Dr. Mehmet Oz may be the first candidate in American history to run for the U.S. Senate as a citizen both of the United States and Turkey. For us, there is nothing wrong with dual citizenship in principle, although Oz has, under immense pressure during the Republican primary, said that he would renounce his Turkish citizenship if elected.
The bigger problem in the Pennsylvania Senate race is that Oz, despite requests to clarify his position, refuses to say if the Armenian genocide occurred.
The question is more than reasonable. It is essential in understanding the values he would bring to Congress.
Last week, the Oz campaign canceled a fundraiser in his home state of New Jersey amid demands for clarity on his position. The agitators in New Jersey’s Jewish and Armenian communities were clear: Anything less than a full acknowledgement of the atrocities visited by the Ottoman or Turkish Empire upon their Armenian victims is an affront against history and conscience.
While many still deny that the deaths of more than one million Armenians in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire constitutes genocide, the United States does not. Last year, the Biden administration formally acknowledged the Armenian genocide, as have 29 other countries. The U.S. Senate unanimously voted in 2019 to recognize that a genocide was undertaken against the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian people. Oz’s candidacy rightly raises the question: Would he have stood with the senators he wishes to join?
It is not a question of semantics. For the one million-strong Armenian community of the United States, the genocide is a lived reality. The majority of Armenians living in the U.S. are direct descendants of its survivors.
But Oz refuses to specifically say whether what happened in Armenia was genocide, with a campaign aide only telling NBC News, “Dr. Mehmet Oz opposes genocide and the murder of innocent people in all forms.”
Genocide denial has very real consequences. The failure of the international community to prevent and adequately respond to the Ottoman Empire’s systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenians — a horror that continued through the birth of the nascent Turkish Republic — arguably inspired others to do the same.
Some historians argue the Armenian genocide was, in many ways, a blueprint for the Holocaust, which saw the murder of six million Jews, including 1.5 million children. On the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler reportedly said: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
In fact, it was the Armenian genocide that led Jewish jurist Rafael Lemkin to coin the word “genocide.” The word described the industrialized eradication of a people; no existing term of law could quite capture the unparalleled atrocity. Lemkin would later face the horrors of genocide himself. The Nazis murdered his entire family for the crime of being Jewish.
To deny genocide is to do more than just refuse to acknowledge historic facts. It is to actively abet the erasure of history and memory, to whitewash the horrors of the past and undermine our resolve to confront the horrors of the present. Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and advocate for Armenian genocide recognition, once described the denial of genocide as a “double killing.”
The consequences of this denialism have been profound. Turkey today continues to engage in the destruction and desecration of its Armenian, Greek and Assyrian cultural heritage sites and is on the watch list of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Turkey’s minorities — particularly its dwindling, embattled Christian communities — continue to face routine harassment, discrimination and threats emanating from the highest political offices.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, publicly called the forced relocation of Armenians during World War I “reasonable” and referred to the survivors of Armenian victims as “remnants of the sword.” And to this day, Turkey continues to sell weapons to Azerbaijan, which has recently renewed fighting with Armenia.
Genocide remains as great a threat to humanity today as it did a century ago. From the persecution of the Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Tigray in Ethiopia, genocide across the world continues to challenge international norms and laws, not to mention human lives and rights and the values we hold dear as Americans.
The opportunity for Oz is clear. To date, his campaign has issued only nebulous affirmations against genocide in principle, without specifically acknowledging or affirming his position on the Armenian genocide. But it is not too late for him to be on the record.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, called “the most famous Rabbi in America” by The Washington Post, is the author of “Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell.” He is on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley. Aram Suren Hamparian is executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.