With eye on Turkey, Israel debates Armenia

The Israeli Knesset debated June 12 whether to recognize the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks 100 years ago as genocide, a move that would enrage Turkey and further strain already tense ties between the two countries.

For years, Israel has refrained from taking up the issue for fear of angering Turkey, which until recently was its closest ally in the Muslim world. But as ties have frayed under the Islamic-oriented rule of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that has changed. No vote was taken June 12.

“The Turks will definitely be angry, but there is no intent to provoke, only to remember,” parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel’s Army Radio. “The free world must remember, to learn the lessons so it won’t happen again.”

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, leading to losses on both sides. — ap