Washington—In a tersely-worded letter, Turkey’s new Ambassador in Washington, Serdar Kılıç, accused the American Jewish Committee of being “unfair, insulting and patently out of touch with realities” when the group issued a statement on April 23 recognizing the Armenian Genocide and urging Turkey to face its history. Kılıç wrote the letter to David Harris, the executive director of AJC on April 24. Asbarez obtained the letter, in which the Turkish Ambassador expresses “our extreme disappointment and regret with the statement issued yesterday by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in which the tragic events of 1915 are unjustly labeled as “genocide.” We reject the AJC statement in its entirety.”
Headquartered in New York and with governmental affairs offices in Washington, the AJC was established in 1906 and has grown to become a global advocacy group. On April 23, the AJC issued a statement honoring the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish Ambassador goes of to reiterate official Ankara’s denialist position that Armenians were not the only victims during the “final years of the Ottoman Empire,” and cites Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s now infamous “condolence statement” on April 23.
Kılıç also cites notorious Genocide denier Bernard Lewis, quoting a passage from his book, “Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian,” in which he argues that Armenians staged a rebellion and accordingly were killed.
“Ambassador Kılıç’s letter reflects a growing disdain on the part of the Turkish government toward the Jewish American community’s moral stance against Genocide,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“This remarkably disrespectful diplomatic correspondence confirms what we have always known, namely that the Turkish government has, since day one, viewed its relationship with the American Jewish Committee – and, more broadly, its political connection to the Jewish American community’s moral standing on issues of Genocide – as a cynical alliance aimed at blocking U.S. support for a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide,” added Hamparian. “Now that the AJC has taken a truthful stand on the Armenian Genocide – a principled position consistent with the views of Americans of Jewish heritage and faith – they are angrily attacked and insulted by the Turkish government. From Ankara’s perspective, the depth of this relationship was clearly only denial-deep.”
Below is the complete text of Ambassador Kılıç’s letter:
Dear Mr. Harris,
I am writing to you to express our extreme disappointment and regret with the statement issued yesterday by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in which the tragic events of 1915 are unjustly labeled as “genocide.” We reject the AJC statement in its entirety for the following reasons:
To begin with, the final years of the Ottoman Empire were indeed a tragic period; however not only for the Armenians but for all the people that made up the Empire. The AJC statement in this respect, while trying to capitulate on the sufferings of the Ottoman Armenians, reflects a one-sided and biased account by turning a blind eye to the sufferings of other ethnic and religious communities during the aforementioned period. Our fundamental objection to your statement in this context is branding the 1915 events as genocide, which is a specific crime, clearly defined by 1948 Convention. According to the Convention, only a competent international tribune is authorized to pass a judgment as to whether a specific act constitutes genocide. Such a court decision exists in the cases of the Holocaust, Rwanda and Srebrenica, while no decision exists for the events of 1915.
Turkey acknowledges the fact that the relocation of some of the Ottoman Armenians actually resulted in tragic consequences. As a matter of fact, only yesterday Prime Minister Erdogan acknowledged this fact and offered his condolences to the grandchildren of the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives in 1915. In his statement, Prime Minister Erdogan called on the Armenian leaders to work towards building a common future together, instead of turning our equally painful history into a matter of political conflict.
The call in AJC statement that “history must be faced” is a message that Turkey fully concurs with. Indeed, we have expressed our readiness to face our history and to that end proposed the establishment of a Joint Historical Commission as a concrete reflection of this position. Scholarly research to be carried out by Turkish, Armenian and international historians would play a significant role in shedding a more fair and just light on the events of 1915.
Furthermore, the nature of the 191 5 events is freely and widely discussed in today’s Turkey, unlike the case in Armenia, where the issue remains a dogmatic taboo that prevents the Armenian side from accepting our Joint Historical Commission proposal. On the other hand, contrary to what you suggest in your statement, our archives, hundreds of thousands of documents including this period, are also open to all researchers around the world.
There was no intent to destroy or annihilate the Armenian population since many Ottoman Armenians, including those residing in the capital of the Empire, were not relocated. Using the frequently cited but extremely flawed analogy of the Holocaust, this would be tantamount to the Nazis taking a decision to annihilate all Jews but yet taking no steps against the Jews living in Berlin, which was inconceivable. Bernard Lewis, in his book entitled “Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian,” explains in breadth the basic differences between Holocaust and the 1915 events; including the fact (i) “that the Ottoman Armenians were involved in an armed rebellion, whereas the Jews were not, but were attacked solely because of their identity” and (ii) “that the persecution of Armenians was mostly confined to endangered areas, while the Armenian populations in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, notably in big cities, were left more or less unharmed.”
It is also disappointing to note that the AJC, while referring to Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, has failed to mention Srebrenica, which was also termed as genocide by the International Court of Justice, and instead has decided to label the historically, politically and legally contentious events of 1915 as genocide. We sincerely hope that this is not a reflection of an Islamophobic viewpoint on this issue.
In view of the foregoing, we find the AJC statement unfair, insulting and patently out of touch with realities. It seems that the AJC follows a different agenda and is reluctant to acknowledge Turkey’s position and all the steps we have hitherto taken on this issue. That such a step comes from the leadership of a community which was welcomed by the Ottoman leaders in the 16th century and was protected from the Holocaust during WWII further aggravates our disappointment with your latest statement.