Thursday, September 27, 2007

What would Lemkin do?

By Khatchig Mouradian
The Jewish Advocate
Thursday September 27 2007

When dealing with ethnic cleansing and genocide, it would be useful to ask: What would Lemkin do? Had world leaders and human rights organizations asked that question and acted based on the answer over the past 50 years, several mass murders and genocides could have been prevented or stopped in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jew, coined the term “genocide” in 1944 based on the planned extermination of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 and the Jews during World War II. He worked tirelessly to have the United Nations pass a law on the prevention and punishment of that crime. Finally, on Dec. 9, 1948, the UN General Assembly ratified the Genocide Convention. Remembering that moment, Lemkin, who lost 49 relatives during the Holocaust, wrote: “Somebody requested a roll call. The first to vote was India. After her ‘yes’ there was an endless number of ‘yeses.’ A storm of applause followed. I felt on my face the flashlight of cameras. … The world was smiling and approving and I had only one word in answer to all that, ‘thanks.’”

Lemkin referred to the Armenian genocide on numerous occasions. In an article in the Hairenik Weekly (later the Armenian Weekly) on Jan. 1, 1959, he wrote that the suffering of the Armenians had paved the way to the ratification of the Genocide Convention: “The sufferings of the Armenian men, women, and children thrown into the Euphrates River or massacred on the way to [the Syrian desert of] Der-el-Zor have prepared the way for the adoption for the Genocide Convention by the United Nations. … This is the reason why the Armenians of the entire world were specifically interested in the Genocide Convention. They filled the galleries of the drafting committee at the third General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris when the Genocide Convention was discussed.”

At the end of the article, Lemkin asserted, “One million Armenians died, but a law against the murder of peoples was written with the ink of their blood and the spirit of their sufferings.”

Fast forward to 2007. The Anti-Defamation league, an organization that has tirelessly spoken out and acted against Holocaust denial, as well as more recent acts of genocide from Eastern Europe to Darfur, continues to speak with ambiguities about the Armenian genocide and oppose Congressional legislation affirming the historical record, considering it “counterproductive.”

Days after the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, was confronted on the issue, he wrote a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “to express our sorrow over what we have caused for the leadership and people of Turkey in the past few days.”

Countless Jewish organizations, scholars, journalists, bloggers and activists have come out fiercely to criticize the ADL’s hypocrisy. They have all asked the right question – What would Lemkin do? – and have come up with the right answer, thus honoring Lemkin’s legacy.
Perhaps rather than rushing to appease the Turkish government, the ADL would do well to ask the right question, too.

Khatchig Mouradian is an Armenian journalist, poet and translator based in Boston. He is the editor of the Armenian Weekly.

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