‘60 Minutes’ First US News Crew To Profile Der Zor Mass Graves


NEW YORK — On February 28, the CBS weekly news magazine program “60 Minutes” aired a segment titled “The Battle Over History” about the Armenian Genocide and the legacy of its denial by the Turkish state. The segment included an on-site investigation of Armenian mass graves in the Der Zor dessert now in Syria, accompanied by Armenian-American historian, poet and author, Peter Balakian.

Within the broadcast and in its official CBS transcript, Balakian stated to CBS News Correspondent Bob Simon in reference to Armenians in 1915 that, “Like the Jews of Europe, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire had a dominant role in commerce and trade, they were highly educated, many of them.”

Many members of the Armenian-American community were abuzz about the broadcast in advance of the program; they were mostly happy with the presentation of the facts, which did not give much weight to Turkey’s standard Genocide denial.

“What happens from the spring of 1915 on through the summer is a well orchestrated project of government planned arrests and deportations,” he added.

Later in the segment, Simon confronted Nabi Sensoy, Turkey’s recalled ambassador to Washington, stating, “We were in Syria, sir, and we scratched the sand and came up with bones. How can you argue with that?”

“Well, bones you can find anywhere in Turkey, you know. There have been a lot of tragedies that have happened in those lands,” Sensoy replied.

Marc A. Mamigonian, director of academic affairs for the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) stated, “Given the inherent limitations of a mainstream news program tackling the Armenian Genocide in a short segment, Sunday’s ‘60 Minutes’ report made a useful contribution to informing the wider public about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian citizens and the still-ongoing denial of it emanating from the Turkish government and its hirelings. Surely it will prompt people to learn more about the history of the period and to be more aware both of the history and of the denial—and why both are important.”

Dr. Rouben P. Adalian, director of the Armenian National Institute (ANI) in Washington, when assessing the “60 Minutes” broadcast and its timely and refreshingly pro-Armenian stance said, “I think that observation is probably correct. The valuable message of the broadcast was the insurmountable level of evidence that exists of the Armenian Genocide that it made clear to the public. For me as a scholar and a historian, that was a point that was greatly appreciated.”

He added, however, “The program relayed the standard arguments you hear from Turkey but those were outweighed by the amount of evidence presented in support of the Armenian Genocide’s proven occurrence by ‘60 Minutes.’ To my knowledge this was also the first time an American film crew had journeyed to film the mass graves at Der Zor.”

Adalian is a specialist on the Caucasus and the Middle East, and has taught at a number of universities, including the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

CBS News officials did not respond to questions posed, saying that the broadcast spoke for itself.

To view the “60 Minutes” segment, “The Battle Over History,” visit, www.CBSNews.com.

— Andy Turpin