The Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) sent a letter on Sept. 6 signed by 50 conservative Rabbis to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Vahagn Khachaturyan, stating that Armenian officials have no right to use the term “genocide” to describe Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, which is causing the starvation of 120,000 Artsakh Armenians.
The Rabbis wrongly claimed that the term “genocide” should only be used to describe the Jewish Holocaust. The Rabbis’ ignorance is only exceeded by their arrogance. Not only do they not understand the true meaning of the term “genocide,” but they also harm their own cause by claiming that no human tragedy is comparable to the Holocaust. It is in the interest of the Jewish community to describe the Holocaust as a universal calamity with which other people can identify. Even though all genocides have similarities, there are obvious differences in timing, scale and location. However, the similarities between genocides far exceed their differences. No one should have a monopoly on claims of human suffering.
According to the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” is an act of genocide. This is exactly what Azerbaijan is doing – starving 120,000 Artsakh Armenians by depriving them of food, medicine and other basic necessities.
The denialist Rabbis claim that the terms “ghetto,” “genocide” and “holocaust” are “inappropriate to be part of the jargon used in any kind of political disagreement.” The blockade of Artsakh is not a “political disagreement,” but genocide, according to the U.N. definition and Luis Moreno Ocampo, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
Continuing the series of errors and misjudgments, the pro-Azerbaijan propaganda letter demands that Armenia’s leaders “explicitly and unequivocally clarify that the Armenian people recognizes and honors the terrible human suffering undergone by the Jewish people” and stop “minimizing and belittling the extent of the Jewish people’s suffering to further any political interest through incessantly using phrases associated with the holocaust suffered by the Jewish people.”
Rather than lecturing Armenia’s leaders about the Holocaust, the Rabbis should have addressed their letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has denied the Armenian Genocide and pressured the Knesset to reject a resolution recognizing it. Israel should have been the first country to recognize the Armenian Genocide, not the last.
Furthermore, the Rabbis should have had the moral courage to issue a letter condemning the government of Israel for providing lethal weapons with which Azerbaijan killed thousands of Armenian soldiers in the 2020 Artsakh War.
Instead of supporting the genocide denialists in Ankara and Baku, the Rabbis should have known that some of the most prominent backers of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide are Jewish: Dr. Israel Charny (director of the Institute of Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem), Prof. Yair Auron (historian, author of several books on the Armenian Genocide), Raphael Lemkin (who coined the term genocide), Amb. Henry Morgenthau, Elie Wiesel (Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor), Yossi Beilin (Israel’s Minister of Justice) and Yossi Sarid (Israel’s Minister of Education).
Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee expressed their support after U.S. Pres. Joe Biden recognized the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2021. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. also issued a statement on April 27, 2021, welcoming Pres. Biden’s declaration. The World Jewish Congress has also acknowledged the Armenian Genocide.
In addition, 126 Holocaust scholars issued a joint statement on March 7, 2000, “affirming the incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide.” Among them were professors Yehuda Bauer, Stephen Feinstein, Irving Horowitz and Steven Katz.
These Rabbis did not condemn former Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan and former Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalybov, who stated during a 2005 meeting with a municipal delegation in Bavaria, Germany: “Our goal is the complete elimination of Armenians. You, Nazis, already eliminated the Jews in the 1930s and 40s, right? You should be able to understand us.” This was reported in the Realny Azerbaijan publication on February 17, 2006.
Since these Rabbis feel that they are entitled to the exclusive use of the term genocide, have they ever sent a single letter of complaint to their dear brother Aliyev for his repeated references to the fake ‘Khojalu Genocide?’ Isn’t this a shameful example of a double-standard?
The RCE should have remembered Hitler’s infamous words uttered on August 22, 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Noticing that the world ignored the Armenian Genocide, Hitler was emboldened to commit the Holocaust.
Yaron Weiss of Jerusalem, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, wrote: “I condemn the cynical self-appropriation of the memory of the Holocaust victims by that group of Rabbis.” Weiss also reminded the Rabbis that “Azerbaijan refuses to condemn and apologize for the acts of mass murder committed during the Holocaust by the soldiers of the Azeri Legion.”
I urge the RCE to apologize for its revisionist and insulting letter, which compromises its decency and morality. Should this letter embolden Azerbaijan to commit more atrocities against Armenia and Artsakh, these Rabbis will be considered partners in the Azeri crimes.