Upset at Turkey, Knesset to Discuss Armenian Genocide, Kurdish Self-Determination

YERUSHALAYIM -
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator waves flags during a protest against the U.S. Embassy move to Yerushalayim, near the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 15. (Reuters/Osman Orsal)

The Knesset is expected on Wednesday to take up a number of resolutions aimed directly at Turkey – the most important among them an official Israeli recognition of the genocide of the Armenian people by Turkey 100 years ago. Members of the Armenian Church in Yerushalayim will be present at the discussion.

In a separate measure, the Knesset is expected to discuss recognition of the right of the Kurdish people to their own homeland. The two measures, consisting of declarations by the Knesset, are expected to be approved by a large majority of MKs, as much of the opposition is in favor of them, along with coalition members.

Both issues are extremely sensitive ones in Turkey. Between 1915 and 1923, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, mostly citizens of the Ottoman Empire, were killed. Called by some historians the “Armenian Holocaust,” the systematic murder of the population included roundups, deportations, mass shootings, and detention in work camps. Turkey denies that the Armenians were targeted in a genocide and attributes any deaths to unrest that prevailed during and after World War I.

The deaths of the Armenians is recognized as a genocide by dozens of countries in Europe, as well as by Russia and the United States. Israel has not taken an official position on the matter, and efforts by MKs in the past to recognize the deaths as a genocide have been quashed by the Foreign Ministry, fearing its impact on Israel-Turkey relations. With the recent deterioration of relations, however, the Ministry has not attempted to press the Knesset not to discuss the matter this time, Maariv reported.

Commenting on the measure, Meretz head MK Tamar Zandberg said that “for many years Israel has sought to avoid recognizing the genocide of the Armenians, one of the most horrific acts of the 20th century. Not recognizing the genocide is a black mark against Israel, and any country that refuses to acknowledge this because of narrow political interests. Israel should certainly not be among those countries.”

The same holds true for recognition of the Kurds’ right to self-determination; Ministry sources said that at this point, they had no problem with setting an agenda that would not serve Turkey’s interests. MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu), among the sponsors of the measure, said that “the Kurdish people have been suffering for years. The behavior of Turkish leader Erdogan as relating to Israel in recent weeks requires a reevaluation of our relations with them, and that should help propel us to recognizing the need for Kurdish independence.”

In a third measure aimed at Turkey, MKs from the coalition and opposition are sponsoring a proposal calling on the state to regulate the import of cement from Turkey, in order to ensure that the Israeli cement industry is able to survive. Cement is among the chief products Israel imports from Turkey, and Turkish cement costs less than Israeli cement – a fact that has caused significant losses to Israeli cement makers.

On Tuesday, Turkish media quoted Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying that Turkey will “reevaluate” its economic relationship with Israel after the country’s June 24th elections. Erdogan made the comments in the wake of a decision by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to impose an embargo on Israeli products. “I hope the OIC counties will put the decision of the embargo into practice. After all, there will be no way to get any products from them anymore,” the Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan as telling a group of Turkish journalists. “Of course, we will assess the situation as well. As Turkey, we will evaluate our ties, particularly economic and trade, with them [Israel]. We have an upcoming election. We will take steps in this direction after the elections.”