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Rabbis’ Refusal to Consider Renewed Armenian Genocide Shameful

[Rabbinical Center of Europe]

“Expressions such as ‘ghetto’, ‘genocide’, ‘holocaust’ and others are . . . inappropriate to be part of the jargon used in any kind of political disagreement,” the Rabbinical Center of Europe declared on September 6. The statement by 50 rabbis condemning Armenia for raising alarm about the ongoing atrocity in Artsakh left many scratching their heads for three reasons.

First, many Jews had never heard of the “Rabbinical Center of Europe.” The group is real but represents mostly a Hasidic subsection of Europe’s Jewish community. Second, the group’s posturing is devoid of research. The rabbis did not visit Armenia let alone Artsakh, the self-governing republic that Nagorno-Karabakh’s residents established as the Soviet Union collapsed. Finally, the rabbis seem aloof to how Azerbaijan use their statement to deflect from ongoing slaughter.

Indeed, the rabbis’ statement appears a vestige of the past: For decades, various Jewish organizations opposed recognition of the Armenian Genocide because they believed acknowledgement of genocide pre-Holocaust would diminish the uniqueness of the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews. Prominent Jewish or Israel-interest groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), American Jewish Committee, and Anti-Defamation League quietly interceded with congressmen to derail Armenian Genocide resolutions long before any vote in Congress, until, in 2007, seven Jewish Democrats broke with precedent to vote in favor of the resolution.

That same year, the Anti-Defamation League fired New England Regional director Andrew Tarsy after the New England branch recognized the Armenian Genocide, but National chairman Abe Foxman rehired him the next day after a national uproar. Many within the Jewish community came to recognize that the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust could be both unique and share common traits. Past persecution need not pit Jews and Armenians against each other, or force either into denial. Organizations like the Rabbinical Center of Europe are right to educate about and preserve remembrance of the Holocaust, but they are ignorant in their knowledge about the Armenian Genocide.

They also appear cowardly. While the Jewish community in Armenia grows, both Azerbaijan and Turkey hemorrhage Jews. Dictatorships in both countries like to trot out Jewish representatives in a museumification of the Jewish community, but numbers do not lie. Azerbaijan’s Jewish community, around 40,000 strong at independence, has declined more than 75 percent since.

The frequent Azerbaijani narrative of Armenian collaboration with Nazi Germany is also cynical. True, some Armenians cast their lot with Nazis not out of antagonism toward Jews but more to undermine the Soviet Union. Today, Diary of Anne Frank populates children’s libraries and Armenians shelter Jews fleeing oppression in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Heightening such cynicism is Azerbaijan’s unwillingness to address its own World War II-era history of Nazi collaboration and the slaughter of Polish Jews by the Azerbaijani Legion. Cynicism is especially rife when Azerbaijan host foreign rabbis. President Ilham Aliyev ignores his own father’s history suppressing Jews both as KGB chief for Azerbaijan and as a politburo member under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Rabbis should prize knowledge rather than base their statement in ignorance. They may assume comparison to ghettoes is facile, but how do they know it is not? Azerbaijan has locked its Armenians in Artsakh by blockading the region, often arresting those who seek to depart. People starve. If Artsakh is like a World War II-era ghetto, then what would that make the rabbis’ denialism? At best, they become like Franklin Roosevelt who turned his back on the reality of the Holocaust; at worst, they become useful idiots for the perpetrators.

As for genocide, what other term might the rabbis suggest for the eradication not only of a people but also any physical evidence of their existence? There was a reason why Adolf Hitler cited the Armenian Genocide as inspiration. Can current events be decontextualized from the eradication of more than one million Armenians, an event Aliyev and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mock and deny?

The Rabbinical Center of Europe has embarrassed itself. Rather than make empty statements, perhaps the rabbis should try to visit Artsakh. Let us hope the Armenian Genocide Museum and the Artsakh government invite them. If Azerbaijan prevents them from visiting Stepanakert, perhaps the rabbis might ask why.


(c) 2023, American Enterprise Institute'ghetto',Europe%20declared%20on%20September%206.


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