L.A. Times Retracts its Reference To “Alleged Slaying of Armenians”

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L.A. Times Retracts its Reference To “Alleged Slaying of Armenians”

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

The Los Angeles Times published a lengthy article on Sept. 1 on the indictment by a Turkish court of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous writer, for telling the Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger in an interview published on February 6: “30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it.”

The L.A. Times reported that “Pamuk will go on trial in December and could face three years in prison under the country’s revised penal code, which deems denigrating Turks and Turkey a punishable offense.”

The article was written by Amberin Zaman, the Times’ stringer in Ankara, who had to be extra careful how she referred to the Armenian Genocide. Otherwise, she too could end up getting indicted under the draconian Turkish Penal Code that was adopted in June, just months prior to the scheduled start of talks on Turkey’s bid for European Union membership.

Correspondent Zaman, in her article, cautiously referred to the Armenian Genocide, as “the mass deaths of Armenians during and after World War I.” She also wrote: “Turkey has long denied that more than 1 million members of its once thriving Armenian community were the victims of systematic annihilation between 1915 and 1923. Armenians and many others label the campaign genocide.”

While Amberin Zaman did her best to toe a fine line between the Los Angeles Times editorial policy of referring to the Armenian mass murders as genocide and the Turkish laws prohibiting such a qualification, someone at the copy desk of the L.A. Times, when writing the subheadline for the article, ended up calling the Armenian Genocide the “alleged slaying of Armenians.”

How could the Armenian Genocide be so distorted and belittled that it be characterized as an “alleged slaying?” This was such an outrageous departure from the editorial policy of the L.A. Times that all it took was a simple phone call to the paper’s copy editor to recognize the error.

On page 2 of its September 11 issue, under the rubric, “For the Record,” the L.A. Times recognized and retracted its error. It wrote: “The subheadline on a Sept. 1 article in Section A about a Turkish author accused of denigrating his country referred to Turkey’s ‘alleged slaying of Armenians.’ It should not have been qualified with the word ‘alleged’ in reference to the slayings of Armenians during and after World War I.”

Even though this retraction leaves a lot to be desired, it was nevertheless an attempt by the editors of the L.A. Times to acknowledge and correct their mistake. The word “Slaying” is a far cry from an accurate characterization of the Armenian Genocide. There seems to be a need to further sensitize the L.A. Times editors on this important issue.

A further indication of such a need is the editorial published by the L.A. Times in its Sept. 8 issue, titled “Turkey’s war with history.” The editorial correctly takes Turkey to task for filing charges against Pamuk, just a few weeks before the anticipated start of talks on Turkey’s bid for EU membership. The Times said that such an indictment “clearly violates the conditions set for Turkey’s EU membership, such as guaranteeing free-speech rights.”

Regrettably, this otherwise admirable editorial seems to have lifted a page from Pres. Bush’s list of euphemisms in referring to the Armenian Genocide as “the hundreds of thousands of Armenians killed during the era of the Ottoman Empire,” and “the Turkish government engaged in the systematic annihilation of Armenians.” Unfortunately, the most appropriate word, genocide, was missing from the editorial.”

On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times, on Sept. 2, 7 and 10 respectively, in their editorials condemning the indictment of Pamuk, used the word genocide to describe the mass murders of Armenians.

Countless other newspapers and wire services around the world reported and commented on Turkey’s indictment of Pamuk and his statement on the Armenian Genocide. The British newspaper, The Guardian, in its Sept. 9 editorial, found it “regrettable - and a gift to Turkey’s enemies - that at this delicate moment the renowned novelist Orhan Pamuk is facing Ataturk-era charges of ‘belittling Turkishness’ over his brave comments about the Armenian genocide of 1915. Countries that join the EU must be able to confront their own past, and respect free speech.”

The Financial Times, in its Sept. 5 editorial on Pamuk, said that the famous author had complained about “the conspiracy of silence about the mass murder of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenians during and after the first world war. In the real world, it is inconceivable that Turkey will ever enter the EU if it cannot face up to this blood-sodden chapter of its history.”

As Maureen Freely explained in her opinion column in The Independent (UK) on August 31, with the indictment of Orhan Pamuk and without any outside assistance Turkey scored “an own goal” or “shot itself in the foot.”

All Armenians have to do now is sit back and watch as the Turks with their own hands destroy their prospects of entering the EU and unintentionally disseminate through the international media the facts of the Armenian Genocide to countless millions who had not been aware of it before.

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