By SHMULEY BOTEACH,
Could you imagine the Jewish community tolerating a candidate with dual German citizenship who equivocated on whether or not the Holocaust occurred?
Next month’s Senate race in Pennsylvania will mark the first-ever campaign by a candidate with dual citizenship. Will Dr. Mehmet Oz, a citizen of Turkey with reported ties to Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, clearly state that the Armenian Genocide occurred? The question is more than reasonable. It is essential in understanding the values he would bring to Congress.
Last week, the Oz campaign canceled a fundraiser in his home state of New Jersey amid demands for clarity on his position. The agitators in New Jersey’s Jewish and Armenian communities were clear; anything less than a full acknowledgment of the grave atrocities visited by Turkey upon their Armenian victims is an affront against history and conscience.
Could you imagine the Jewish community tolerating a candidate with dual German citizenship who equivocated on whether or not the Holocaust occurred? Such a scenario, of course, is hard to imagine. Unlike Turkey’s approach to the Armenian Genocide, Germany has wrestled with its past.
The Senate unanimously voted in 2019 to recognize that genocide was undertaken against the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian people in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Would Dr. Oz have stood with the senators he wishes to join? It is not a question of semantics.
For the one million-strong Armenian community of the United States, the genocide is a lived reality. The majority of Armenians living in the United States are direct descendants of its survivors.
Genocide denial has very real consequences
The failure of the international community to prevent and adequately respond to the Ottoman Empire’s systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenians – that continued through the birth of the nascent Turkish Republic – inspired other genocidal despots to do the same.
The Armenian Genocide was in many ways the blueprint for the Holocaust, which saw the murder of six million Jews including 1.5 million children. On the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler infamously said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the Armenians?”
It was this impunity the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide were afforded that led Jewish jurist Rafael Lemkin to coin the word “genocide.” The word described the industrialized eradication of a people; no existing term of law could quite capture the unparalleled atrocity.
Lemkin would later face the horrors of genocide himself. The Nazis murdered his entire family for the crime of being Jewish.
To deny genocide is to do more than just refute historic facts. It is to actively abet the erasure of history and memory, to whitewash the horrors of the past and undermine our resolve to confront the horrors of the present. Holocaust survivor and advocate for Armenian Genocide recognition Elie Wiesel once described the denial of genocide as a “double killing.”
Genocide denial in Turkey
In Turkey, the consequences of this denialism have been profound. Turkey today continues to engage in the destruction and desecration of its Armenian, Greek and Assyrian cultural heritage sites.
Turkey’s minorities – particularly its dwindling, embattled Christian communities – continue to face routine harassment, discrimination and threats emanating from the highest political offices.
Erdogan – with whom Oz has appeared publicly on multiple occasions – has publicly praised the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide and referred to their victims as “remnants of the sword.”
To this day, Turkey continues to sell weapons to Azerbaijan, which last week launched a brutal unprovoked assault on the sovereign territory of Armenia, targeting civilian populations and displacing several thousand people.
Genocide remains as great a threat to humanity today as it did a century ago. From the persecution of the Uighurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Tigray in Ethiopia, genocidal despots across the world continue to challenge international norms and laws, not to mention the values we hold dear as Americans.
To date, the Oz campaign has issued only nebulous affirmations against genocide in principle, without specifically acknowledging or affirming his position on the Armenian Genocide.
It is not too late for him to be on the record.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the executive director of the World Values Network. Aram Suren Hamparian is the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.