‘The Other Side of the Story’


Edmond Azadian

Edmond Azadian

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Detroit Public TV, which is in tune with the sentiments of the mosaic of the ethnic groups that populate Michigan, recently took the initiative to dedicate a full day’s program to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. The program not only sensitized the viewers to the issue of the Armenian Genocide but it also proved to be a successful fundraiser.

I was invited to be interviewed along with clergy from the four area Armenian Churches. The interviewer was a highly professional TV commentator. He had decided to rehearse his interviews before going live on the air. He asked me how the Genocide impacted me personally and what effect it had made on the Armenians collectively. As I was heading to the conclusion of my statement, I reported that the Genocide was continuing to this day with the blockade of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan and the destruction of Armenian Churches and monuments in both countries.

He stopped me, warning me that we could not politicize the issue during the interview, because there was nobody present to give “the other side” of the story.

Stunned, I asked him, “Do you ever question Neo-Nazis while interviewing survivors of the Holocaust? Of course not. Why should there be ‘one side’ on the issue of the Holocaust and ‘another side’ when you take up the issue of the Armenian Genocide?”

Confused, he repeated my question.

Many journalists do not do their homework and believe the professional cop-out is to present two opposing views. Those journalists are derelict in their responsibilities, when the mission of the journalist is to explore the facts and come out with a solid conclusion and present the truth.

For example, why is there no “other side” for the courageous British journalist Robert Fiske, the Middle East correspondent for the Independent newspaper in dealing with the issue of the Armenian Genocide?

When journalists resort to seeking the “other side” in dealing with the Armenian Genocide, they try to disguise their dishonesty or ignorance as professional objectivity, as there is no “other side” on this issue. There is only one truth and the obfuscations spun by the guilty side.

The journalistic gymnastics once again emerged throughout the world news media on the occasion of the Genocide centennial. Most of the journalists, once again, took cover under the refuge of the disingenuous “objectivity” with a few informed and courageous ones standing to be counted.

The anticipated centennial tsunami did not come from traditional quarters; it came from the most unexpected quarters, ranging from the sublime to the strange, with the sublime being Pope Francis’ powerful pronouncement and the strange being the Kardashian clan’s pilgrimage to Armenia. Both events caught the attention of world media, driving Turkey’s leadership into panic mode.

On April 12, 2015, during a memorable and historic mass conducted at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope unequivocally called a spade a spade. “In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies,” the Pope said, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Genocide. He added, “The first genocide of the 20th century struck your own Armenian people,” referencing a 2001 declaration by Pope John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Church.

A Vatican expert, Marco Tosati, said, “By quoting John Paul II, he strengthened the church’s position, making it clear where it stands on the issue.”

Many Vatican observers believe that the Pope’s pronouncement was in line with his philosophy of giving a voice to the voiceless. In that respect, the Pope added that it was his duty to honor the memory of those who were killed, adding, “concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging. … Today we too are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference.”

The Turkish government’s reaction was predictable — violent and panicky. When the French legislature passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide as a historic fact, Turkey recalled its ambassador and threatened to cancel the military contracts with France, but the Pope has no army and no such military contracts with which it can be blackmailed. However, his message is powerful and may create a domino effect, contrary to Stalin’s sarcastic question: “How many battalions does the Vatican Pope command?”

Ankara recalled its ambassador to the Holy See, Mehmet Paçaci, for a “consultation” and the Vatican’s envoy to Ankara Archbishop Antonino Lucibello was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to provide an explanation on the Pope’s statement.

All major figures in Turkey’s leadership made angry comments, including President Erdogan, Prime Minister Davutoglu and Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusolgu. And then, the Foreign Ministry circulated a press release, characterizing the Pope’s statement as “unacceptable,” “one sided” and so on, using the devalued currency of denial.

Every time any government passes a resolution in support of recognizing the Armenian Genocide, Turkish leaders react by stating that other government’s legislatures are not the proper venue to pass judgment on the 1915 events. This time around, Mr. Çavusoglu angrily criticized the Pope, accusing him of being “out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis” adding that “religious offices are not places through which hatred and animosity are fueled by unfounded allegations.”

Even after the official pronouncement of 120 of the most prominent genocide scholars around the world, Turkey’s leaders have pinned their hopes on a few hired guns posing as bona fide historians on some US campuses and they avoid the issue proposing to assign the task to a panel of historians to come up with “the truth.”

That truth is once again tortured in the media, giving credence to Ankara’s denialist policy. Here are some statements culled from the media. For example, CNN reported: “Armenian groups and many scholars say that Turkey planned and carried out a genocide. …. Turkey officially denies that a genocide took place, saying that hundreds and thousands of Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims died in intercommunal violence around the bloody battlefields of World War I.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not to be outdone, wrote, “Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917. … However, Turkey rejects the claims, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and Turks died in a civil strife.”

Sky News even goes one step further, casting the blame for what deaths were admitted to on the victims: “Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people were slaughtered as the Ottoman Empire fell apart. … Turkey argues that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and Turks died in the civil war when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with the invading Russian troops.”

Even the “most trusted” and “objective” news corporation, the BBC, has fallen into the same trap when it reported: “Armenia and many historians say up to 1.5 million people were killed by Ottoman forces in 1915. But Turkey has always disputed that figure and said that the deaths were part of a civil conflict triggered by World War I.”

After listening to all these news outlets, one gets the impression that these reporters and commentators never consult history books. Reading Captain Sarkis Torossian’s memoirs, these writers may receive wake-up calls that even those Armenians who fought at Gallipoli in the Ottoman Army found their families slaughtered, let alone spinning fiction about siding with the advancing Russian army.

Turkey can never hope to find the truth on the “other side” of the story, because there is none. Their only hope is to interject some reasonable doubt in a court of law to render the Armenian Genocide a “controversial” issue. And what those journalists are doing is providing ammunition to Turkey’s denialist machine.

The Armenian reaction to the fury of Turkish leaders was predictably mild. Only Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian has commented to one Italian news outlet: “Denial is not opening the door to reconciliation.”

The exaggerated demonstration of anger by Turkish leaders is a studied and rehearsed performance, reaching beyond Pope Francis to President Obama, warning him of what might happen if he follows the Pope’s lead.

But better than any journalist, President Obama himself has properly defined the issue by stating in 2008: “My firmly-held conviction [is] that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely-documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. … As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

This statement was made when he was himself. After his election, he seemed to have lost his moral compass. As a peacemaker in Latin America and in the Middle East, we hope he demonstrates some consistency in his policies and he returns to his old self to pronounce the truth.

Pope Francis’ powerful message has inflamed the imagination of millions, in the meantime prompting some courageous journalists to come up with their own blunt statements.

Indeed, while many reporters and editorials are grappling with the truth and ruminating on historic facts, the Jerusalem Post and the Los Angeles Times have come up with incredibly honest editorials. The Jerusalem Post wrote: “Exhibiting his characteristic moral clarity, Pope Francis referred to Turkey’s brutal massacre of about 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children during World War I as a genocide.” Hitler and the Nazi regime looked to Turkey’s moral wound for inspiration for their own genocide. … Israel has an obligation to live up to [its] legacy by using its political sovereignty to prevent genocide not just against Jews but against any group … Pope Francis has publicly recognized the Armenian Genocide. Now it is Israel’s turn.” (4/13/15)

On the same day, the Los Angeles Times published an equally frank editorial under the title, “US Has to Call the Armenian Genocide by its Name.”

“Insistence on the truth about the Ottoman Empire genocide should not imperil US-Turkey partnership. Denial about the Ottoman Empire Genocide of the Armenians a century ago only compounds the crime.”

The editorial has a lesson to all the politicians who cite the Turkish-American alliance as an excuse to fight the Genocide resolution as it states, “It is true that US-Turkey relationship is very important one and one worth nurturing and protecting, but not at the expense of denying history. … The president should take his cue from Pope Francis and include the word genocide in his annual message marking the carnage a century ago. Enduring friendships require such honesty.”

After much soul-searching, those two publications have discovered that there is no “other side” to the genocide story. We hope their stand becomes contagious, paving the way for other publications and statesmen to arrive at the same conclusion.