California Courier November 13, 2015
Following the first conference ever held in Israel on the Armenian Genocide which took place on November 2-3, 2015 at the Open University of Israel, the lecturers at the conference were invited to an hour-long meeting with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.
President Rivlin spoke impassionedly, in fact with increasing emotion as the meeting progressed. He insisted over and over again, “I know what happened. Everyone knows what happened. The facts of what happened are clear cut.” He interspersed these statements with emotional memories of how as a child growing up in Jerusalem he saw, met and knew survivors of the Armenian Genocide who were arriving in Jerusalem to find refuge from the genocide.
The president then paused and said, almost pleading for understanding, “I fully supported recognition when I was a member of the Knesset and its Chairman, but will you understand that now as president I am constrained to some extent by my responsibility to support the policies of the government of Israel.” He then quipped wryfully, “I know how to negotiate with a terrorist, but I have absolutely no say in negotiating with my Press Office.”
Nonetheless, President Rivlin became progressively more and more involved in the meeting until there came a moment where he said, obviously very spontaneously, “You know what, I’ll say the words in their complete form, ‘Armenian Genocide’!”
The group of lecturers participating in the conference was headed by Professor Yair Auron who organized the pioneer conference. Also included were this reporter; Ya’akov Achimeir, Israel’s premier newscaster who years ago was the first to break the state-mandated taboo on mention of the Armenian Genocide on the media and who continues to be Israel’s most reliable reporter of genocidal events around the world in our time; Ragip Zarakolu from Turkey, a publisher who has dared to publish in Turkey about the Armenian Genocide and has paid a heavy price of being imprisoned for two lengthy periods, also his wife who died in jail, and as well as a son of theirs who spent two and a half years in prison; and Professor Ayhan Aktar from Istanbul Bilgi University; and also two leaders of the Armenian community. George Hintlian, an historian and long-term resident of Jerusalem, represented the Armenian community of Israel. Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier and president of the United Armenian Fund spoke for the worldwide Armenian community.
Intriguingly, although everyone in the room wished so deeply that the president would announce courageously that he was taking the extra step of supporting recognition of the Armenian Genocide in his official position today, there was an outpouring of respect, appreciation, and I dare say sympathy for the president who had made his personal commitment so emphatic and with such deep feeling.
In Harut Sassounian’s remarks, as in his memorable address earlier to the conference, he said, “The State of Israel should have been the first country, and hopefully not the last, to recognize the Armenian Genocide! Who should empathize more with the victims of a genocide than those who have suffered a similar fate?”
Sassounian concluded on both occasions, “Israel should recognize the Armenian Genocide for one reason only: It is the right thing to do!”
Reported by Professor Israel W. Charny, Executive Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem. Both the writer and Professor Yair Auron in recent years have been awarded the Presidential Medal in Armenia for their contributions to recognition of the Armenian Genocide.