Rivlin backtracks on Armenian genocide recognition

Once an outspoken advocate for Israel’s recognition of the massacres, president quietly distances himself from the campaign

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then-MK, now President Reuven Rivlin (center) at a December 2011 Knesset committee discussion regarding recognition of the Armenian genocide (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then-MK, now President Reuven Rivlin (center) at a December 2011 Knesset committee discussion regarding recognition of the Armenian genocide (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin, formerly an outspoken advocate of Israel’s recognition of the Armenian genocide, decided not to renew his signature on an annual petition calling for Israel to officially recognize the mass killings as genocide.

Those responsible for the petition were surprised by Rivlin’s change of stance, Israel’s Channel 10 News reported on Thursday night, which was ascribed to the heightened sensitivity of his position since Rivlin was elected president earlier this year. The TV report said Rivlin was apparently concerned not to further harm Israel’s strained relations with Turkey.

Ties have been all but frozen in recent years, notably as a consequence of the 2010 killing of nine Turkish citizens by Israeli naval commandos. The Turks were attacked when they intercepted the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara as it sought to break Israel’s security blockade of Hamas-run Gaza.

The 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide will be commemorated on April 24, 2015.

Beit Hanassi, the president’s official residence, confirmed that Rivlin had not signed the petition, Channel 10 said. It said unnamed Foreign Ministry officials welcomed the president’s “statesmanship.”

Israel has avoided formally recognizing the Armenian genocide in the political arena for years, for fear of straining diplomatic ties with Turkey, which was Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world until the deterioration under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an open supporter of Hamas who has issued a stream of highly critical statements about Israel.

In years past, Rivlin on numerous occasions encouraged Israeli lawmakers to reject the politicized discourse that has dominated the discussion of the issue. “I’m aware of the sensitivity, but I’m not blaming modern-day Turkey,” Rivlin told Knesset members last year, when he was still an MK himself. “The government that committed these acts was overturned by Turkey itself,” he said during a special session on the topic.

“I’m sure Turkey will be an ally. I think a solution needs to be found for this crisis, but it’s unthinkable that the Knesset ignore this tragedy,” Rivlin said. “We demand that people don’t deny the Holocaust, and we can’t ignore the tragedy of another nation,” he said.

Armenians marching to prison (photo credit: Artaxiad, Wikimedia Commons)
Armenians marching to prison. (photo credit: Artaxiad, Wikimedia Commons)

During an interview with Israel Army Radio in 2013, Rivlin highlighted the differences between the Holocaust and the murder of the Armenian people. But without blurring those differences, Israel must find a way to “fulfill its moral obligation of remembering wrongs done to others,” he said.

Estimates suggest that approximately 1.5 million Armenians (as well as hundreds of thousands of other Christian minorities) were killed by Ottoman Turks during and after World War I.

Turkey denies that the deaths of large segments of its minority populations were the direct result of genocidal policies, and maintains that those killed were victims of war and civil unrest in the Ottoman Empire.

Aaron Kalman contributed to this report. 

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