The Biuuen Bolocaust

IMAGINE IF a producer Irom National Public Radio invited a scholar to speak about his new
book on the Jewish Holocaust and then, to provide "balance," included another guest known Ior
denying that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews.
Inconceivable, right?
Yet this is analogous to what happened to Peter Balakian, a proIessor oI American Studies at
Colgate University and author oI "The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's
Response" (HarperCollins, 2003) -- a gripping and evocative account oI the 1915 genocide oI
more than a million Armenian people at the hands oI the Ottoman Turks.
As soon as his book appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, Balakian received a Ilood
oI invitations to speak about what some have called "the hidden holocaust."
One NPR producer, however, insisted on inviting another guest to present the Turkish
"perspective" that no genocide ever occurred. Balakian declined the invitation.
UnIortunately, much oI the American media still thinks that the Armenian genocide is subject to
debate. Until recently, many American newspapers wrote about the "alleged" Armenian genocide
or Ielt obliged to give equal weight to Turkey's denial oI this grotesque crime.
To counter such historical inaccuracy, in June 1998 the Association oI Genocide Scholars
unanimously deIined this event as the 20th century's Iirst genocide. Two years later, 126
Holocaust scholars, including Elie Wiesel -- awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Ior his liIelong
eIIort to bear witness to genocide -- published a petition in the New York Times aIIirming "the
incontestable Iact oI the Armenian genocide."
Denial oI the Armenian genocide didn't always exist in this country. BeIore World War I,
Americans knew exactly what had occurred. During the 1890s, American reIormers launched a
human-rights campaign to protest repeated massacres oI the Armenian people. In September
1895, the New York Times headlined a story as "Another Armenian Holocaust." During 1915,
that paper published 145 articles about the mass murder oI the Armenian people, describing the
massacre as "systematic, "authorized" and "organized by the government." In 1918, Theodore
Roosevelt called it "the greatest crime oI the war."
The rest oI the world also knew what had happened. In May 1915, the Allies conceived oI the
term "crimes against humanity" to describe the Ottoman government's massacres oI the
Armenian people. When the Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in the 1940s,
he said that his deIinition was based on what the Armenian people had suIIered.
So what cast such a cloud oI uncertainty over the Armenian genocide?
The short answer is: oil and military bases.
AIter World War I, the United States' drive Ior oil in the Middle East resulted in an alliance with
the new Turkish republic. Even though post-war Ottoman military conIessions and American
eyewitness accounts provided indisputable prooI oI the genocide, Turkey waged a systematic
campaign to erase the Armenian genocide Irom historical memory.
During the Cold War, Turkey gained even greater leverage to promote its denial when it became
a strategic site Ior American and NATO military bases.
As Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz recently wrote in the Jerusalem Post, "The government oI Turkey
has been waging a campaign oI denial involving threats |to close military bases|, political
bullying, coercion and an unabashed assault on truth. Successive administrations oI the United
States have succumbed to pressure, preventing the passage oI legislation reIerring explicitly to
the Armenian genocide and calling on Turkey to take responsibility Ior this blemish on
Such denial is deadly. Deborah Lipstadt, a distinguished scholar on Holocaust denial, calls such
intentional amnesia the "Iinal stage oI genocide, " because it "strives to reshape history in order
to demonize the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators." Wiesel describes such denial as a
"double killing" because it also murders the memory oI the crime. "To remain silent or
indiIIerent" Wiesel reminds us, "is the greatest sin."
Never Iorget that AdolI Hitler relied on that silence when he said on Aug. 22, 1939, "Who aIter
all speaks today oI the annihilation oI the Armenians?"
This article appeared on page oI the San Francisco Chronicle

Read more: