Scholars Who Signed No-Genocide Ad

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Published by the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide
Special Double Issue 25/26, April 1990,
75th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

A Follow-up of the Sixty-nine Scholars who Signed an Advertisement Questioning the Armenian Genocide

By Israel W. Charney and Daphna Fromer

How are we to understand the mind of a rational person who denies the historical authenticity of a major historical tragedy such as the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide? On December 2, 1985, 69 scholars signed an advertisement which appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Washington Times which questioned insidiously the evidence of the Armenian genocide. Instead of denying the occurrence of the genocide outright, the scholars proceeded self-righteously in the name of values of historical and scientific truth to call on the Turkish and other governments to open all the archives so that the facts -- presumably unknown even in their essence as to whether or not there was a state-authorized and executed genocide of the Armenians -- will be ascertained.

Since its publication, the advertisement has been repeatedly used as proof that "many scholars do not believe there was a genocide of the Armenian people by the Turks," and it appears as a key document in repeated Turkish lobby statements to members of the U.S. Congress.

In an effort to understand more fully the attitudes of the scholars who signed the advertisement, the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem undertook a follow-up study of the signators. In an accompanying statement of "Acknowledgment of Bias,", the Institute conveyed to the scholars that our studies of the subject have previously convinced us of the authenticity of the Armenian genocide, moreover that we have had our own direct experience with the Turkish government efforts to suppress the record in connection with the landmark International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide in Tel Aviv in 1982.

The questionnaire inquired into the respondents' knowledge of and opinion about the events that took place at the time of the Armenian genocide, their knowledge of and opinions towards any attempts to suppress and revise the historical record by either the Turks or the Armenians, their knowledge of the uses to which the advertisement has been put and about signators' current attitudes about the advertisement and their participation in it.

A total of 62 mailings are presumed to have reached their destination -- we failed to find an address for one signators and six other packages were returned as undeliverable. Of these 62, 4 returned empty questionnaires as statements of their refusal to participate, 10 wrote letters -- an number of them detailed and expository -- explaining their refusal to answer the questionnaire and also their attitudes about the subject of the Armenian genocide, while 7 returned completed questionnaires. Altogether, the total of 21 active responses represents a surprisingly high figure of 34% responses (compared to an average expectation of 10% responses to mail questionnaires in the social sciences). As the emotional intensity of the responses show, indications are that not only the questionnaire itself aroused tension but the subject of the advertisement is, as it should be, a focus of no little tension for many signators.

Some of the information revealed by those who did respond sheds light on the creation of this very clever propaganda technique, an in our judgment provides sufficient evidence on which to discredit the advertisement: Like in an earlier report by the Armenian Assembly of America of its follow-up correspondence with the 69 signators, several respondents indicated that

a.) they had no doubt about the essential truth of the Armenian genocide;

b.) they are fully aware of the Turkish government's intention to falsify the record through censorship, suppression and revision of the facts;

c.) and as to the advertisement itself, that they had not been aware that the Turks would use their call to open the archives to "prove" that there was no Armenian genocide, nor did they know that there would be repeated use of their statement beyond a single advertisement.

It should be noted that at the same time, all the respondents who commented on the matter were adamant that they received no reward or promise of reward for their participation in the advertisement, and a good number of them were insulted and irate at what they felt were implication of such questions by us.

What stands out in the responses of these 17 scholars is that many of them go to great pains to explain that their intentions are innocent and good, they are only interested in being responsible academicians, indeed that they want to bring an end to inter-ethnic tensions and help people forget and forgive old-time events that should not be allowed to get in the way of present-day peaceful relationships between peoples. We call this presentation style of "innocence and self-righteousness" and include it in the list of mechanisms of language and propaganda which are the ones we found were being used to disguise and justify the full meaning of the denials.

The following are the patterns of "thinking defense-mechanisms" which we identified "allow" the scholars to engage in the denial of the genocide:

1. Innocence and Self-Righteousness. The respondents claim that they only intend to ascertain the truth. Moreover, they do not believe that human beings could have been so evil as the descriptions of the genocide imply. Furthermore, even if many deaths took place a long time ago, it is important to put them aside now and forgive and forget.

2. Scientificism in the Service of Denial. The position taken is seemingly an innocent one that we do not know enough to know what the facts of history were, and rather than condemning anyone we should await the ultimate decision of research. This is a manipulative misuse of the science-value principle that facts must be proven. The very purpose of science, which is to know, is invoked in order to justify a form of know-nothingness.

3. Practicality, Pragmatism, and Realpolitik. Here the claim is made that dealing with ancient history is impractical, it will not bring peace to the world in which we live today. One must be realistic and live through realpolitik.

4. Idea-Linkage Distortion and Time-Sequence Confusion. This is a dishonest linkage of different ideas often out of time sequence to excuse denials of the facts, e.g., current Armenian terrorism against Turks will be exonerated and encouraged if Turkey admits to past events of the Armenian genocide; Turkish national responsibility for the Armenian genocide would constitute "retribution" against innocent present and future grandchildren and great-grandchildren of past perpetrators; the damage that present acknowledgment of the genocide would cause to the real security needs of the U.S. and NATO today does not justify bringing out the past record of long-ago events which are all over.

5. Indirection, Definitionalism, and Maddening. These are responses which avoid the issue by failing to reply or by going off on tangents about trivial details that avoid the essential issue of whether genocide took place. Definitionalism refers to a form of maddening resistance that is particularly common to academics who enter into definitional battles overwhether or not a given event really fits the pure form of definition of genocide, so that so much energy goes into the definitional struggle that the significance of the event and its enormous human tragedy are virtually written out of existence.

Denials of genocide are rooted in several mind-phenomena which represent some of the weakest aspects of the development of the human mind and civilization as a whole. For the inability to differentiate between the factual and not-factual certainly stands in opposition to all that Western-world science and development strive for in the ways of truth and knowledge.

About the authors:

Israel Charney is Executive Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, Jerusalem. He is author of How Can We Commit the Unthinkable? (1982); editor, with Shamai Davidson, of The Book of the International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide (1983); editor of Toward the Understanding and Prevention of Genocide (1984); and editor of Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review.

Daphna Fromer is a Fellow of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide.

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