Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Safeguarding the Truth
Armenians have to remain eternally vigilant to ensure that those who distort the facts of the Armenian Genocide do not succeed in rewriting history.
While it is very tiring and frustrating to fight the same battle over and over again, those who are engaged in this struggle must persist with great patience and perseverance, as the enemies of truth are many and its defenders few.
Besides countering Turkish denialists and their hired guns, Armenians have to contend with journalists who may occasionally distort the facts of the Armenian Genocide out of sheer ignorance or basic laziness to research the facts.
Let us take the Los Angeles Times as an example. For more than 30 years, local Armenian activists have been engaged in continuous disputes with successive journalists and editors of the newspaper to ensure that they accurately characterize the Armenian Genocide.
It took many years of meetings with top Times reporters and editors, and even protests, to change the paper’s institutional ignorance about the Armenian Genocide. Every few years, after one set of reporters and editors finally became educated, others would replace them and the paper would once again revert to equivocating on the Genocide. The whole aggravating process of educating the newcomers would then start all over again.
Finally, a couple of years ago, a group of Times reporters, most of them of Armenian origin, became so fed up with the continuing distortions, that they wrote an internal memo to their editors, bringing to their attention the violation of the newspaper’s own policy on the Armenian Genocide.
Despite the fact that the editors were grateful that the reporters had reminded them of these deviations from policy, “mistakes” kept occurring in the way the Armenian Genocide was characterized in the newspaper. When readers would lodge a complaint, the Times would routinely publish a correction. This maddening process of error and correction would repeat itself several times.
Then, this April, a major controversy erupted that brought the entire issue to a head again. The Times Managing Editor Douglas Frantz blocked the publication of an article written by reporter Mark Arax on the Armenian Genocide, accusing him of bias due to his ethnic heritage and for having signed the earlier internal memo. The heated confrontation between the local Armenian community and the newspaper’s top executives ended with a settlement with Arax and the departure of Douglas Frantz. Both the publisher and editor of the Times reassured the community that there would be no future deviation from established policy on the Armenian Genocide.
Yet, within a few months, in an article published on October 3, Times reporter Richard Simon violated that policy in his article titled, “OK of Armenian genocide bill predicted.”
Several readers, once again, wrote to the newspaper complaining about this latest “mistake.” In a letter I sent to Richard Simon, I informed him that his article “failed to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide.” I also said that his reference to “the Armenian Genocide as ‘Armenians say that 1.5 million of their people perished as part of a campaign to drive them out of eastern Turkey...’ violated Times editorial policy on the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide.” Furthermore, I said that his article “gave the false impression that Armenians are the only ones who call it a genocide, and reduced this universally acknowledged crime, except by the Turkish government, as a simple ‘he said, she said,’ argument.”
The Times editors and the reporter should have known better as the newspaper had adopted a policy of recognizing the Armenian Genocide as an undisputed historical fact, and the reporter himself had referred to the Times policy on this issue in his April 21, 2007 article – in the midst of the Mark Arax controversy. Consequently, I suggested in an e-mail to the Times publisher that “a correction, not to mention an apology, would be in order.”
In response, The Times published the following correction in its Oct. 5 issue: “For the Record: Armenian genocide: An article in Wednesday's Section A about a bill to recognize the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide said, ‘Armenians say that 1.5 million of their people perished as part of a campaign to drive them out of eastern Turkey.’ The statement should not have been attributed solely to Armenians; historical evidence and research supports the accuracy of the term genocide.”
Furthermore, Reporter Richard Simon sent an e-mail to this writer in which he acknowledged that he “should have been more precise.”
The repetition of such unforgivable mistakes is either a product of negligence or incompetence. Either way, the community must continue to remain vigilant.