In case you missed it (and really, unless you live in New England, or you're Armenian, or you're an ultra-right-wing radio host, you probably did), there's been something of a to-do between the ADL of B'nai Brith and very specifically its leader, Abraham Foxman, and the Armenian-American community of Watertown, Mass. It seems the ADL recently honored the city as one of its "No Place for Hate" cities, only to have the city reject the honor because of the ADL's position on the mass killings of Armenians by the Turkish governments between 1895 and 1922 (peaking in 1915 under the so-called Young Turks).
Estimately run between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians killed during this period -- either slaughtered wholesale by Ottoman troops and auxiliaries or starved on death marches out of Anatolia for "relocation in the east" in Syria and elsewhere. The Armenians have been living in a Diaspora very much like that of the Jews for a large portion of their history -- certainly since the conquest of their land by the Turks -- and these massacres took a serious toll on the Armenian population not already safely domiciled in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other points outside Asia Minor and the Caucasus.
So what is the ADL's position on the Armenian massacres?
The position of the ADL and Foxman is that what happened to the Armenians does not constitute genocide. I'll go over the U.N. definition of genocide in a few moments and show that the Armenian massacres more than meets the criteria set forth here, but what Foxman and the ADL are up to is something much more sinister, and the ideology behind what they're doing falls into two prongs: (1) Insisting on the uniqueness of the Holocaust; and (2) Trying to preserve the generally positive relationship between Turkey and Israel by denying the genocide against the Armenian people.
The first issue is a thorny one, because I, personally, would say that the Nazi Holocaust against European Jewry was unique in some ways and not unique in others. But the uniqueness that Foxman and others like him (notably Elie Wiesel) argue for is on a mystical level (which is garbage -- the Nazis killed the Jews because they were in the way and they were deemed as subhumans, and this is pretty much the prerequisite conditions for all genocides), on an historical level (the Holocaust was the culmination of 2,000 years of European anti-Semitism -- and with this point I can agree to a certain extent, though I think van Pelt and Dwork's Holocaust: A History put a good dent in that argument), and the mechanization of the killing of Europe's Jews (fair enough -- on this point I agree wholly).
But am I, a Jewish person, willing to say that this was the worst genocide in history or that other mass killings don't count as genocide? In short, do I harbor that level of chutzpah?
I am personally of the opinion that the worst genocide in history took place on the continent where I am currently writing this, and that this genocide is continuing as I write. This genocide was/is against the indigenous pre-1492 populations of North and South America by European conquerors and was one of the most wholly effective genocides in all of history. More than 95 percent of the original population of these two continents were either decimated by disease or slaughtered outright, mainly by the Spanish and British colonists, and later by the U.S. military and Latin American death squads. Entire nations were wiped off the face of the earth, and because they were often preliterate cultures, no trace of them is left except for the occasional archaeological find. That I sit on land right now that used to belong to Lenape Indians, and I've never met a Lenape Indian (and I've lived in this part of the country my entire life) should speak volumes. I would refer the interested reader to David E. Stannard's American Holocaust, published fifteen years ago but no less relevant today.
So, in the sick moral calculus to which all of is in "the business" must resort at one time or another, I rank the American genocide as a greater crime against humanity than the Nazi Holocaust. But I digress. Back to the ADL's uniqueness argument. I deny any epistemological uniqueness to the Holocaust, and I deny that it was worse than other genocides. Prong #1 addressed.
The ADL's second prong here is the "special relationship" between Turkey and Israel (not to mention Turkey and the U.K. and Turkey and the U.S.). Turkey is the only secular Muslim state in the world. It is also one of very few Muslim nations that has relations with Israel. The Turkish military and the IDF engage in joint training exercises and arms sales, and basically Israel counts on Turkey as a regional ally, figuring that in a regional war, Turkey might side with Israel, and that, subsequently, any attack on Turkey by a hostile party would then be an attack against NATO and would then involve European-wide involvement. In short, along with nuclear weapons, Turkey is Israel's ace in the hole.
A year before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I wrote on this issue and others, and you can read that essay here.
The issue that remains before is whether what happened to the Armenians constitutes genocide. Recalling the U.N. definition, a genocide is characterized by any combination of the following: (1) Killing members of the group; (2) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (3) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (4) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The Armenian genocide meets all five of these critiera. Armenians could only save their own lives (and even then it was a stretch) if they agreed to abandon the Armenian language and adopt Islam as their faith (an action that should, under no circumstances, be considered "typical" of Islam as a faith). Armenian children were given to Turkish families. Forcible relocation always (not sometimes, but always) results in deaths of the "relocated" groups.
So what is Foxman thinking in this odious example of genocide denial (which genocide scholar Gregory Stanton has noted is typically the final stage in a genocide? Well his "denial" is really his opposition to a Congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide. Asked to explain further, Foxman has said this: "This is not an issue where we take a position one way or the other . . . This is an issue that needs to be resolved by the parties, not by us. We are neither historians nor arbiters."
Well, if Foxman would keep his nose out of Holocaust historiography, I'd take him at his word. I'd also take him at his word were it not for the Stalinist firings of ADL officers who have publicly disagreed with him.
I don't know how this will resolve (if at all), but in the meantime all I can ask Foxman is this: "How do you sleep?"