2189) Elie Wiesel And The Armenian Question By Omer Engin Lutem

American Jewish author of Hungarian descent Elie Wiesel, is renown in the West and in particular the U.S. as an leading genocide scholar. Having escaped a German concentration camp, having written several books that address the issue of preventing genocide and crimes against humanity and having won the Nobel Peace Prize, he has a significant standing not only among Jewish circles but within the Western world. .

As such Wiesel’s acknowledgment of the so-called Armenian genocide, has led this allegation to be endorsed within the U.S. and other countries particularly among Jewish circles. In a newspaper interview in October he was quoted as saying “I have been fighting for the rights of the Armenian people to remember for years and years. I believe the Armenians are victims and, as a Jew, I should be on their side”.

In response to a question inquiring about whether the Turks have a responsibility to take some action, he replied as follows:

“No one is asking for the Turks to take responsibility. All the Armenians want is the right to remember. Seven generations separate us from the events that happened in World War I and nobody in his right mind would say that today's Turks are responsible for what happened. The Armenians don't want reparations; they don't even want an apology. They want the right to remember. The Turks would gain a lot if they simply acknowledged the reality of what happened. I have spoke with Turkish leaders at the highest level and their attitude about this issue is totally irrational except for one thing which I do understand. They don't want to be compared to Hitler. But of course, nobody does.”

In short, Elie Wiesel expressed the view that that the Turks (or Turkey) of today can not be held responsible for the events of 1915, and that the Armenians do not want reparations or an apology but that they simply want their right to remember to be upheld (that is, the acknowledgment on the part of Turks that they were subjected to genocide). As such he imparts the idea that a mere declaration issued on the part of Turkey to this end would resolve this matter.

The issue at hand, however, is not that simple, and Elie Wiesel’s remarks runs counter to the long-held Armenian stance on this matter. In fact, the foremost Armenian journalist in the U.S., Harut Sassounian, immediately objected to the statements of Elie Wiesel.

In his article addressing this issue, Sassounian, expressed how the statements issued by Elie Wiesel were inaccurate and expressed that “contrary to Mr. Wiesel’s assertions, Armenians do not need anyone’s permission to remember or mourn their dead. Their right to remember has never been in question. It is also untrue that ‘seven generations separate us’ from the era of the genocide. There are still surviving eyewitnesses of the Armenian Genocide.” On the issue of Turkish responsibility he stated that “while Armenians do not blame today’s Turks for the killings, they do hold the Turkish state responsible for falsifying and denying the facts of the Armenian Genocide.”

With respect to whether or not an apology would suffice, Sassounian once again voiced his strong disagreement with Wiesel’s statements. This disagreement was voiced as follows: “The fact is that Armenians do not really care whether Turks apologize for the killings or not. Armenians do insist, however, on obtaining adequate restitution for the enormous damages they suffered”.

Sassounian also emphasized how reconciliation between Armenians and Turks can only be attained through justice, which would necessitate not only the return of the occupied lands (in other words Turkey ceding land to Armenia) but also the return of looted properties, as well as restitution for the alleged 1.5 million murders.

In the light of the ensuing discussion, it is important to draw attention to the fact that while defending Armenian genocide allegations be acknowledged, Elie Wiesel has emphasized that this would suffice for the reconciliation of relations with Turks and has made many circles in the U.S. (particularly Jewish circles) believe in the veracity of this claim. However, the truth is that Armenian demands advanced for the reconciliation of relations with the Turks have always far exceeded those expressed by Wiesel.

It should be recalled that as the Treaty of Kars is still in force Armenian demands for land from Turkey are legally void. Furthermore, although the Treaty of Laussane recognized that property would be restored to those legitimate owners who fled their place of residence during the war, this is no longer possible as the statute of limitations has long expired. Finally it should be remembered that in accordance with the Declaration of Amnesty appended to the Peace Treaty, Turkish nationals were afforded amnesty as a result of which there exists no such obligation to provide for reparations as demanded by Armenian circles.

[1] Philadelphia Jewish Voice, 28 Ekim 2007
[2] ibid.
[3] California Courier Online, 1 Kasım 2007

Resource : ERAREN, 16 November 2007


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