Israel’s New Ambassador to U.S. Calls Armenian Killings ‘Genocide’

Israel’s new Ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, is a firm believer in the veracity of the Armenian Genocide, despite his government’s denialist position on this issue.

Prior to his ambassadorial appointment, Oren repeatedly confirmed the facts of the genocide in his writings. In the May 10, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books, he wrote a highly positive review of Taner Akcam’s book A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. The review was titled: “The Mass Murder They Still Deny.”

In his most recent book, Power, Faith and Fantasy, Oren made dozens of references to Armenia and Armenians, including lengthy heart-wrenching descriptions of the mass killings before and during the genocide. Here are some of the most striking quotations from his book:

“The buildup of Ottoman oppression and Armenian anger erupted finally in the spring of 1894, when Turkish troops set out to crush a local rebellion, but then went on to raze entire villages and slaughter all of their inhabitants… Some 200,000 Armenians died—20 percent of the population—and a million homes were ransacked. ‘Armenian holocaust,’ cried a New York Times headline in September 1895, employing the word that would later become synonymous with genocide.”

Oren then went on to establish that more than a century ago, similar to today’s acrimonious political tug-of-war over the genocide recognition issue, the Armenian atrocities seriously affected U.S.-Turkish relations. He wrote: “Maintaining amicability with Turkey would prove complicated, however, because ties between the United States and the Porte [Sultan] had long been frayed. The perennial source of friction was the oppression of Armenian Christians. Though a band of modernizing Young Turks, many of them graduates of Roberts College, had achieved power in Istanbul in 1908 and promised equal rights for all of the empire’s citizens, barely a year passed before the slaughter of Armenians resumed. Some thirty thousand of them were butchered by Turkish troops in south-central Anatolia.”

In a section titled, “The most horrible crime in human history,” Oren wrote: “The first reports, from December 1914, told of anti-Christian pogroms in Bitlis, in eastern Turkey, and the hanging of hundreds of Armenians in the streets of Erzerum. Armenian men between the ages of twenty and sixty were being conscripted into forced-labor battalions, building roads, and hauling supplies for the Turkish army. The following month, after their defeat by Russian forces in the Caucasus, Turkish troops salved their humiliation by pillaging Armenian towns and executing their Armenian laborers. In the early spring, Turkish soldiers laid siege to the Armenian city of Van in eastern Anatolia and began the first of innumerable mass deportations. The slaughter then raged westward to Istanbul, where, on April 24, security forces arrested and hanged some 250 Armenian leaders and torched Armenian neighborhoods. Interior Minister Talaat Pasha informed the Armenian Patriarch that ‘there was no room for Christians in Turkey’ and advised him and his parishioners ‘to clear out of the country.'”

Oren then exposed Turkey’s attempts to falsify history by pointing out that “Most contemporary observers agree that the massacres were scarcely connected to the war, but rather represented a systematically planned and executed program to eliminate an entire people. Indeed, foreshadowing the Nazi genocide of the Jews twenty-five years later, Turkish soldiers herded entire Armenian villages into freezing rivers, incinerated them in burning churches, or simply marched them into the deserts and abandoned them to die of thirst… By the end of summer, an estimated 800,000 Armenians had been killed and countless others forcibly converted to Islam.”

After citing numerous eyewitness accounts of the mass killings, Oren concluded, “In all, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocide that the Turkish government would never acknowledge, much less regret.”

While it is true that Michael Oren published this book before his assignment as ambassador to Washington, his compelling position on the Armenian Genocide will hopefully make him refrain from following in the footsteps of his predecessors, who have shamefully lobbied against the Congressional resolution on this issue.

The appointment of a staunch supporter of the truth of the Armenian Genocide as Israel’s ambassador to Washington comes on the heels of a major rift between Turkey and Israel following the Gaza war earlier this year. On that occasion, there were major manifestations of anti-Semitic statements and acts throughout Turkey, including anti-Israeli remarks by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His insulting words to Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, Switzerland, antagonized Israelis and Jews worldwide. Even though Israel downplayed Erdogan’s offensive words, they had a lasting damage to Israeli-Turkish relations.

The combination of an Israeli government that is less sympathetic of Turkey and the presence of an Israeli ambassador in Washington who is a firm believer in the facts of the Armenian Genocide may facilitate the passage of the pending Congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Well now is it officially a “Genocide” ?   This need to have others use the “G” world really rubs me the wrong way.  I understand why people and organizations work for having it be called “Genocide”  but it somewhat misses the point .
    The community seems to get a sense of statisfaction or at least treats it as important news everytime  important/public  people and organizations/countries use the word “Genocide” .  I assume the idea is that the more people use the word and the more it will put pressure on on Turkey to do the same.  It has not  been working so far. Its nice that countries like France or Canada officially acknowledge it, and I am sure it annoys Turkey to no end…but in the end what does it really achieve ?   Whether everyone acknowledges it or nobody acknowledges it, it does not change the facts of what happened from 1915-1923.  (or put another way, no matter how much you call it a dog, if it quacks, and has wings…its a duck).
    What ultimately matters is what Turkey says and does.  What everyone else thinks is details.  It does not seem like Turkey is going to be shamed into acknowledging anything… furthermore, countries have no intention of backing up their words with deeds much as they did against South Afirica.  So we in the diaspora spend all our energy to get these different bodies to us the “G” word so that we can validate to the Turks what we knew all along.

  2. Armo, if everyone on the playground keeps calling it a dog, even if it quacks and has wings, it will finally be accepted as a dog. If Turkey sees every major player in international politics calling the mass killings of Armenians; Genocide, it will inevitably have to come to grips with its own past and acknowledge it. If we say that it is not important for other nations to acknowledge Genocide as such, Turkey will have a reason for not acknowledging. “After all, the others do not think it is. Why should I?” Do you see why it is so important for world gevernments to call it as it is; a Genocide.
    I understand your point of view, just because some others do not call it a Genocide, it does not change the fact of it being one. But this fact must become common knowledge, not to affirm, but to give it strong backing.

  3. I don’t understand why the Armenian diaspora is obsessed with calling the mass killings Genocide. We, most Turks, do believe that many Armenians, Turks and Kurds lost their souls as a result of the rift between Ottoman Empire, Armenias, Russians and the Western Powers.
    You are calling for everyone to recognize those killings and decry the demonization of the Armenians during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. However, you are demonizing Turks yourselves. When I speak with most Armenias they are about to kill me with their looks. I am as innocent as you claim those Armenias were. First, be rational and don’t see us as your enemies…You never even want to listen to our story… Yes, we condemn the killings of Armenians of all sorts; however, we claim that the people responsible for these crimes were punished by the Goverment of that time and it was not a State-orchestrated atrocity. So, lots of questions remain as to whether or not we can call these killings as genocide.
    Israeli lobby will always back Turkey because they need Turkey. Plus, they would not want the G-word to be used for everyone’s death…
    I hope my words don’t get censored. Thank you.

  4. Ozzy:

    Just because Turks and Kurds died in WW I does not mean they didn’t commit a genocide. Approximatly 7.2 million Germans died in WW II, nobody rational is makes the argument “plenty of Germans died too, it was war, it was not a Holocaust ” It is just about the most ignorant agrument one put forward.

    You didn’t kill anyone and so in that sense you are innocent, but if you defend mass murder don’t expect anyone to reach out to you in friendship.

    States apologize for the wrong doings of their past all the time. The senate just recently passed a resolution for slavery. Turkey celebrates the achievements of its past ancestors, they also need to admit to their failures.

    Your last line is very telling. Its not that Isreal does not think a genocide happened they simply will not say it for political reasons. Same with U.S Adiminstation. Its not factual dispute. Your in your own world of denial if you think otherwise.

    The easiest thing to do was admit to the Genocide 80 years ago and most of this would have been over. But it didn’t work out that way….and now your country faces disgrace one little article at a time.

    I personally resent having to plead our case to these politicians to use the “G” word. It’s silly but I suppose necessary. I disagree with Master P. We are not going to shame you into anything, your country has none.

    Finally your words got posted because unlike Turkey people here are free to express what they think.

  5. If you want the G-word to be used so badly, then dont rely on politicians to do it for you. History has already judged what happened–it was genocide. Suppose it finally is considered a genocide…what do you expect to happen then? We dont need any sort of fake validation by a self-interested elite, it wont get anyone anywhere–its a road to contradiction.

    This article is a case in point; i dont understand why we have to associate ourselves positively with everyone who recognizes the genocide–I wonder what this ambassador has to say about the massacre in Gaza in December/January. Armenians could do without the support of such exclusionary states as Israel. If this “Cause” is about values, we’d be alot smarter in how we go about reflecting them.

    Describing the twentieth century’s first genocidal crime against humanity for what it is; is only regurgitating what historical experts at the IAGS have said for decades. Let the Ambassador endorse a justice commission for the Armenian Genocide and convince his cronies in Washington and Jerusalem to do the same and then maybe I will have more appreciation for his supposedly frank account of undeniable history. Until then he is aiding and abetting a government who shamelessly continues to deny and revise history for political gain.

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