April 27, 2004

Historical semantics

An April 17 press release from The Armenian National Committee of New York cites an earlier news release from the International Association of Genocide Scholars to the effect that The New York Times has lifted its long-standing policy against the use of the term "Armenian Genocide".

The press release quotes a "revised guideline for journalists" as saying that "after careful study of scholarly definitions of 'genocide,' we have decided to accept the term in references to the Turks' mass destruction of Armenians in and around 1915", so that "the expression 'Armenian genocide' may be used freely and should not be qualified with phrasing like 'what Armenians call,' etc." The quote continues that "while we may of course report Turkish denials on those occasions when they are relevant, we should not couple them with the historians' findings, as if they had equal weight."

I haven't been able to find either the original or the revised NYT guidelines online, and the NYT has not discussed the matter in its own pages, as far as I can tell from the online search function.

It's amazing that this is still such a controversial issue. Here's a Reuters story, via the NYT, from December of 2003, about a similar judgment adopted by the Swiss Parliament over objections from the Swiss government and vague threats from the Turkish government:

Parliament adopted a resolution, 107 to 67, recognizing the killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in World War I as genocide, defying the Swiss federal government and angering Turkey. Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey spoke against the resolution, and a spokeswoman said the government hoped the resolution would not strain Switzerland's relations with Turkey, which is deeply concerned about the issue. Turkey reacted swiftly, saying the Swiss assembly bore responsibility for any negative consequences its decision might cause.

Here's the Armenian National Institute's web site on the events of 1915-1923. Their FAQ is a good place to start. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the subject. As the revised NYT guidelines recommend, I'm not going to cite the denials as if they had equal weight, though the Wikipedia entry gives what I believe to be a fair account of the history and status of the controversy.

A minor footnote is the role of denial of the Armenian genocide in the history of spam, as discussed in this Wikipedia entry on Serdar Argic.

[via Blind Höna]

[Update: Gary Bass discusses this in the Talk of the Town section of the May 3 New Yorker.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 27, 2004 08:51 AM