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The Washington Post Perpetuates a Destructive Myth

The Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106) has attracted enormous media attention since it was passed by the House International Affairs Committee on October 10. However, the content of many of the articles, columns and stories make one thing clear: Writers across … Read More

By / November 2, 2007

The Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106) has attracted enormous media attention since it was passed by the House International Affairs Committee on October 10. However, the content of many of the articles, columns and stories make one thing clear: Writers across the United States were ill-prepared to tackle the issue of the Armenian genocide, simply because they knew very little about it.

One case in point is Richard Cohen's article in the Washington Post, titled "Turkey's War on the Truth" (Oct. 16, 2007). Cohen makes arguments based on false premises. After conceding–with condescension–that what happened to the Armenians in 1915 was "plenty bad," he concludes that it falls short of genocide "because not all Armenians…were…affected." Clearly, if we follow his train of thought, Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and several other cases should not be labeled as "genocide."

Cohen's standards are clearly different from those of the UN Convention defining genocide, but Cohen doesn't just introduce his own novel definition of genocide, he also creates his own facts. He suggests that jurist Raphael Lemkin, the author of the Genocide Convention, coined the term "genocide" based solely on "what the Nazis were doing to the Jews." This is blatantly wrong. Although this factual error was pointed out by many–including myself–to the editors of the Washington Post, no correction was issued and, to this day, no letter to the editor on this issue has appeared in the paper.

To set the record straight, the horrors of the Armenian genocide–and not only the Holocaust–played a central role in Lemkin's lifelong pursuit to find a name for the ultimate crime against humanity–the cleansing of a group–and to incorporate into international law the prevention of this crime and the punishment of its perpetrators.

The destruction of the Armenians came to Lemkin's attention when, in 1920, Soghomon Tehlirian–an Armenian whose entire family was killed during the genocide–assassinated Talaat Pasha, the mastermind behind the Armenian genocide, in Berlin. Lemkin read about Tehlirian's trial and, during a discussion with his professor at the University of Lvov, asked, "It is a crime for Tehlirian to kill a man, but it is not a crime for his oppressor to kill more than a million men?" His professor argued that states are sovereign and they can do what they want to their citizens. "Consider the case of a farmer who owns a flock of chickens. He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing," his professor argued. Lemkin was proud of Tehlirian for defending "the moral order of mankind," but wanted international law–and not individuals–to punish the perpetrators.

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