a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Now it’s fit to print: Armenian genocide

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th April 2004

The New York chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America has issued a press release reporting that the New York Times has revised its policy on the use of the term “Armenian genocide”:

According to a news release by the International Association of Genocide Scholars, The New York Times revised guideline for journalists states that “after careful study of scholarly definitions of ‘genocide,’ we have decided to accept the term in references to the Turks’ mass destruction of Armenians in and around 1915.” The policy goes on to note that “the expression ‘Armenian genocide’ may be used freely and should not be qualified with phrasing like ‘what Armenians call,’ etc.”

The New York Times guidelines continue, noting that, “by most historical accounts, the Ottoman empire killed more than one million Armenians in a campaign of death and mass deportation aimed at eliminating the Armenian population throughout what is now Turkey.” Finally it advises journalists that “while we may of course report Turkish denials on those occasions when they are relevant, we should not couple them with the historians’ findings, as if they had equal weight.”

Way to go, New York Times. And high time. While some Turks are now speaking out for an honest reappraisal of their country’s history, the Turkish government and establishment has engaged in constant, tenacious, and all too often successful efforts to deny the reality of the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918. That campaign has been an ongoing insult to the memory of the victims of that genocide and a source of real pain to their descendants, and has probably been part and parcel of Turkey’s pattern of human rights abuses against Kurds and political dissidents.

If my father-in-law were still alive today, I know he’d be extremely pleased to see this victory. Here’s to you, Arnie.

Additional links:

UPDATE, 4/26: A New Yorker “Talk of the Town” item by Gary Bass confirms the story, and specifically credits the Boston Globe and Times executive editor Bill Keller for the policy change. Via Amygdala.
EDIT, 4/26: The EU resolution was passed in 2002, not 2004.

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Principle of ex-terrorism applied to ex-terrorist principal

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th December 2001

The usually reasonable Matt Welch makes far too much (twice!), in my opinion, of an LA Times story (“School Expansion Is One More Milestone in Proud Progress of Little Armenia”), that waits until the 12th paragraph to mention that the school principal was involved in a plot to attack a Turkish consulate.

To me, the relevant facts appear to be that

1) the principal served his 2-year sentence for the 1982 crime.

2) he does not support that kind of revenge anymore: “I’ve been transformed,” he said. “Violence is not the answer.”

3) the story was about a school expansion.

According to Matt,

the importance here is watching how a newspaper can bury a shocking & fantastic lede – that a local elementary school principal is actually an ex-con who spent two years in federal prison on a charge of conspiring to blow up the Turkish consul in Philadelphia – under 12 paragraphs of pandering swill about how lovely our Armenian community is.

Now I happen to believe our Armenian-American community is lovely, doubtless influenced by the fact that I married a lovely Armenian-(Norwegian)-American. (Who has more or less patiently put up with my late-night blogging.) And I sympathize with the long-held frustration of that community that the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918 has been steadfastly denied by the Turkish government to this day. I invite any of you who are Jewish — no, I’ll invite all of you — to imagine for a second your reaction if Germany were doing the same thing about the Holocaust. None of this leads me, my adopted Armenian-American family, or indeed any Armenians I know to support terrorism about this issue. Returning to the story itself, the principal in question apparently now agrees. Matt Welch himself buries his own worthwhile point that the principal

most likely has a very interesting story to tell about growing up. The Times, if they could recognize what makes a “story,” would have seen that as a fantastic opportunity, instead of an embarrassing footnote.

True enough. But did this story have to accomplish this goal? Is it not somewhat reasonable to report “school expands” without saying “under ex-terrorist principal”? And would it have been really fair to this man — who, unlike Johnny Walker or Sara Jane Olson, is already punished and has apparently changed — to make him the page 1 headline Mr. Welch seems to demand?

I agree completely with Mr. Welch’s (and many other bloggers’) well-expressed scorn for Johnny Walker and his various apologists. But by pretty much the same token, I don’t agree about this principal. I’m not a journalist, I’m just a blogger, so I am doubtless missing the nuances of Mr. Welch’s point. I don’t doubt that there are downsides to Glendale/”Little Armenia,” and I take Matt’s word for it that the LA Times is underreporting them. But this school expansion, and I would guess even this principal, are not among such stories.

Sorry, Matt, I don’t agree: I think the LA Times did pretty much the right thing in this case.

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