JERUSALEM, (AFP) - Turkey has stepped in to prevent any reference to the genocide of Armenians during Israel's 55th Independence Day celebrations, officials said Tuesday.
The initial program for Wednesday' festivities had been scheduled to include an Israeli woman of Armenian origin, Naomi Nalbandian, as one of 12 people selected to light torches at the traditional ceremony. She was to have presented herself as a "third generation survivor of the (Armenian) genocide carried out in 1915" by the Turks.
Nalbandian, the deputy chief nurse at a rehabilitation center for victims of Palestinian attacks at Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, comes from a family that fled Armenia and settled near the northern port city of Haifa in 1920, after passing through Lebanon and Syria.
Turkey denies Armenian charges that it carried out a genocide against Armenians in 1915, when an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Ankara's ambassador to Israel, Feridun Sinirlioglu, told Israeli foreign ministry director Victor Harel of Turkey's disapproval at any such reference.
After the intervention, and in response to a request by parliamentary speaker Reuven Rivlin, Nalbandian grudgingly agreed to drop the reference to the Armenian genocide. The words were also hastily erased from a plaque that was to have been unveiled at the ceremony. Turkey, a Muslim country with a secular character, has been Israel's main regional ally since 1996, when an important military cooperation accord was signed, to great anger from Arab states and Iran.