Japan and Turkey: On ‘Comfort Women’ and Genocide

Harut Sassounian


The sleepy town of Glendale became the center of a major international controversy on July 9, when the City Council approved a memorial to ‘comfort women’ — a euphemism to describe up to 200,000 young females who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during its occupation of Korea and neighboring countries before and during World War II.

The City Council, after hearing conflicting testimonies from members of the local Japanese and Korean communities, approved with a 4 to 1 vote the installation of a monument in Glendale in honor of ‘comfort women.’ At the unveiling ceremony of the monument, council members Ara Najarian and Zareh Sinanyan expressed sympathy for the plight of “comfort women,’ as their own Armenian ancestors had suffered from mass atrocities in Turkey.

Concerned by the parallels drawn between the genocide of Armenians by Turkey during World War I and the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of ‘comfort women’ during World War II, the Consulate of Japan in Los Angeles sought a meeting with the Armenian National Committee of America to present its government’s position on this issue.

During Deputy Consul General Masahiro Suga’s meeting with ANCA, it became evident that the Japanese government had been far more forthcoming regarding the crimes committed by the imperial Japanese army than the Turkish government was on the Armenian Genocide. Mr. Suga explained that Japan had recognized its responsibility for violating the rights of ‘comfort women’ by issuing an apology, and offering compensation to the victims.

Nevertheless, the ‘comfort women’ remain dissatisfied with Japan’s acts of “atonement,” accusing Japanese officials of making conflicting announcements on this issue. Most ‘comfort women’ have also rejected the offered financial compensation, claiming that it was partially provided by private sources and not the government of Japan. In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution in support of ‘comfort women,’ urging the Japanese government to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”

To find out how Japan’s reaction to the issue of ‘comfort women’ differed from the Turkish government’s denialist stand on the Armenian Genocide, I interviewed Jun Niimi, the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles. He fondly spoke about his “affinity” toward Armenians developed during his 1995-98 service at the Japanese Embassy in Tehran, and his subsequent visits to Armenia, while stationed at the Embassy of Japan in Moscow.

Regarding the Japanese government’s position on ‘comfort women,’ Mr. Niimi explained that Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a statement in 1995, expressing “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology.” Japan also “provided atonement through the Asian Women’s Fund.”

Turning to the differences in the reaction of Turkey to the Armenian Genocide and Japan’s to the abuse of ‘comfort women,’ Consul General Niimi made three points:

“The government of Japan is well aware of the tragedy of the Armenian people at the beginning of last century. We would like to express our deepest condolences and sympathy to the victims. It is our strong belief that this kind of tragedy should never be repeated. The second point is regarding the position of the Turkish government. This is about another country’s position. Even though we are aware of that atrocity, yet, we are not in a position to grasp the details of precisely what happened a century ago in that area. So we cannot make a comment on the Turkish government’s position. But, I would like to repeat that we are aware of the tragedy and would like to express our sympathy and condolences. And the third point is that, regardless of the position of the Turkish government, the Japanese government’s position on the issue of ‘comfort women’ is that it expressed apology and remorse and made efforts to extend support to former ‘comfort women.’”

I informed the Consul General that Japan’s position on the Armenian Genocide is not much different from that of Turkey. I asked Mr. Niimi to relay to his country’s Foreign Ministry that Japan’s lack of acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide reinforces the skepticism of those who question the Japanese government’s sincerity in dealing fairly with the issue of ‘comfort women.’

In response, the Consul General of Japan expressed his understanding that “the word tragedy doesn’t sound good to you, because it’s genocide.” He promised to convey to his government “the sentiments of the Armenian community” on this issue.

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  1. Ararat said:

    The reason why Japan, and other countries for that matter, take responsibility for their past misdeeds and come clean with their criminal past and financially compensate for their transgressions is because that is where everything ends. In a manner of speaking, they are buying their way out of their shameful acts and the sufferings they caused on their victims.

    In the Armenian case, on the other hand, the admission and the acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government does not end there and instead it is where everything begins. The admission of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government will be like opening a Pandora’s Box which will uncover a whole series of “unexpected” problems for Turkey. But unlike a series of unexpected problems, Turkey is well aware and has already calculated and foresees all the “expected” problems that will follow. That is why it is much more economical and sound for Turkey to lie, to issue empty threats and blackmail any nation that speaks about the Armenian Genocide.

    Unlike the Japanese issue and apologies and compensations to the victims, tied to the Armenian Genocide by the Turks are the occupied Armenian provinces in which their victims lived and called home for thousands of years, in which they were murdered and from which they were expelled and deported. The criminal Turkish government is fully aware of this and that is why they have to lie and make up different stories year after year to deny their criminal past. If this was not the case, the Armenian Genocide resolution would have already been a thing of the past.

    One of the primary enablers of Turkey to continue on this path of misinformation and denial is its NATO membership. Turkey’s insincere and opportunist criminal leaders know they can always play the “loyal” NATO member country role and make empty threats against their European and US NATO masters by reminding them of Turkey’s significance in the region and the many corrupt and spineless NATO member countries will fold like lawn chairs because at the end of the day most of them, while fully aware and with first-hand knowledge in this matter, are after their own self-interests.

    The way you make Turkey face its genocidal past and the way you bring Turkey to its knees is by working toward isolating Turkey. By reducing and eventually eliminating its significance in the region to the adventures, or misadventures depending on your point of view, of the westerners you create the ground work for the expulsion of Turkey from the NATO alliance. The day Turkey ceases to be a NATO ally is the day the Armenians will get their long-awaited justice fully and unequivocally.

  2. Eiji Nakano said:

    Stop to mix up Comfort women issue and genocide.

    And Japan will fight to Korean for “Comfort women” issue becuase it becomes pure duplomatic and political issue.

    • Thomas Kowalski said:

      I’m sorry but u are wrong… U should feel ashamed… I am not Armenian but I understand more than u

  3. LL said:

    Ask them: What did they gain and loose by accepting responsibility of the “Comfort Women”?

    I feel that the Women have the right to feel the way they do, no reason can be given to cover their emotions.

  4. Andrew Lee said:

    Point out that Japan has been more forthcoming about its own atrocities than Turkey regarding the Amenian Genocide is a bit like pointing out that a pot is blacker than a kettle. You’ve listed Japan’s “acts of atonement” without presenting why they are rejected by the surviving former sex slaves and their advocates.

    Abe is the last in a long line of Japanese politicians who have openly claimed that the sex slaves were common prostitutes. Part of his campaign promises while running for the PM office was a promise to retract the Murayama’s 1995 expression of “deep remorse” and hearfelt apology.” How Jun Niimi can claim Japan has been apologized and offered compensation about something that his current PM and other Japanese politicians, academics popularly deny seems to be some sort of special Zen (il)logic trick.

    The compensation offered was also a joke. These women are not looking for handouts. It was for the express purpose of denying responsibility that his fund was accrued from private donations by the public. The solution to atrocities committed is not to pass the hat around as if these women are some charity case looking for handouts. What is needed in response to these atrocities is TRUTH with hopes of RECONCILIATION.

    Armenians and Armenian-Americans deserve better than a regurgitation of one-sided Japanese arguments to support their cause regarding the Armenian Genocide.

  5. Alex Postallian said:

    I remember in 1941,the Japanese Emissaries,in Washington,bowing and scraping,saying,we friends,no war no war.soon after,they in a sneaky way bombed Pearl Harbor…I have never believed them since.

  6. Thomas Kowalski said:

    It’s not easy because Japan made massacre and denied it! THINK!