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Tension over Israeli proposal to commemorate Armenian genocide

By Batsheva Sobelman, Los Angeles Times –

JERUSALEM _ Israeli lawmakers plan to discuss the possibility of setting a day to commemorate the Armenian genocide of 1915-18. But the initiative is causing tension ahead of the discussion, scheduled for Monday, because of concerns over the reaction by Turkey, which denies a genocide took place.

Until now, similar commemoration proposals have been referred to parliamentary committees that meet behind closed doors. This will be the first time the subject will be discussed at a committee whose meetings are public.

If it takes place.

Israel’s national security adviser, Yakov Amidror, requested further information on the scheduled debate on behalf of the prime minister’s office and, according to press reports, asked to postpone it. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin reportedly refused, sticking to his years-long position that, of all nations, Israel must address the issue.

Israel’s relations with Turkey are such that there appears to be no good time for this discussion. In the past, initiatives to acknowledge the Armenian genocide and teach it in Israeli schools were shot down for fear of angering Turkey, once a close ally. Now there is concern that it could push their unstable relations over a cliff.

Monday’s discussion _ scheduled months ago _ comes at the request of politicians from opposite poles of Israeli politics, reflecting a mix of attitudes as well as motives.
A law recently passed in France that made denial of the Armenian genocide a crime sparked a diplomatic crisis with Turkey, which recalled its ambassador and cut economic and military ties with France.

Israel’s own ties with Turkey have cratered in recent years. The latest challenge to the icy relations came last week, when Israel’s Defense Ministry canceled a sizable contract with the Turkish air force for the supply of advanced airborne intelligence-gathering systems, possibly for fear they could find their way to Iran.

Armenians _ supported by many historians _ say as many as 1.5 million Christian Armenians, about one-third of their ethnic nation, were killed by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey rejects that a genocide occurred, cites much lower numbers and puts the losses in the context of battles for minority independence during World War I.

Armenians are aggressively pushing for international recognition of the killings as genocide, and Turkey is just as persistent in fighting the effort. Israel finds itself in a moral and diplomatic dilemma on the issue, which has also been dogging American-Turkish relations and U.S. politics in recent years.

In 2003, a member of the Armenian community was chosen to light a torch in the yearly memorial ceremony preceding Israeli independence day. Naomi Nalbandian had described herself as a “third-generation survivor of the Armenian holocaust,” but diplomatic pressure from Turkey led to the reprinting of the government-issued pamphlets to make them say her grandparents were “survivors of historic Armenia.”

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