N.Y. Times Deals a Knock Out Punch to Turkish Denialism
The Turkish Ambassador to the United Nations must have been very proud of himself when he succeeded in temporarily shutting down a U.N. photo exhibition on the Rwandan Genocide, after discovering a single sentence that read: "one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey."
Little did Ambassador Baki Ilkin and his government know that the attempt to eliminate a simple reference which did not even describe the Armenian mass killings as genocide and may have been overlooked by most exhibit visitors,would blow up in their faces in a very big and unexpected way.
As stated previously in this column, Turkey, unintentionally, is the greatest publicist of the Armenian Genocide by its obsessive objections to its mention by anyone, anywhere.
The Turkish complaint against the mention of Armenian "murders" at the Rwandan exhibition was reported by the Associated Press. The lengthy wire story, which extensively described the facts of the Armenian Genocide, was printed by newspapers around the globe. While trying to get rid of one harmless line that most people would not even have noticed, Turkish officials managed to get several paragraphs about the Armenian Genocide published in hundreds of newspapers around the world! As the AP reported: "Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century."
In one thoughtless knee-jerk reaction, the Turkish government managed to reconfirm its repressive image among millions of newspaper readers, antagonize the Rwandan government, and upset the U.K.-based Aegis Trust, which had helped organize the exhibition. It also drew the ire of usually mild-mannered Armenian government officials. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian blasted Ankara by stating: "It is not enough that the Government of Turkey thinks it can hide its history from its own people. Now, they have taken their campaign of cover-up and distortion to such lengths that they will prevent an exhibition on Genocide entitled 'Lessons of Rwanda.'"
The New York Times also covered the Turkish objection and the controversy regarding the cancellation of the U.N. exhibition and, just like the AP, made direct references to the Armenian Genocide.
However, the biggest surprise was yet to come. On April 13, The N.Y. Times published a hard-hitting editorial that blasted Turkey's obsessive efforts to deny the Armenian Genocide. It dealt such a devastating blow that Turkish denialism may never recover from it.
The editorial, under the headline, "Turkey and the U.N.'s Cover-Up," stated in part: "More than 90 years ago, when Turkey was still part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish nationalists launched an extermination campaign there that killed 1.5 million Armenians. It was the 20th century's first genocide". Turkey has long tried to deny the Armenian genocide. Even in the modern-day Turkish republic, which was not a party to the killings, using the word genocide in reference to these events is prosecuted as a serious crime. It's odd that Turkey's leaders have not figured out by now that every time they try to censor discussion of the Armenian genocide, they only bring wider attention to the subject and link today's democratic Turkey with the now distant crime."
The same editorial appeared in the International Herald Tribune, under an even harsher headline: "Abetting Turkish Denial at the United Nations."
While U.N. officials are mulling over a face-saving way of resuming the photo exhibition, Rwandans, Armenians and all those who cherish the truth should look into the questionable role played by U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq, in this whole episode. He was quoted by AP last week as saying that the photo exhibit was taken down because it was not properly reviewed.
Mr. Haq has also been repeatedly quoted by Turkish denialists as having allegedly stated back in 2000 that "the United Nations has not approved or endorsed a report labeling the Armenian experience as Genocide." Last week, he was quoted by AP as saying: "The U.N. hasn't expressed any position on incidents that took place long before the United Nations was established."
Both of those statements are absolutely untrue, as the U.N. has taken a position on the Jewish Holocaust which, just like the Armenian Genocide, occurred before the establishment of the U.N. in 1945. Furthermore, there were several extensive discussions of the Armenian Genocide at the U.N. for more than a dozen years, which culminated in a report adopted in 1985 by the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
Earlier in the week, this writer spoke to Mr. Haq and asked him if he was aware that U.N human rights panels had dealt with the issue of the Armenian Genocide. He said he knew that various U.N. human rights bodies had discussed this issue and adopted reports which referred to the Armenian Genocide. Regarding the statement that Turkish denialists constantly attribute to him, he said he had simply stated that there has never been a U.N. General Assembly resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
Armenia's Ambassador at the United Nations may now want to contact the U.N. Secretary General's office and ask him to issue a formal statement declaring that the U.N. human rights bodies had indeed dealt with the Armenian Genocide and adopted a report in 1985 properly calling it a genocide.
There is no question that the Rwandan exhibition will be reopened at the U.N. along with the reference to the Armenian Genocide. By taking it down temporarily to get rid of that reference, Turkish officials have once again inadvertently publicized the Armenian Genocide to a worldwide audience, much beyond the four walls of the U.N.