Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described Holocaust denial as one of the proudest achievements of his eight years as president of Iran. That’s because he was willing to “bring up…a taboo topic that no one in the West allowed to be heard,” he told Fars News Agency, and which, he boasted, brought him worldwide popularity.
With Ahmadinejad leaving office August 3, the man most likely to succeed him as the most outspoken anti-Semitic world leader is Turkey’s volatile prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There may be competition for the title, but so far he’s the frontrunner.
Erdogan is also a Holocaust denier, but of another stripe – this one involving the genocide of the Armenians nearly a century ago by the Turks.
The Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of the Armenian minority – complete with extermination camps and the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches -- killed between 600,000 and 1.8 million and drove many more out of their historic homeland.
"[O]ther minority groups were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy," according to Wikipedia. "The word 'genocide' was coined in order to describe these events."
When Armenian-Americans would periodically try to get the Congress to pass resolutions commemorating the genocide, the Turkish government would swing into action not only with denials but with threats. Many of those threats over the years have been aimed at Turkish Jews and the Israeli government. Sympathetic Jewish members of Congress consistently sponsor the resolutions, which are often introduced by lawmakers with large Armenian-American constituencies.
Whenever a resolution started picking up sponsors, the Turks would send in their designated hitters. A favorite tactic was to pressure the Israeli government to make the Jewish sponsors back off lest there be repercussions for Israeli-Turkish relations. During the years I was the legislative director at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), every time an Armenian genocide resolution was introduced on Capitol Hill I would get at least two phone calls.
The first was from a prominent Jewish lawyer in Washington on the Turkish payroll warning of the dire consequences for Israel and Turkish Jewry should the legislation, which was merely commemorative and had no legal implications, pass. The second was from a senior Israeli diplomat at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Unlike the lawyer, he was almost apologetic, as he explained the hypersensitivity of the Turks and the threats they were making to relations between the two countries.
I assume the Turks, their lawyer and the Israelis took the same message to the Hill because the resolutions never went anywhere. More recently when Turkish-Israeli relations plunged, there was talk of reviving the Armenian genocide resolutions but that was apparently dropped over concern that it would only make a bad situation worse.
In Ahmadinejad and Erdogan’s shared hatred of Jews and Israel is their enthusiastic embrace of two notorious anti-Israeli terrorist organizations: Ahmadinejad especially prefers Hizbollah and Erdogan is a fervent backer of Hamas. Iran has supplied weapons, funds and training for both.
Another shared trait: Erdogan has called Zionism a crime against humanity, accused Israel of killing “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians” and compared Zionism to Naziism.
For more about Erdogan’s attitudes toward Israel and Jews, read my Washington Watch column, “Is Erdogan the new Ahmadinejad.”
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