Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was this week accused of downgrading the 1915 Armenian “genocide” to simply a “mass killing,” a century after the atrocity.
Over 25 years ago, as a right-wing Israeli politician, Rivlin broke with taboo by calling the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of up to 1.5 million Armenians “genocide,” when many in Israel were still unwilling to do so.
However, in his address to Armenian leaders and intellectuals on Sunday, he seemed to backtrack, calling it a “mass killing” as he paid tribute to Israel’s first official delegation to the Armenian capital Yerevan to mark the 100th anniversary.
Armenian Archbishop Aris Shirvanian said he was “disappointed” with Rivlin’s decision, saying: ““This was a backward step on your part. You should have been more courageous as president.”
Although accounts differ, scholars estimate that over 50,000 people were drowned, as they were taken out in boats and thrown overboard. Another 80,000 Armenian villagers are thought to have died in up to 90 “mass burnings,” as they were locked in stables and haylofts and torched.
These were but two methods used, as Ottoman officials sought the most efficient form of extermination. Historians have said the industrialised nature of the massacres presaged those later employed in the Holocaust.
In 2010 a US Congressional panel voted to refer to the killings as “genocide,” alongside two dozen other countries, including Germany. Earlier this month Pope Francis used the term to describe what happened, saying it was “the first genocide of the 20th century,” much to the chagrin of the Turkish government.