Dr. Israel Charny Condemns Denial of Armenian Genocide in British Parliament

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

In an earlier column I wrote about the special conference held at the British Parliament on May 7, organized by the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group. Dr. Israel Charny and I were invited as guest speakers. I spoke about "The Armenian Genocide and Quest for Justice." Dr. Charny could not attend due to illness, however, his prepared remarks were read by Peter Barker, a former broadcaster of BBC Radio.

Dr. Charny is an internationally-known authority on the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. He is the Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, past President of International Association of Genocide Scholars, Editor-in-Chief of Encyclopedia of Genocide, and author of several scholarly books. Dr. Charny’s lengthy paper was titled: "Confronting denials of the Armenian Genocide is not only honoring history, but a crucial policy position for confronting threats in our contemporary world."

In his remarks presented at the British Parliament, Dr. Charny described the conference on the Armenian Genocide he attended two years ago in Istanbul. He found "the prevailing discourse stilted, blocked and rigid with denials." The overwhelming majority of the statements were "one-sided rehashes of Turkish denial propaganda; a basic intellectual failure since they did not even mention or refer to or in any way acknowledge any of the voluminous documentation and evidences of the Armenian Genocide that are now part of world culture; and a great number were emotional diatribes rather than ‘scientific’ or properly scholarly contributions."

In his paper, Charny singled out the presentation at the Istanbul conference of Prof. Yair Auron, his colleague from Israel, who spoke "in a strong resonant voice that there was no question but that the Armenians had suffered genocide at the hands of the Turks."

In his London remarks, Dr. Charny’s also discussed the "failure of the State of Israel, but not of Israelis, to recognize the Armenian Genocide," expressing his "deep regret and shame" that Israel (where he lives) and the United States (where he was born), "have failed seriously in their moral responsibility towards the Armenian people." He felt "particularly wounded as well as angry at such failures by my Jewish people when we too have known the worst horrors of being victims of a major genocide, and therefore we should be all the more at your side as deeply committed allies in all aspects of preserving and honoring the record of the Armenian Genocide."

Dr. Charny announced "the happy news [that] the battle for recognition and genuine respect for the memory of the Armenian Genocide [was won] on the level of everyday Israeli culture.” In great detail, he explained that “throughout the year there are major statements in our culture about the Armenian Genocide, including many full-length feature stories and interviews in all of our major newspapers and on our television. On April 24, there is powerful coverage, for example, this year on Roim Olam or Seeing the World, a major TV news magazine; there is an annual seminar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at which this year the keynote speaker was Prof. James Russell of Harvard University, and it was my honor to be the keynoter the year before together with an influential member of the Knesset who was totally knowledgeable about the Genocide and totally clear about Israel’s error in not recognizing it; and there is of course an annual commemoration by the Armenian Community -- it was there that the two ministers in the past announced their recognition of the Armenian genocide. During a too-brief period, we also had two ministers of the Israeli government who officially recognized the Genocide, and although the governments in question promptly disavowed these ministers’ statements as private and not speaking for the country, the records of those ministers honoring the Armenian Genocide on behalf of the State of Israel cannot be erased. I would say that both the everyday Israeli man on the street and the professional scholars of the Holocaust, such as Prof. Yehuda Bauer perhaps the ranking scholar of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, are basically sympathetic and committed to paying homage to the Armenian Genocide. A few years ago four of us, including one of the above former ministers, Yossi Sarid, Prof. Bauer, Prof. Yair Auron, an indefatigable scholar of the Armenian Genocide and of Israel’s denials of same, and myself traveled together to Yerevan to lay a wreath at the Armenian Genocide Memorial."

As he has done many times in the past, Dr. Charny expressed regret that "sadly and shamefully the pull of practical government politics still leads to official Israel cooperating with Turkey in gross denials of the Armenian Genocide. No less than the arch fighter for peace in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Shimon Peres, now President of Israel, then serving as Israel’s Foreign Minister, twice went notably out of his way to insult the history and memory of the Armenian Genocide."

In a scathing letter, Dr. Charny told Peres in 2001: "You have gone beyond a moral boundary that no Jew should allow himself to trespass…. As a Jew and an Israeli, I am ashamed of the extent to which you have now entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian Genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust."

In response to a second "especially insulting” denial by Shimon Peres in 2002, Dr. Charny sent him one of my columns from The California Courier, with the following note: "I am enclosing with great concern for your attention an editorial in a leading US-Armenian newspaper calling on Armenia to expel the Israeli Ambassador. For your further information, the author of this editorial, who is the head of the United Armenian Fund in the US -- comparable to our United Jewish Appeal -- was for many years a delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva."

Dr. Charny concluded his London remarks: "I am happy to emphasize that the people and the culture [in Israel] very strongly recognize and honor the [Armenian] Genocide, and know how serious and important it is for us and the whole world." He expressed his sincere hope that "some day we will succeed in changing the official Israeli government position."