Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide/The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide/The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide

Article excerpt

ARMENIANS The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide, by Yair Auron. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 2000. 332 pages. $29.95 paper.

The Banality of Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide, by Yair Auron. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 2003. 338 pages. $44.95.

In August 1939, just days before the invasion of Poland, Hitler gathered together his generals to brief them on his plans for occupying the country. When questioned about the international reaction to the impending subjugation and destruction of Poland and its peoples, Hitler replied: "Who today, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?" The quote, which can be seen in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, refers to the series of events, occurring from 1915 to 1923, known as the Armenian Genocide. Hitler thought that he had learned the lessons of history and, believing that the Armenian experience was indicative of Great Power indifference, felt that he would be able to act with impunity in carrying out the extermination of the Jews and others considered undesirable by Nazi racial theorists.

Like Hitler, the leaders of the Ottoman government and its ruling party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), known generically as the Young Turks, used the cover of war to eliminate entire populations. In spring 1915, the Young Turk leaders in Constantinople relayed orders to Ottoman officials in the provinces to undertake the deportation of the Armenian population. Citing wartime exigencies, the Ottoman government claimed that these measures were necessary for the prevention of collaboration between the Ottoman Armenians and the invading Russians. The written orders for deportation were countermanded, however, by verbal orders carried to all party leaders by special emissaries stating that deportation meant extermination. The Armenian men had already been drafted into the Ottoman Army, which left the Armenian community without adequate protection. On the night of April 24, 1915, several hundred leading members of the Armenian community were rounded up in Constantinople and sent off into exile and eventual death. This group included members of the Ottoman Parliament, writers, editors, artists, political activists and members of the clergy. Thus denied their leadership, the remaining Armenians were caught off-guard by the deportation orders. The deportees usually had no more than a few hours to prepare for the long trek and were able to take few of their belongings. In the end it did not matter, because very few of them reached their destination, which was to be northern Syria, a largely lifeless desert. En route, the convoys of Armenian deportees were attacked either by groups of Kurdish bandits, marched endlessly until they died of exhaustion, or murdered outright by Turkish gendarmes or soldiers. Although the exact number of Armenians killed during the Genocide may never be determined, it has been estimated that approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923.

For many years, the destruction of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire was considered the forgotten genocide, and to this day it is largely a taboo subject in the Republic of Turkey, where a vociferous campaign of denial has been underway for decades. Outside of Turkey, however, this wall of silence is being gradually dismantled as increasing numbers of scholars publish their research findings on various aspects of the Armenian Genocide. Among the pioneers of such efforts is the Israeli scholar, Yair Auron, whose two books shed important light on the varying responses of Jews to the genocide of the Armenians. Borrowing the terminology of Hannah Arendt's Banality of Evil, Auron explores the impact of the Armenian Genocide on the Jews of the Ottoman Empire, especially those in Palestine (the Yishuv). He opens The Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the Armenian Genocide with a theoretical discussion of the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the arguments for and against the comparative study of genocide. …

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