TORONTO — On January 27, 2015 a Holocaust commemoration was organized in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, a country that officially recognizes the Armenian Genocide. There, the Turkish Ambassador was one of the keynote speakers.
However, the invitation of the Turkish ambassador to speak drew sharp criticism from some, including several of the politicians and members of the public in attendance because of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views expressed by some Turkish leaders in recent years. Earlier, at a meeting of the speakers of 30 European parliaments held in Prague, Czech Republic, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Turkey was the only European country that did not sign a declaration against contemporary manifestations – including Holocaust denial – of anti-Semitism.
“I share those concerns,” said Ottawa event co-organizer Floralove Katz. “However, during the Holocaust, the Turkish government was the only government in Europe that instructed its diplomats to save as many Jews as possible.”
Wishing to set the historical record straight, Mr. K.M. Greg Sarkissian, President of the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute) sent the following communication to the comment section of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
K.M. Greg Sarkissian’s remarks are as follows:
The invitation of the Turkish Ambassador to speak at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in Ottawa on January 27 drew sharp criticism from several of the politicians and the members of diplomatic core attending the event, and many Canadians complained. The organizers showed great insensitivity by inviting the official representative of Turkey, a country that aggressively denies its role in the Armenian Genocide, to an event commemorating another genocide, the Holocaust, both of which are officially recognized by the Canadian Government.
This distress is all the more painful, since the Turkish Ambassador’s presence was justified by false information, in response to the criticism raised, causing insult over injury. Event co-organizer Floralove Katz claimed that “during the Holocaust, the Turkish government was the only government in Europe that instructed its diplomats to save as many Jews as possible.” In fact, only Jews of Turkish background were aided by Turkish embassies in Europe, and then only clandestinely. Yad Vashem has recognized only one Turkish diplomat for rescuing Jews, Selahattin Ülkümen, the Turkish Consul-General in Rhodes. Necdet Kent, the Turkish Consul-General in Marseilles also assisted many Jews to flee France for Turkey, but it grossly overstates the case to say that “Turkey instructed its diplomats to save as many Jews as possible.” Despite the Turkish propaganda, current research shows that Turkey was far from welcoming toward Jews during the Holocaust era.
In commemorating the Holocaust, it is important to remember its interconnectedness with the Armenian Genocide. Many German soldiers and diplomats who were active in Turkey during the Armenian Genocide went on to become influential Nazis. The success of the Armenian Genocide and the failure to punish those responsible encouraged and emboldened Nazi leaders in their racist and genocidal plans. On the eve of WWII, Hitler boasted of his ability to exterminate entire civilian populations and get away with it, saying, “Who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?”
There are numerous parallels and links between the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, too many to go into here. When commemorating the Holocaust, it behooves us not only to remember this history, but its many lessons. As Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the word “genocide” referring to many mass atrocities including the Armenian Genocide, and devoted his life to establishing an international law for its prevention and punishment wrote, “…the function of memory is not only to register past events, but to stimulate human conscience.”