HAIFA — Turkey’s ambassador to Israel has protested the naming of a square for the victims of the Armenian Genocide in Haifa, which last month became the first Israeli city to acknowledge the tragedy in this way, The Times of Israel reports.
The initiative “heavily carries the potential of deteriorating these bonds which the peoples and the Governments of Israel and Türkiye wish to improve,” wrote Şakir Özkan Torunlar in a letter, obtained by The Times of Israel Tuesday, to Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem about the renaming, which took effect on March 20.
Torunlar in his letter demanded the mayor reverse the decision to commemorate the genocide in the name of a square, and reiterated the official line of Turkey, stating that “such an act of genocide has never been committed in the history of the Turkish nation.”
Located along Ben Gurion Avenue in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city and home to about half of the country’s 15,000-odd non-Jewish ethnic Armenians, the inauguration of Armenian Genocide Square marks the second time that an Israeli local government has acknowledged the atrocities. Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, in 2020 unveiled a monument to the victims in what it later named the Charles Aznavour Park, commemorating the late French singer who was of Armenian descent.
The naming in Haifa highlighted the gap between widespread sympathy in Israel for the Armenian commemorative cause and the reluctance of successive Israeli governments seeking good ties with Turkey to officially recognize the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenian civilians by Turkish troops during World War I.
Eliran Tal, the top spokesperson for the Haifa municipality, spoke of the naming as an example for the government to follow. “We can only hope now that the State of Israel acknowledges the genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians,” he wrote in a statement. Turkish diplomats, he added, “worked hard to pressure” the city to drop the plan.