08/03 Boston Globe Editorial: A Genocide Not To Be Denied

A genocide not to be denied
August 3, 2007

THE ANTI-DEFAMATION League is caught in a controversy not of its making. Still, as an organization concerned about human rights, it ought to acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people during World War I, and criticize Turkish attempts to repress the memory of this historical reality.

Some members of Watertown's Armenian-American community want the league, a predominantly Jewish group that sponsors a No Place for Hate campaign in that neighborhood, to condemn the genocide or end its sponsorship of the campaign. Armenian-Americans are seeking recognition of the genocide in Congress, and the ADL would seem like a natural ally. Its No Place for Hate program has been successful nationally at improving relations across ethnic, racial, and religious lines.

Armenian-Americans are frustrated that Turkey has failed to acknowledge the 1915-1916 genocide orchestrated by leaders of the Ottoman Empire, predecessor to modern Turkey. "An end must be put to their existence," wrote Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman interior minister, in 1915. In his 1918 memoir, Henry Morgenthau, the US ambassador, wrote that "The whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this." Perhaps 1.5 million people died.

The slaughter of the Armenians would be followed a generation later by the Holocaust, a crime against humanity with a greater death toll. There is some evidence that Hitler saw the genocide as a precedent for his atrocities. This is disputed by those who falsely dismiss the Armenian slaughter as exaggerated. In any case, the historical record needs to be affirmed.

The matter is complicated by ADL support for Israel, which needs to keep on good terms with Turkey, one of its few friends in the Islamic world. But the ADL is not an arm of Israel, and whatever it does will not affect Turkish foreign policy.

Moreover, Turkey's genocide denial is being used as one of the pretexts to keep it out of the European Union. It would be in Turkey's interest to acknowledge the crime, apologize, and get this controversy out of the way.

"Facing History and Ourselves," the nonprofit educational organization, pioneered study of the Holocaust in the public schools 30 years ago. Its curriculum includes sections on the mistreatment of Chinese immigrants in the United States, the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, and -- with particular emphasis -- the Armenian genocide. An outline of this section concludes: "Following the First World War, an absence of political and moral will dashed any hopes for justice."

The bloodshed in the Darfur region of Sudan is the first test of whether genocide can be stopped in this century. Failure to acknowledge past atrocities will encourage would-be perpetrators to believe they can get away with them, just as the Ottoman Empire did.

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