Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to New York for the U.N. General Assembly has been observed closely, with many wondering if he will take the same hardline approach as his controversial predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Many were given hope by a CNN interview where Rouhani appeared to acknowledge the Holocaust as a “reprehensible” crime committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people, a clear contrast with Ahmadinejad, who was frequently accused of denying the Holocaust.
Shortly after headlines about Rouhani’s acknowledgment of the Holocaust, however, Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars has denied the accuracy of the translation.
According to Fars’ English-language service, Rouhani’s comments (in Farsi) should be translated like this:
I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, but the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”
Instead, however, CNN translated them as this:
“I’ve said before that I am not a historian and then, when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, the taking of human life is contemptible, it makes no difference whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim, for us it is the same, but taking the human life is something our religion rejects but this doesn’t mean that on the other hand you can say Nazis committed crime against a group now therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an even-handed discussion”.
Crucially, according to Fars, Rouhani never used the word “Holocaust” and never said “Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn.”
It may seem minor, but the controversy over the quote may depress those who had been hopeful about Rouhani. Even his relatively tepid comments were too controversial for some back home. As Meir Javedanfar writes at Iran-Israel Observer, even with CNN’s translation Rouhani seems concerned about the opinion of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
“On this question,” Javedanfar writes, “he pushed the envelope as far as it could go, without endangering his position with Khamenei, who to him is far more important than Netanyahu or Obama.”
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