Early Friday morning, the calls began to roll into the newsroom.
One woman wondered why we were singling out Armenia. Another inquired about the ethnicity of our writing staff — perhaps wanting to make sure we employed no one of Turkish descent.
What caused this outrage? Like many news outlets, we have been closely following the WikiLeaks story and its wide-ranging implications. Within a massive trove of confidential documents released Sunday was a diplomatic cable alleging that Armenia supplied Iran with weapons. Those weapons, the document stated, were later used to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.
Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian told me he felt the story left out a significant amount of context, and might be misleading for that reason. In his view, Armenia has been forced into a relationship with Iran because its other neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan, have enforced an illegal blockade of humanitarian aid for decades. Combined with harsh winters and few domestic energy resources, the country has simply been backed into a corner.
People who just read the story, Kassakhian said, might believe Armenia and Iran share a common ideology and, thus, hatred of the West. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Clearly, the article was jarring for a number of people, if only because it seemed such a departure from our normal way of doing things. After all, if news breaks in Eagle Rock or North Hollywood, neither the Glendale News-Press nor the Burbank Leader will cover it. So, what made this story newsworthy?
It was this: Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents the area, said he found the information “enormously troubling.” Schiff, I want to note, has long supported official American recognition of the Armenian Genocide, an issue of enormous importance here. Armenians are the single largest ethnic group in Glendale, making up about 40% of the population. Though that population is significantly less in Burbank, people of Armenian descent are a significant part of that community as well.
Though he did not say how he came about the information, I find it unlikely that Schiff, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, gets his news via WikiLeaks. The congressman also declined to speculate on how this would affect any official recognition of the genocide.
Interestingly, the comments online were largely supportive of Armenia. Not everyone, certainly. We police our online comments, removing obviously bigoted or racist comments, but it’s impossible to know what’s in someone’s heart. As a result, I had made it a policy to allow borderline comments, even though that means off-putting comments will occasionally make it online.
It’s not always an easy decision. I’ll give you an example. A reader going by the online name of Rabbi Pedro Goldstein wrote this about our article: “Why am I NOT surprised?”
Now, did the good rabbi mean he wasn’t surprised that Armenian officials would sell weapons to Iran or that he wasn’t surprised that Schiff was troubled by that revelation? Or, did he mean something far worse: that he believes Armenians are all liars and crooks, and this revelation fits into a bigoted idea he has of his neighbors?
Since online comments are anonymous, people have long felt comfortable spewing the venom in their hearts onto our posting page. This is why we began moderating comments some months ago. But what of Pedro’s comment? Again, because I can’t see into his heart (assuming Pedro is even male), I posted the comment.
Perhaps you would have done differently. That’s fine. We just need to keep talking. I am very much about keeping the lines of communication open, and silence will not fulfill that goal.
Dan Evans is the editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.