Many in local community stand behind support for recognition
By Lorne Bell
The Jewish Advocate
Thursday October 18 2007
Amid frenzied debate at the local, national and international levels, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted on Oct. 10 to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s World War I massacre of Armenians as genocide. The non-binding House Resolution 106, which will now move to the full House for vote, prompted Turkey to immediately recall its ambassador to the U.S., and has elicited concerns from Israeli and American officials about the impact on relations with the Turkish government.
“[Relations with Turkey] are very important for Israel,” said Nadav Tamir, consul general of Israel to New England. “Israel was out of the debate.”
Officials in the Bush administration and eight former secretaries of state signaled their opposition to the resolution in advance of last week’s vote. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former secretaries wrote that the passage of HR-106 “would endanger our national security interests.”
While the measure appeared as if it would quickly pass through the House, nearly a dozen House members – from both parties – have withdrawn their support for the resolution as of Wednesday, according to the New York Times.
But while government officials are worried about the consequences of offending Turkey, a key ally in the Middle East, local Armenians have praised the resolution, saying any fallout between Turkey and the U.S. will be short-lived.
“These are knee-jerk, hysterical reactions,” said Khatchig Mouradian, editor of The Armenian Weekly, which is based in Watertown. “Turkey is not a superpower and realizes full-well it needs the U.S.”
Mouradian said this summer’s controversy between Boston area Armenian and Jewish communities and the Anti-Defamation League helped to foster awareness of the issue. That controversy, which eventually led the national ADL to recognize the Armenian genocide, saw several Massachusetts towns cut ties with the ADL’s No Place for Hate program and the temporary firing of the organization’s regional director, Andrew Tarsy, who publicly dissented from the national position.
“The local controversy did not directly affect the resolution, but on an educational level, it was immensely important,” said Mouradian.
But political relations with Turkey were not the only concerns voiced by opponents of the resolution. Concerns about the safety of Jews worldwide also played a role in the ADL’s initial reluctance to recognize the massacre as genocide.
In a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post last week, the Jewish community of Turkey asked Congress to defeat the House resolution. The Turkish Foreign Ministry praised the nation’s Jews for opposing what it called an “unjust and erroneous” resolution.
Any reprisal by Turkey against Jewish interests should serve as a wake up call to American and Jewish alliances with the republic, according to James Russell, professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University.
“If Turkey responds by blaming the Jews for this when it’s fairly obvious that the Jewish community was cautious – if not overly cautious – then all it proves is how shaky that friendship with Turkey is,” said Russell.
Still, the ADL has continued to oppose a congressional resolution, calling such measures “counterproductive.” And others have questioned the wisdom of the local community’s support for the resolution since Armenia is aligned with countries that are antagonistic to Israel, like Iran and Syria, while Turkey is a strategic ally.
Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff cautioned this summer that the local community may be weighing in on a situation in which it cannot make the most informed decision. In a statement to the Advocate, the Rebbe said that diplomatic fallout with Turkey was inevitable.
“By taking the high moral ground, doing what is ‘right’ for others, and sacrificing pragmatic support for ourselves, we have once again shot ourselves in the foot for something which, after all, doesn’t really have much, if any, practical consequence anyway,” said the Rebbe.
But the resolution’s affect on international relations should not trump moral obligation, according to Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, who has been a staunch supporter of the resolution.
“We are always concerned for the safety of Jews and we are also vigilant about the [importance of] Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-U.S. relations,” said Kaufman. “These concerns must be taken seriously, but they cannot be an excuse for genocide denial.”
With Turkey recalling its ambassadors to the U.S., the fate of American military bases in Turkey is a pressing concern for U.S. officials. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Babacan told the Jerusalem Post last week that Turkish ties with Israel as well as the U.S. would suffer if the resolution passed.
But despite looming political fallout for the U.S. and the Jewish state, Tarsy, ADL regional director, defended the organization’s decision to recognize the genocide.
“There obviously continue to be complicated political issues on the table,” said Tarsy. “The hope in all of this is for recognition of the very difficult history [in Turkey] and for reconciliation. I think that’s everyone’s hope.”