Spanish Inquisition Revisited

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Spain is making amends to the Sephardic Jews expelled more than 500 years ago, during the height of the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish parliament is about to approve a bill which will offer citizenship to anyone whose Sephardic origins can be verified.

The legislation was first presented in November 2012 by Spain’s Foreign and Justice Ministries as a conciliatory gesture to Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492. The year, of course, is also noted for the discovery of America. There is a reference to the expulsion edict in Christopher Columbus’ diary which states that “In the same month, in which the Majesties [King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella] issued the edict that all the Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, they gave me the order to undertake, with sufficient men, my expedition of discovery to the Indies.”

That was also the year Grenada was won back from the Moors, unifying the entire Spanish territory under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella.

The expulsion of the Jews, instigated by the head of the Spanish Inquisition, Fr. Tomas de Torquemada, saw some 200,000 to 300,000 Jews loaded aboard ships and forced to roam the Mediterranean Sea. Some were dumped in the sea by ruthless ship captains, others landed on African shores, but the lucky found a new home in Turkey, where they were welcomed by Sultan Bajazet, who used to say, “How can you call Ferdinand of Aragon a wise king? He impoverished his own land and enriched ours.”

Indeed, Jews had contributed to Spain, as they later did to the Ottoman Empire, much like the Armenians there.

The descendants of Sephardic Jews can receive Spanish citizenship without the stipulation of renouncing their current citizenship.

We have to remind our readers that on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion, King Juan Carlos officially apologized to the Jews whose ancestors were subjected to expropriation, torture and death at the orders of King Ferdinand.

A delegation of major American Jewish leaders recently visited Spain for high-level meetings, including with King Juan Carlos. On this occasion, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of the American Jewish organizations has said, “The bill will help assure that history of the violence and exile will never be forgotten.”

This statement is a telling lesson to some European quarters who pontificate that Armenians should forgive or forget the Genocide.

It is never too late to make amends, if the Turkish leaders could emulate the Spanish and the Germans before them, who not only apologized, but to this day have been compensating the Jewish state, which was not even in existence during the Holocaust.

Turkey’s leaders are still in denial mode, offering blanket statements to the international community that their archives are open for any one to come and explore the facts of the “so-called Genocide,” which Mr. Dogu Perinçek also labels as an “international lie.”

Presidents Obama of the US and Hollande of France as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have directly appealed to Prime Minister Erdogan to make peace with Turkey’s dark history, yet the Turkish government has moved only an iota to label the “deportations” as inhumane, through Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. All the above indicates that there is no room to manoeuver in Armenian-Turkish relations.

The much-maligned Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) was doomed as were the Protocols. In each case, however, an incremental move was recorded. In the first case, the International Court for Transitional Justice approved that what is described as massacres was indeed a genocide, as defined by the United Nations. Unfortunately, this ruling could not convince the European Court of Human Rights in absolving Perinçek. In the second case, Turkey was censured diplomatically as former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that the ball was in Turkey’s court after Armenia’s parliament approved the Protocols.

As Armenians face the wall of denial with the Turkish government, the only possible road to influence the Turkish side remains contacts between the two nations’ civil societies.

The realistic approach teaches us that Armenians will never be able to convince the Turks of their past; only enlightened Turks can influence their fellow countrymen.

Many Turkish scholars have already published seminal works on the Armenian Genocide and the publication process is continuing.

Recently, the European Commission composed a consortium of four Armenian and four Turkish organizations to develop awareness among the Turkish public of Ottoman history.

Prime Minister Erdogan is under tremendous political pressure and his former allies have turned against him. His Ottomanist dreams are in jeopardy and even his political survival is in danger. To assuage his European counterparts, he may make a half-hearted statement, like he did in the case of the Dersim Kurdish massacres. Armenians have to be prepared for such a surprising turn of events.

Turks are well aware of internal chaos reigning among Armenians and they may further aggravate the situation by an unexpected move.

There is no national consensus among Armenians. Views are far apart on the spectrum of political demands. Some will not be satisfied with anything less than territorial annexation of lands outlined in the Treaty of Sevres, while others are willing to settle for far less. There are even people who will be satisfied with a simple apology from Ankara. Those who are assimilated or have let their identity or consciousness fade can be added to the Turkish side of the ledger. The main purpose of the Genocide was to wipe out a surviving Armenian national consciousness regarding their rights and their demands for justice.

There has to be a realistic national consensus to which all or most Armenians can subscribe. The Armenian government is the only legal guardian of our historic claims, but based on the relative political clouts of Turkey and Armenia, its leadership realizes that any territorial claim or even the quest for the revision of the Kars Treaty of 1923, which established the current border between the two countries, is tantamount to a declaration of war against a far more powerful enemy.

Although timid steps have been taken recently by the former Minister of Justice Aghvan Hovsepian, who made a reference to historic Armenia and the Minister of Education Armen Ashotyan, who proposed to the parliament to rename the country as the Republic of Eastern Armenia, which tacitly meant to rectify the issue of Western Armenia.

Normally, official channels in Turkey ignore statements by individuals and groups, but the claims originating in official Yerevan hit a raw nerve in Turkey and the government lodged protests in both cases.

The tenets of diplomatic negotiations require the parties to begin with maximalist demands and settle for minimal possible results.

Raffi Bedrosyan, in an interesting article, (“Dialogue Can Lead to Acknowledgment,” Mirror-Spectator, February 1, 2014), has come up with seven different possibilities through which the Turkish government can right some historic wrongs. His first recommendation is to open the border. Interestingly, his second recommendation is exactly what the Spanish government is offering the Sephardic Jews: “Grant citizenship to all living descendants of the deported Ottoman Citizen Armenians,” he writes. Although very few Armenians would be takers of that citizenship offer, always mindful that bloody coup perpetrator Kenan Evran is still alive and the “deep state” is still active.

His fifth option may satisfy some but not all Armenians. As he says, “5: Offer a symbolic but meaningful apology to the Armenian people for the crimes of 1915, by returning Mount Ararat and Ani to Armenia, perhaps as part of a territorial exchange based on equivalent land area.”

Even if all seven proposals do not enjoy the support of the majority of Armenians, it is good to stimulate a national debate and formulate our maximum demands, meanwhile be prepared to settle for the minimum.

The international community opposes any territorial exchange but borders are being redrawn from the Balkans to the Caucasus, from East Timor to South Sudan and even Peru and Chile have begun negotiations on their hundred-year-old territorial claims.

There is no statute of limitation for crimes perpetrated against humanity. If attempts can be made to make right the wrongs of the Spanish Inquisition after 500 years, Armenian demands for justice from Turkey after only one century are hardly unusual.