Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide In Newly-Found 1949 CBS Interview

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Dec. 8, 2005

We are so absorbed in the fast pace of day to day events that we often overlook the fact that many of today’s issues have their roots in important developments that predate our short-term memories.

For example, as we speak about the Armenian Genocide of 1915, not everyone realizes that “genocide” is a word that was not coined until 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist. Turkish propagandists know this well. They point out that what happened to the Armenians could be a massacre or a tragedy, but not genocide, simply because the term genocide did not exist back in 1915. This argument is as ridiculous as saying that Cain could not have murdered Abel because the word murder was not yet invented at that time!

Mr. Lemkin had repeatedly mentioned in his writings that as a young man he was so troubled by the Armenian mass murders and the then on-going Holocaust that he coined the word genocide and worked tirelessly until the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, on Dec. 9, 1948.

A recently discovered half-hour CBS program, first broadcast in 1949, includes a rare TV interview with Lemkin on the UN Convention and the Armenian Genocide. A short segment of that interview was shown last month by documentary filmmaker Andrew Goldberg during a ceremony held in New York City, awarding Peter Balakian the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize for his book, “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response.”

We were able to obtain a copy of that entire TV program which was moderated by CBS’s Quincy Howe. He begins the show with a recap of various genocides throughout history. Here is the transcript of his narration on the Armenian Genocide as well as the interview with Lemkin:

“Modern man too -- man in the last 100 years -- has been guilty of this crime of group murder. Choosing so-called modern reasons and using modern methods, men of our own time have persecuted and destroyed other men, singling them out because of the group to which they belonged. We all remember some of these instances. Do you also think of them as cases of genocide?”

Over scenes of Ottoman Turkish soldiers on horseback chasing down and killing unarmed Armenian men, women and children, the moderator continues:

“Yes, these folks are not playing games. They are running for their lives. Men on horseback. It doesn’t matter much who they are. Let’s say they are modern cavalry out on orders of their commanders. They are huntsmen out on the chase. Only, the prey doesn’t happen to be a fox. The prey is people. These [showing film footage of a group of Armenians] were the victims. They are Armenians and the place is in Asia Minor. But that doesn’t matter either. They could be anyone, anywhere. Of course, it mattered to them. Nearly 2 million of them were driven from their homes to perish in the desert or die before they got there. Why? Well, the reason given was that they were friendly to the enemy of their rulers; that they were a fifth column; that they were spies. Every one of the 2 million of them….”

Raphael Lemkin then explains to the moderator how his interest in genocide began: “I became interested in genocide because it happened to the Armenians; and after[wards] the Armenians got a very rough deal at the Versailles Conference because their criminals were guilty of genocide and were not punished. You know that they [the Ottoman Turks] were organized in a terroristic organization which took justice into its own hands. The trial of Talaat Pasha in 1921 in Berlin is very instructive. A man (Soghomon Tehlirian), whose mother was killed in the genocide, killed Talaat Pasha. And he told the court that he did it because his mother came in his sleep ... many times. Here, …the murder of your mother, you would do something about it! So he committed a crime. So, you see, as a lawyer, I thought that a crime should not be punished by the victims, but should be punished by a court, by a national law.”

Cong. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), who was also interviewed in that same CBS program, added: “Pres. Wilson, a great democratic leader, tried to save the Armenian people from genocide during the First World War and shortly thereafter.”

This newly discovered tape has great historical value. It defines the Armenian Genocide as a genocide just a few weeks after the adoption of the UN convention on genocide and shows Raphael Lemkin explaining how he was influenced by the tragic events that befell the Armenians in 1915. Anyone seeing this interview with Lemkin and the accompanying film footage would have no doubt that genocide is the most appropriate term to describe the mass murder of Armenians.

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