May 3, 2007
The Armenian Genocide debate pits moral values against realpolitik
Time to take sides?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)He added, "I cannot see how major Jewish American organizations can in good conscience and in any way support efforts to deny the undeniable."
In a phone interview, Schiff reaffirmed his criticism of the Jewish organizations and surmised that their opposition was influenced by Israel, worried about harming its good relationship with Turkey.
"It would be a terrible mistake if the Israeli government became involved in this matter," he said.
Schiff noted that his resolution, now under consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), is co-sponsored by 21 out of 30 Jewish representatives and by eight out of 13 Jewish senators in a companion resolution. He acknowledged that he is under considerable pressure by the Bush administration and by former fellow legislators now working for the Turkish lobby, which Schiff described as "one of the most powerful" in Washington.
The Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., has also joined directly in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the American people in general and American Jews in particular. It has cultivated close relationships with Jewish leaders and has retained a well-connected Jewish lobbyist to work with the Jewish media.
The embassy recently placed full-page ads in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times outlining a proposal to Armenia to appoint a joint commission of historians, with full access to national archives, "to study the events of 1915 and share the findings with the international public." In a phone call from his embassy, Sensoy confirmed Turkey's 2005 offer to Armenia for establishing a joint commission and urged that the United States and other countries participate in the investigation.
Citing the Turkish version of the 1915 events, Sensoy said that during the Russian-Turkish battles of World War I, a large number of Armenians supported the enemy, "and we had to relocate the Armenians in eastern Turkey to Syria and Lebanon." The result, he said, was "a kind of civil war," in which each side lost hundreds of thousands of lives.
"We are not saying we have all the truth, but we cannot accept guilt for the worst of crimes without knowing what the truth is," Sensoy said.
Asked why Turkey could not put the whole problem behind it by issuing an apology for deeds committed by a different regime at a different time, Sensoy replied, "The Ottoman past is part of our glorious history, and we cannot disassociate ourselves from the past."
On his special outreach to American Jews, Sensoy commented that "Jews are in the best position to understand the problem. We also have the best relations with Israel."
Drawing a parallel between Auschwitz and the disasters of 1915 "would be a disservice" to the memory of the Holocaust, said Sensoy. "After all, no Jews took up arms against the Germans and killed thousands of them."
Caught somewhat uneasily in the middle is the small, unorganized Turkish Jewish community of 100-200 residents of Los Angeles.
Dr. Moshe Arditi, vice chair of the pediatrics department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said he is pleased by "the recent movement toward an opening up in Turkey." He pointed to a massive rally by both Turks and Armenians in Istanbul to protest the murder of a local Armenian journalist.
Arditi endorsed a "historical fact-finding study" of the 1915 events that "could lead to dialogue between the parties."
But the joint commission proposal finds no resonance among critics of Turkey. Derderian, who described himself as "a grandson of survivors," rejected any dialogue before Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
Schiff commented that "there is no question among historians that what happened was genocide. It's like asking the Sudanese government to judge what's happening in Darfur."
Schulweis drew a different analogy, saying, "The proposal is similar to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling a conference to examine the truth of the Holocaust."
National Geographic TV on the Armenian Genocide.
Click the BIG ARROW.
'Genocide' reporting rankles newsroom at Times
While the pending congressional resolution to officially designate the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as the "Armenian Genocide" has affected the Jewish community, it has also triggered an acrimonious confrontation at the Los Angeles Times.
The tempest at the already storm-tossed Times, according to aggrieved reporters, goes to the highly sensitive question of whether a journalist can write an objective story on an emotional topic affecting his own ethnic group.
In other words, can a Jewish reporter write a balanced article on Holocaust denial, or a black reporter on racial discrimination?
As the current Times imbroglio shows, these are not abstract debating points, especially in as diverse and multicultural a city as Los Angeles.
Here is how the story developed, as mainly reported through internal Times' emails with some added commentary posted by former Times staffer Kevin Roderick in his blog www.laobserved.com, a daily must-read for journalists and media mavens.
In the middle of April, veteran Times reporter Mark Arax, of Armenian descent, wrote an article on the pending congressional resolution, focusing on how it had split the Jewish community into opposing sides.
In a highly unusual move, the story was killed by managing editor Doug Frantz because he felt that Arax "had expressed personal views about the topic in a public manner and therefore was not a disinterested party."
The "personal view" cited by Frantz was apparently a letter sent in 2005 reminding Times management that the paper's established policy was to refer to the 1915 killings in the old Ottoman Empire as the "Armenian Genocide."
The letter, which Frantz has described as a "petition," was signed by six journalists -- Arax and four other Armenian Americans and Henry Weinstein, the paper's respected legal correspondent, who is Jewish.