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Commentary Last Updated: Oct 12th, 2007 - 00:59:40

None dare call it genocide
By Andrew E. Mathis
Online Journal Guest Writer

Oct 12, 2007, 00:57

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In case you missed it (and really, unless you live in New England, or you're Armenian, or you have some interested in the Anti-Defamation League [ADL] of B'nai Brith, you probably did), there's been something of a to-do between the ADL and very specifically its leader, Abraham Foxman, and the Armenian-American community of Watertown, Mass.

It seems the ADL recently honored the city as one of its "No Place for Hate" cities, only to have the city reject the honor because of the ADL's position on the mass killings of Armenians by the Turkish governments between 1895 and 1922 (peaking in 1915 under the so-called Young Turks).

Estimates run between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians killed during this period -- either slaughtered wholesale by Ottoman troops and auxiliaries or starved, beaten, and raped on death marches out of Anatolia for "relocation in the east" in Syria and elsewhere. The Armenians have been living in a diaspora very much like that of the Jews for a large portion of their history -- certainly since the conquest of their land by the Turks -- and these massacres took a serious toll on the Armenian population not already safely domiciled in North America, South America, Australia, and other points outside Asia Minor and the Caucasus.

So what is the ADL's position on the Armenian massacres? It's shifted in the last month. Originally, the position of the ADL and Foxman was that what happened to the Armenians does not constitute genocide. I'll go over the U.N. definition of genocide in a few moments and show that the Armenian massacres more than meet the criteria set forth there, but what Foxman and the ADL were up to (and still are) is something much more sinister, and the ideology behind what they're doing has two prongs: (1) Insisting on the uniqueness of the Holocaust; and (2) Trying to preserve the generally positive relationship between Turkey and Israel by denying the genocide against the Armenian people.

The first issue is a thorny one, because I, personally, would say that the Nazi Holocaust against European Jewry was unique in some ways and not unique in others. But the uniqueness that Foxman and others like him (notably Elie Wiesel) argue for is on a mystical level (which is garbage -- the Nazis killed the Jews because they were in the way and they were deemed as subhumans, and this is pretty much the prerequisite conditions for all genocides), on an historical level (the Holocaust was the culmination of 2,000 years of European anti-Semitism -- and with this point I can agree to a certain extent), and the mechanization of the killing of Europe's Jews (fair enough -- on this point I agree wholly).

But am I, a Jewish person and Holocaust educator, willing to say that this was the worst genocide in history or that other mass killings don't count as genocide? In short, do I harbor that level of chutzpah?

The answer is no. I am personally of the opinion that the worst genocide in history took place on the continent where I am currently writing this, and that this genocide is continuing as I write. This genocide was/is against the indigenous pre-1492 populations of North and South America by European conquerors and was one of the most wholly effective genocides in all of history. More than 95 percent of the original population of these two continents were either decimated by disease or simply murdered, mainly by the Spanish and British colonists, and later by the U.S. military and Latin American death squads. Entire nations were wiped off the face of the earth, and because they were often preliterate cultures, no trace of them is left except for the occasional archaeological find.

That I sit on land right now that used to belong to Lenape Indians, and I've never met a Lenape Indian (and I've lived in this part of the country my entire life) should speak volumes. I would refer the interested reader to David E. Stannard's American Holocaust, published 15 years ago but no less relevant today. So, in the sick moral calculus to which all of us in Holocaust studies must resort to at one time or another, I rank the American genocide as a greater crime against humanity than the Nazi Holocaust.

But I digress. Back to the ADL's uniqueness argument: I deny any ontological uniqueness to the Holocaust, and I deny that it was worse than other genocides. That's the first prong of the ADL's ideology.

As noted, the ADL's second prong here involves the "special relationship" between Turkey and Israel (not to mention Turkey and the U.K. and Turkey and the U.S.). Turkey is the only secular Muslim state in the world. It is also one of very few Muslim nations that has relations with Israel. The Turkish military and the IDF engage in joint training exercises and arms sales, and basically Israel counts on Turkey as a regional ally, figuring that in a regional war, Turkey might side with Israel, and that, subsequently, any attack on Turkey by a hostile party would then be an attack against NATO and would then involve European-wide involvement. In short, along with nuclear weapons, Turkey is Israel's ace in the hole.

The issue that remains before us, now, is whether what happened to the Armenians constitutes genocide. Recalling the U.N. definition, a genocide is characterized by any combination of the following: (1) Killing members of the group; (2) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (3) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (4) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The Armenian genocide meets all five of these critiera. Armenians could only save their own lives (and even then it was a stretch) if they agreed to abandon the Armenian language and adopt Islam as their faith (an action that should, under no circumstances, be considered "typical" of Islam as a faith). Armenian children were given to Turkish families. Forcible relocation always (not sometimes, but always) results in deaths of the "relocated" groups.

So what was Foxman thinking in this odious example of genocide denial (denial being what genocide scholar Gregory Stanton has noted is typically the final stage in a genocide)? Well, his "denial" is really his opposition to a congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide. Asked to explain further, Foxman said this: "This is not an issue where we take a position one way or the other . . . This is an issue that needs to be resolved by the parties, not by us. We are neither historians nor arbiters." I'd take him at his word were it not for the ADL's unbending support for similar resolutions regarding the Holocaust, not to mention the Stalinist firings of New England ADL officers who publicly disagreed with Foxman.

Outrage against Foxman was not limited to Armenians. Jewish and Israeli newspaper columnists commented on the issue and Holocaust denial scholar Deborah Lipstadt stated categorically that no reasonable person could look at the Armenian massacres and not conclude it was genocide. Finally, on August 21, Foxman and the ADL, in their own words, "revisited" the Armenian genocide.

"We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities," Foxman said. "On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide."

Pardon me if I'm a little less than impressed. Fire existed before it was called fire, and it should be borne in mind as well that fire is not "tantamount" to fire. Fire is, quite simply, fire.

"Having said that," Foxman said in the same statement, "we continue to firmly believe that a congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States."

In the end, Foxman tipped his hand on both prongs of the ADL's campaign to sanctify the Holocaust as the sine qua non of Jewish existence. There was a time when the work of the ADL was useful and productive. Those days, sadly, are gone, as the ADL has sunk to the level of spying on private citizens, blindly supporting Israel in whatever endeavor she undertakes, however wrongheaded, and "expressing outrage" at the slightest provocation. The little boy who cried wolf comes to mind.

Or was that the little boy who cried fox?

Andrew E. Mathis is a medical editor, Holocaust historian, and adjunct professor of English and humanities at Villanova University.

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