the former Ottoman Empire that killed 1.5 million people. “And we remember so that we remain ever vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”2
Traditionally, only two groups were concerned about the use of the term genocide: the Turks and the Jews. This standoff has been complicated by the fact that the Armenian genocide story has been absorbed into the Holocaust narrative. Like the Jews, the Armenians have attempted to make their genocide “a closed issue similar to the Jewish holocaust” and any denial of it a form of hate speech punishable by law. Three years before France officially recognized what happened to the Armenians as genocide on May 29, 1998,3 Bernard Lewis was found guilty of violating that country’s hate speech laws by taking the Turkish position on the matter. Lewis was sentenced on June 2, 1995, but only a token fine was imposed as punishment, thereby making a dead letter of the law and keeping the controversy alive.4 One pro-Armenian author “has suggested that denial of the Armenian genocide represents hate-speech and therefore should be illegal in the United States,”5 but Lewis remained undeterred in his determination to dissociate the two events.
On March 25, 2002, Lewis “once again reaffirmed his belief that the Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey were linked to the massive Armenian rebellion and, therefore, were not comparable to the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis.”6 Lewy has adopted Lewis’s view, affirming that: “The Armenian community in Turkey was not simply ‘an unarmed Christian minority,’ and it is not acceptable to discuss the events of 1915-16 without mentioning the fifth-column role of the Armenian revolutionaries.”7 According to this reading, the Armenians have no right to claim Holocaust victim status because their armed rebellion was different in kind from the behavior of the unarmed Jews who fell victim to the Nazis.
Israeli historian Yair Auron, however, takes a different tack by linking Germany to the Turks and claiming that Germany “was involved directly and indirectly in the Armenian genocide.”8 Auron’s claim has no basis in fact. Evidence suggests that the charge stems from allied propaganda during the war years. In fact, there is overwhelming archival evidence that the German government, while accepting the military necessity of the relocations, “repeatedly intervened with the Sublime Porte in order to achieve a more humane implementation.”9
The claim that the Germans “bear some of the responsibility and even some of the guilt for the mass murder of the Armenians in World War I”10 would seem to rehabilitate the Armenians’ status as victims. Unfortunately, even a link to (albeit, pre-Nazi) Germany fails to create an equivalence between Armenian and Jewish suffering in the eyes of Israeli historians like Auron. Like most Israeli historians, who “seek to emphasize the singularity of the Holocaust,”11 Yehuda Bauer claims that Jewish suffering is unique, even while keeping the Armenian story in play by adding that “The Armenian massacres are indeed the closest parallel to the Holocaust.”12
[…] This is just an excerpt from the June 2021 Issue of Culture Wars magazine. To read the full article, please purchase a digital download of the magazine, or become a subscriber!