Opinion: Armenian genocide and publishing decisions


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Turkey, Armenia, and the Armenian diaspora are in an uproar over the cold-blooded execution-style murder of outspoken journalist Hrant Dink, a man who until being shot in the head in broad daylight on a busy sidewalk street was best known for braving jail time by insisting that modern Turkey finally recognize Ottoman Turkey’s genocide of roughly 1.2 million Armenians nearly 100 years ago. This chronology of L.A. Times coverage tells the story in headlines:

Journalist slain in Turkey
L.A. Armenians saddened but not surprised over editor Hrat Dink’s shooting
L.A. Armenians denounce slaying of Turkish editor
Teenager held in journalist’s killing
Militant confesses in journalist death
Armenians say goodbye to a hero

On Jan. 23, we published an Op-Ed by Hugh Pope, the Istanbul-based author of Sons of the Conquerors: the Rise of the Turkic World, entitled ‘Armenia haunts the Turks again: The killing of a prominent Armenian journalist last week further widens the gap between Turkey and Europe.’ Excerpt:


What killed Dink, in short, is the Turkish republic’s inability to deal with the Armenian issue — the charge that its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire, killed 1.2 million Armenian men, women and children in a genocide that began in 1915. Official Turkey is stuck in a rut of denial. Discussing the great omissions on the subject in Turkey’s public education remains taboo. Efforts to open archives and to ‘leave it to the historians’ lead to dead ends, partly because a scholarly debate won’t assuage diaspora Armenians who demand formal acknowledgment of the genocide, and partly because of Turkey’s anti-free-speech laws — most notoriously Penal Code Article 301, with its catchall penalties for ‘denigrating Turkishness.’

We published three letters today on Dink, including one directly referring to Pope’s piece:

Hugh Pope wishes for Armenians to compromise, not realizing that you can’t compromise when you are dead. VAHE KHACHATURIANLa Canada Flintridge

Khachaturian certainly wasn’t the only person upset. After the jump, read a form letter we’ve been receiving, and some clarifications about The Times’ policies when discussing the Armenian genocide.

hHere’s the text of the letter:

Dear Editorial Staff Members: I was shocked by the editorial by Hugh Pope entitled ‘Armenia Haunts the Turks Again’ which ran on Tuesday, Jan. 22nd in the Los Angeles Times. As a lifelong resident of Los Angeles and reader of the Los Angeles Times I am ashamed that my newspaper would publish an editorial which puts forth views regarding the Armenian Genocide which run contrary to the current standards of legitimate public discourse. I agree with Pope’s views regarding Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, as well as the fact the Republic of Turkey should reconsider its denialist activities, however the fundamental premise of Pope’s editorial rests on an argument of denial of the Armenian Genocide and is equivocally unacceptable for publication. This denial has long been used by the Turkish government to assuage the world’s declarations of Ottomon Turkish complicity in Genocide. While I respect that the Los Angeles Times would want to show alternate viewpoints, it should be clear that certain viewpoints are outside of the realm what is accepted as legitimate and relevant. Turkish Denial is clearly outside of this realm. When published in the Los Angeles Times, it appears to be legitimate. Other newspapers throughout the United States, most notably the New York Times, have long since moved beyond humoring individuals that hold this belief. Many of them have adopted policies to officially refer to the events of 1915-1923 as Genocide, not an alleged or so-called Genocide. Why hasn’t the Los Angeles Times adopted this policy? Compounding this error is the fact that it was allowed to run at perhaps one of the most inappropriate times in recent history. The murder of Hrant Dink, editor of the Agos newspaper, has become a force of unification in Turkey. Turks and Armenians have marched through the streets of Istanbul proclaiming ‘We are all Armenian,’ an event that would have been considered impossible just a week ago. Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens mourned at his funeral, and rose up his ideals for a Turkey which honors human rights and the right of free speech. Amidst these historic events your newspaper decided to run an editorial that from its title to its content paints Turkey a victim of Armenian and Western interference. While Turks and Armenians are enjoying a unity long unseen, Pope’s editorial served to be a derisive tool to incite division. This should be considered highly irresponsible and wholly naïve given that the Los Angeles Times serves the largest Armenian-American community in the United States. If issue is indicative of the nature of the LA Times’ international coverage, I can no longer rely on its quality and should have to look elsewhere for world news. I ask you to reconsider your standards regarding the Armenian Genocide so that editorials of this kind won’t be published in the future. With best regards,A Concerned Armenian American

This letter raises many issues about the newspaper, the most relevant of which is: Op-Eds (and their cousins, Letters) have a wider band of acceptable style and word choice than perhaps any other type of content category in the paper, including Editorials. This is for obvious reasons; they are the often controversial political opinions of people who disagree about fundamental issues and have their own way of expressing it. The Times news pages and unsigned editorials have a style guide, which reads partly as follows regarding the Armenian genocide:

The Armenian genocide during and after World War I is a historical fact, and the word ‘genocide’ can be used without qualification in referring to it. The Turkish side argues that whatever happened, it was not genocide, but there is a large body of historical evidence and authoritative recent research that finds genocide a fully appropriate term. Even some Turkish scholars now agree with this view. [...] Suggested standard language is along these lines: ‘The Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918 claimed the lives of about 1.2 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, which became the modern republic of Turkey. The Turkish government disputes that a genocide took place.’


Unsigned editorials, which reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board, do not share the news pages’ more rigorous (and space-filling) sense of being scrupulously fair to all sides and remaining neutral. Instead, we just get to the point of our stance. Our stance regarding the Armenian genocide is roughly as follows: It happened, Turkey should admit it happened, and the United States (of all countries!) should lead the way in using the G-word. As a July 16, 2006 editorial begins:

What happens when you refer to Turkey’s 1915-1923 genocide of Armenians, accurately, as ‘genocide’? In Turkey, you face a possible three-year jail term, even if it wasn’t you using the term but a character in your novel. In the United States, you just lose your job as ambassador to Armenia.

But to get back to the multi-forwarded form letter from A Concerned Armenian American, there is a misreading of Hugh Pope’s column:

Pope’s editorial rests on an argument of denial of the Armenian Genocide and is equivocally unacceptable for publication.

Why ‘misreading’? Because nowhere in the Pope Op-Ed does he deny the genocide. The closest he comes is this passage:

Turks cannot believe the sincerity of foreign parliaments which, usually ill-informed about the Turkish case, give in to Armenian diaspora lobbying for genocide declarations.


That’s not a denial. Close, but no cigar.

We’d be happy to hear arguments to the contrary, and any arguments at all, in the comments.