Turkey says Israel will harm itself if it recognizes Armenian genocide
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Turkey says Israel will harm itself if it recognizes Armenian genocide

Ankara warns against putting 1915 events ‘on the same level as the Holocaust,’ amid rising tensions between two countries

In this undated photo, members of the Jerusalem Armenian community protest outside the Knesset, demanding that the State of Israel recognize the Armenian genocide. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
In this undated photo, members of the Jerusalem Armenian community protest outside the Knesset, demanding that the State of Israel recognize the Armenian genocide. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Turkey on Friday said Israel would only harm itself if it recognized the Armenian genocide because to do so would undermine the special status of the Holocaust.

“We think that Israel putting the events of 1915 on the same level as the Holocaust is harming itself first and foremost,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara.

Knesset lawmakers on Wednesday voted to debate the recognition of the Armenian genocide in the parliament chamber, amid a nadir in ties with Turkey over deadly clashes on the Gaza border.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who has long spoken out in favor of recognition, again expressed support for the measure. But he also voiced discomfort with public calls to recognize the genocide merely to irk Turkey and its bellicose leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Since when does Ankara tug at the strings of my morality?” he asked, upon introducing the motion by Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg.

“The Israeli Knesset should recognize the Armenian genocide because it is the right thing to do, the just thing to do,” Edelstein added.

No date has been fixed for the debate.

Armenians have long sought international recognition for the 1915-1917 killings in the Ottoman era as genocide, which they say left some 1.5 million of their people dead. Turkey — the Ottoman Empire’s successor state — strongly rejects that the massacres, imprisonment and forced deportation of Armenians from 1915 amounted to a genocide.

“The events of 1915 are not a political issue but historical and legal,” Aksoy said, without commenting further.

Zandberg on Wednesday called on all Israeli political parties to support recognition because “there are things that are above politics, and there are things that are above diplomacy.”

She derided efforts to use the recognition as a jab at Erdogan, saying “the disasters of another nation are not a political playing card.”

The recognition of the Armenian genocide is raised every year in the Knesset, usually in the form of proposed legislation rather than a call for a debate, and has been knocked down by sitting governments annually since 1989.

Israel’s refusal thus far to formally recognize the Armenian slaughter as genocide is based on geopolitical and strategic considerations, primary among them its relations with Turkey. The United States has similarly avoided recognition of the mass killings over fears of angering Turkey.

Wednesday’s debate came as relations between Israel and Turkey soured dramatically in the aftermath of clashes last week on the Israel-Gaza border in which dozens of Palestinians were killed, leading to a diplomatic spat that saw the ambassadors and consuls general of both countries expelled or withdrawn to their respective countries.

Erdogan also engaged in a bitter Twitter exchange with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands, while Netanyahu in return accused him of supporting Hamas and being a proponent of “massacres and terror.”

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