Survivors protest at Israel's stance on Armenian genocide

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The Independent Online

She has no memory of her father or mother. She was abandoned as an infant –it almost certainly saved her life because she was found on the side of the road by an American missionary – on one of the death marches in 1915 from Gurun, in central Anatolia. Even her name was given to her by the Near East Relief orphanage in Lebanon where she grew up. Sadly, she says, most of her fellow survivors in Jerusalem of the Armenian genocide have died.

But Mary Kevorkian, a sprightly widow of 93, is proud of the independent life she leads – including the daily shopping and cleaning of her home in Jerusalem's Old City. "I do all my own work," she says cheerfully. "I don't need anybody."

This week she joined more than 100 other, rather younger, demonstrators –about 10 per cent of a once much larger Jerusalem Armenian community dating back to Roman times – outside the Foreign Ministry. They were protesting against what they believe is the Israeli government's use of its considerable lobbying influence on Capitol Hill to try to thwart the bill which would mean US recognition of the genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians, including Mrs Kevorkian's parents, died.

Turkey, which is infuriated by the Democrat-sponsored bill and which enjoys better relations with Israel than any other Muslim country, has made it clear it expects its ally to help halt its progress. Israel, like Britain, has in the past expressed sympathy for what it accepts were massacres but stopped short of calling them genocide.

Mrs Kevorkian, who has lived in Jerusalem since 1939, came to the protest on a hot October day even though she dislikes thinking about the subject. She says that when she sees banners commemorating the terrible events between 1915 and 1923, "I remember why I did not have my father and mother. When I read about the genocide I start to cry."

This week, however, the banners were focused on Turkey's concerted efforts to ensure the bill, having been approved this month by the US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee, is not passed by the full House of Representatives. As protesters, including a choir of uniformed schoolgirls, sang the Armenian national anthem and the Lord's Prayer in Armenian they brandished placards aimed at the Israeli public, including: "Today's denial is tomorrow's genocide/holocaust".

On Thursday, the bill's sponsors, led by the California congressman Adam Schiff, agreed to postpone the debate, bowing to fears that it could precipitate a full-blown crisis in US-Turkish relations at exactly the time when the US is trying to persuade Turkey not to launch an invasion of northern Iraq against the Kurdish PKK.

Turkey, a main conduit of supplies to American forces in Iraq, has also warned passage of the bill could hamper the US war effort. But Mr Schiff, who is Jewish and has a significant Armenian constituency, and his co-sponsors have made it clear they will bring it back for debate in the coming months.

The organisers of this week's demonstration here accuse the Israeli government of having already twice – in 1989 and 2000 – "openly interfered" in similar Congressional votes despite opinion polls suggesting that most Israelis favour the recognition sought in the bill. In urging it not to do so again, the demonstrators were joined by two prominent Israeli politicians, the Meretz Party Knesset member Haim Oron and a former minister in the government of Yizthak Rabin, Yair Tsaban.

Mr Oron said there was a natural Knesset majority for recognition, including the right-wing Likud, but it needed to overcome pressure from a government determined to maintain close ties with Turkey.

Mr Tsaban said he was supporting the protest "as a member of humanity born in the 20th century which witnessed all kinds of genocides, of which the worst was the Holocaust, and of course as a Jew". Mr Tsaban, two of whose grandparents were exterminated in Auschwitz, added: "I feel that is their will that I should support this campaign against denial of the genocide."

George Hintlian, an Armenian community spokesman, said the refusal of a modern country such as Turkey to take responsibility for the genocide was unique, as it was that a "nation that has gone through the Holocaust should be helping the denial".

Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the Congressional bill was an "internal US affair" and the Israeli view of the "tragic events" that engulfed the Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire was well known.

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