JERUSALEM — As Israelis stood in silence on Monday for two minutes at 10 a.m. in memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, residents were gathering around St. James Convent — the heart of the Old City’s Armenian Quarter — to remember the victims of the 20th century’s first genocide, that of the Armenians.
In a chilling coincidence, Holocaust Memorial Day, which is observed in Israel according to the Jewish calendar, and the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which takes place annually on April 24, fell on the same day this year drawing a mix of cultures and tragic memories in Jerusalem’s Old City.
While the world recognizes the Jewish Holocaust, Armenians, who lost 1.5 million people and land in modern-day Turkey, are still fighting to get the world to recognize their genocide. Turkey denies claims of genocide.
Israel and the United States are among countries that refuse to use the word “genocide” when describing the events of 1915-1918. During that time some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in executions, death marches and through starvation by the Ottoman Turks. April 24 commemorates the day in 1915 when 250 Armenian intellectuals were rounded up and executed in what is regarded as the first step of the massacres.
Jerusalem’s Armenian presence dates back to the time of Jesus. The quarter itself was established after Armenia declared itself a Christian nation — the first in the world to do so — in 301. From that time Armenians made pilgrimages to the Holy Land to bolster their faith.
Since then, the community maintained a presence in Jerusalem and increased in size, especially after the genocide scattered its victims throughout the Middle East. In the last several decades however, caught in the crosshairs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Armenians have steadily emigrated from Israel to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Now with only 1,000 residents, a school, churches and two social clubs, the Armenian Quarter is a shadow of its past.
About 100 residents gathered on Monday to attend a service in memorial of the victims and to demand recognition and justice. Similar marches took place around the world drawing tens of thousands. Several Israelis stood with the Armenians in Jerusalem this year.
“Our country, which was established by Holocaust survivors, doesn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide. It is my duty in life to try to get the (Israeli) government to recognize this so know that there are other people who suffered and deserve recognition,” Yaron Weiss, an Israeli tour guide told KNI. “Jews came back to their homeland (after the Holocaust), but for Armenians, their homeland was taken from them. All the world must know this.”
In a speech at the ceremony outside the Armenian seminary, Weiss declared: “From here, the Holy City. it is incumbent upon us to send the message to humanity: No more!”
“We must remember and never forget… until the genocide is recognized,” he said.
On Monday evening, Jews and Armenians gathered for a joint memorial ceremony at the Nature Museum in Jerusalem, arranged by Israeli Naama Ringel.
Most Israelis identify with the Armenian plight on a personal level, Weiss explained, but political and financial interests at the governmental level dictate that Israel placate Turkey and Azerbaijan by sidestepping the word genocide.
Perhaps a recent landmark discovery that came out of Jerusalem this year will change that. Taner Akcam, a Turkish-born scholar at Clark University in Massachusetts, said he found in the archives of the Armenian Patriarch in Jerusalem the “smoking gun” of the genocide coverup.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Akcam discovered a telegram, written in secret code, requesting details from the field about the deportations and killings of Armenians in the eastern Turkish region of Anatolia from a high-level Turkish official, Behaeddin Shakir.
The document was used to help convict Shakir in a tribunal. Akcam said this discovery proves both the existence of the tribunals and, for the first time, the deliberate and willful official planning involved in carrying out the massacres.
Akcam said the find was “an earthquake in our field,” and said he hoped it would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.”
The telegram was part of a collection of court records ferreted out of Turkey in 1922 by Armenians.