THE HIDDEN HOLOCAUST
San Francisco Chronicle, CA
Dec 15 2003
by Ruth Rosen
IMAGINE IF a producer from 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 for denying that the Nazis
murdered 6 million Jews.
Yet this is analogous to what happened to Peter Balakian, a professor
of American Studies at Colgate University and author of "The Burning
Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response" (HarperCollins,
2003) -- a gripping and evocative account of the 1915 genocide of
more than a million Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman
As soon as his book appeared on the New York Times bestseller list,
Balakian received a flood of 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.
Unfortunately,much of 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 felt
obliged to give equal weight to Turkey's denial of this grotesque
To counter such historical inaccuracy, in June 1998 the Association
of Genocide Scholars unanimously defined this event as the 20th
century's first genocide. Two years later, 126 Holocaust scholars,
including Elie Wiesel -- awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his
lifelong effort to bear witness to genocide -- published a petition
in the New York Times affirming "the incontestable fact of the
Denial of the Armenian genocide didn't always exist in this country.
Before World War I, Americans knew exactly what had occurred. During
the 1890s, American reformers launched a human-rights campaign to
protest repeated massacres of 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
of the Armenian people, describing the massacre as "systematic,
"authorized" and "organized by the government." In 1918, Theodore
Roosevelt called it "the greatest crime of the war."
The rest of the world also knew what had happened. In May 1915, the
Allies conceived of the term "crimes against humanity" to describe
the Ottoman government's massacres of the Armenian people. When the
Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in the 1940s,
he said that his definition was based on what the Armenian people had
So what cast such a cloud of uncertainty over the Armenian genocide?
The short answer is: oil and military bases.
After World War I, the United States' drive for oil in the Middle
East resulted in an alliance with the new Turkish republic. Even
though post-war Ottoman military confessions and American eyewitness
accounts provided indisputable proof of the genocide, Turkey waged a
systematic campaign to erase the Armenian genocide from historical
During the Cold War, Turkey gained even greater leverage to promote
its denial when it became a strategic site for American and NATO
As Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz recently wrote in the Jerusalem Post, "The
government of Turkey has been waging a campaign of denial involving
threats [to close military bases], political bullying, coercion and
an unabashed assault on truth. Successive administrations of the
United States have succumbed to pressure, preventing the passage of
legislation referring explicitly to the Armenian genocide and calling
on Turkey to take responsibility for this blemish on humanity."
Such denial is deadly. Deborah Lipstadt, a distinguished scholar on
Holocaust denial, calls such intentional amnesia the "final stage of
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 of the crime. "To remain silent or indifferent" Wiesel
reminds us, "is the greatest sin."
Never forget that Adolf Hitler relied on that silence when he said on
Aug. 22, 1939, "Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the
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