A century after the Armenian genocide, descendants and relatives of survivors gathered in Jerusalem to honor the memories of the victims. Tower photographer Aviram Valdman was there.
Two thousand fifteen marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottoman Empire through a series of massacres, organized mass murder, and death marches. To commemorate the slaughter, members of Israel’s Armenian minority gathered at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the holiest sites in Christianity.
Among the attendees was Tower photographer Aviram Valdman, who documented the solemn event, which included a choir that traveled to the Church from Armenia, clergy and worshipers clad in black, and the lighting of candles in memory of the slaughtered. Most strikingly, the Armenians were not alone: All the various denominations who worship at the Church assembled for the ceremony, something that Valdman was told “never happens.”
Thousands of Armenians live in Israel, including almost 800 in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter, a great many of them descendants of refugees from the genocide. At an official ceremony to commemorate the centennial of the genocide, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin remembered that “In 1915, when the members of the Armenian nation were being massacred, the residents of Jerusalem, my parents, and the members of my family saw the Armenian refugees arriving in their thousands.”
He added that “In Jerusalem they found shelter, and you, their descendants, continue to live here today. No one in Jerusalem denied the massacre that had taken place.” He also linked the event to the Holocaust, saying, “Two weeks ago we commemorated the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. After this horrible Holocaust, commemorating the tragedy of the Armenian people is our Jewish obligation, a human and moral one.”
Unfortunately, many in the Armenian community were offended that Rivlin did not specifically employ the term “genocide,” or retzach am in Hebrew. This is due to official pressure from the Turkish government, which does not recognize the event as a genocide and seeks to discourage other countries from doing so. In fact, neither Israel nor the United States have broken this taboo. (Rivlin did, it should be noted, use the word “genocide” in comments to journalists for Israel Independence Day.)
In recent years, however, there has been increasing pressure from within Israel itself to do so, including from members of the Knesset. This is due to the fact that, as the first modern, organized attempt to slaughter an entire people, the Armenian genocide is now seen as something of a “dress rehearsal” for the Holocaust, giving it a special significance for the Israeli people and Jews worldwide.
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Banner Photo: Aviram Valdman / The Tower