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Let History Be Told

A PBS documentary on the Armenian genocide sparks controversy and rallies the Armenian community

‘Are you aware that if you men- tion the Armenian genocide in Turkey you can be arrested immediately?” asked Ralph Enokian. Enokian is one of the many members of the local Armenian community who have been fighting to raise awareness of the massacres of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, specifically the systematic genocide that began in 1915 (the killings actually started during the 1890s). Armenian groups have been pushing for years to have the United States as well as Turkey officially recognize the genocide of more than a million Armenians. He noted that their struggle has not been an easy one, because they are fighting against a country that not only refuses to atone for its past deeds but that is actively trying to suppress the history of the genocide.

Every year on April 24, Armenian groups around the world have commemorated the anniversary of the 1915 genocide. Locally, the Capital District Armenian Genocide Committee has held many commemoration events in Troy and the region every year. This year, thanks to controversy over a forthcoming PBS documentary, they have gotten a head start.

In February, PBS announced that a documentary on the topic by Andrew Goldberg will air on April 17. In conjunction with the planned broadcast, the network also commissioned Oregon Public Broadcasting to put together and tape a panel discussion featuring scholars who deny the genocide ever took place. But, as Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian, who is an Armenian-American, remarked, “It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to have that discussion after what is supposed to be a documentary. Would you have skinheads or a Nazi association speak after a showing of Schindler’s List?” Apparently many others agreed, as a national campaign was organized to urge PBS to cancel the panel discussion. Rather than scrap the discussion altogether, PBS deferred the decision to its local affiliates.

Enokian says it astonishes him that anyone could deny the Armenian genocide, especially, he said, “if you know Raphael Lemkin’s definition of what genocide is and are aware of the fact that he undertook that whole issue after he had seen what the Ottoman Turks had done to the Armenians.” Lemkin is known for coining the word genocide after the events of World War II. However, Lemkin formed his idea of genocide after he had witnessed the systematic slaughter of Armenians beginning in 1915.

Locally, a letter-writing campaign was organized to sway WMHT, the local PBS affiliate, not to broadcast the panel discussion. Rafi Topalian of the Capital District Armenian Genocide Committee estimated that hundreds of letters were sent. WMHT did pull the panel discussion, but Deborah Onslow, WMHT president and general manager, insisted that it was not due to pressure from Armenian groups. She claimed that the station probably received 30 communications about the panel discussion and said that 35 is generally the norm for any show. Onslow insisted her decision was based on the quality of the panel discussion.

“After watching the panel discussion I came away thinking it is poorly produced, that the program left me knowing nothing more than I knew after the documentary,” said Onslow. “Neither side was terribly persuasive. Frankly, I think the producers of the panel discussion did a poor job of picking the participants. If they had been more articulate and persuasive I would have aired the program.”

There is hope throughout the Armenian community that the PBS documentary will be able to communicate the suffering of their people, to make an impact on the consciences of the American people in the same the way it has affected the community members’ own lives. As Tutunjian put it, “To have a million and half people of your nationality, of your race, murdered—people who could have been making an impact in local governments and national levels of government and education—the impact could have been tenfold had the genocide not occurred.”

Tutunjian added, “In 1997, I went to Armenia in a young professional’s tour and I saw the monument to the genocide. That occasion was one of the most moving occasions of my life.”

Along with the national airing of Goldberg’s The Armenian Genocide, there is other significant movement toward recognizing the Armenian genocide. Starting April 24, the popular metal band System of a Down will hold a three-day rally in Washington at which they will demand that House Speaker Dennis Hastert move to officially recognize the genocide. They will also screen a documentary called Screamers, about their own struggle for genocide recognition. System of a Down, who have sold millions of records and top the charts nationally, have brought the issue to the forefront with their music.

Said Tutunjian about the quest for national recognition of the genocide: “Every year we hope there is a chance and hope to see that outcome. McNulty and Sweeney support it; John Sweeney being of Armenian descent himself is an added bonus. Pataki observes it and issues a commemoration. Little by little we are making inroads. People are realizing that this did happen, and like other atrocities such as 9/11, this should never be forgotten.”

Enokian says he is encouraged by all the national activity surrounding the cause, but he is not sure if he will live to see its success. “I’m not sure it is going to happen in my lifetime, but I’m going to do my best that people who haven’t heard about it learn something about it. I owe it to all my aunts and uncles and all the people who were killed. I think of my parents. My generation is a generation without grandparents, and my mother’s generation is a generation of orphans.”

—David King

What a Week

Buy Celebrity

Former boxing heavyweight champion of the world Mohammad Ali is now almost completely out of the business of Mohammad Ali. Ali sold 80 percent of marketing rights to his name to a company called CKX, for $50 million. Ali still owns 20 percent of the merchandising rights to his name and plans to stay somewhat involved in different marketing aspects. CKX also owns marketing rights to American Idol and Elvis Presley.

Boo Suppresant

When your approval ratings are hovering around 30-something percent, how do you make a televised public appearance without being booed out of the building? Well, when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at a Cincinnati Reds game earlier this month, he was accompanied by a number of injured servicemen. Bush received a warm welcome from the Republican-leaning town. However, when Vice President Dick Cheney threw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game earlier this week, the three injured soldiers he brought with him did not distract the crowd. Cheney threw the pitch as jeers rained down from the bleachers.

This is Gonna Hersh

Seymour Hersh is at it again, breaking stories that others couldn’t or wouldn’t break and saying things that make us all cringe. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Hersh details the Bush administration’s intentions to take military action against Iran. Hersh’s report has sent the higher-ups in the Bush administration into denial mode, with Rumsfeld calling the report “wild speculation.” Hersh’s report claims that the administration has been discussing the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iranian nuclear targets. He goes on to claim that George Bush has begun to refer to Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a “potential Hitler.” According to one of Hersh’s anonymous sources, the president believes he has to do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

If We Do Say So Ourselves

Metroland writers and designers honored at annual New York Press Association conference

Metroland came away from the New York Press Association’s 2005 Better Newspaper competition with nine awards, the most the paper has ever won, and finished fifth in overall contest points for papers that are not part of chains.

Former staff writer Rick Marshall took home the coveted Writer of the Year designation. “Rick’s writing pulled me in and made me care about his subjects and topics,” said the judges. Staff writer David King was designated second-place Rookie of the Year for what the judges described as his “skillful writing” and “brilliant word pictures of interesting people doing every-day things.” Both of these awards did not have size divisions.

In the paper’s size division (the largest), Metroland writers also got first-place awards for Coverage of Agriculture (for “Left Behind” by David King), Coverage of Education (for stories by Tom Hilliard, Shawn Stone, and Rick Marshall), and Coverage of the Environment (for stories by Miriam Axel-Lute and Darryl McGrath). Judges called Axel-Lute’s “A Falls, A River, A Power Plant,” the best story in the environmental category overall.

Metroland’s designers and photographers were honored with a second-place award for overall design excellence for a clean layout, high-impact covers, and high-quality photos.

The paper also received a second-place award for Coverage of Religion (for Shawn Stone’s story “Survival of the Fittest Beliefs” and Miriam Axel-Lute’s story “Countercultural Christians”), and a third place award for Coverage of Business, Financial and Economic News (for stories by Rick Marshall, Miriam Axel-Lute, John Rodat, and Erik Hage).

Last but not least, the paper received third place in the comprehensive Past President’s Award for General Excellence.

Time to Remember: two young Armenian-Americans on the steps of the capitol during a past Commemoration.





PHOTO:John Whipple



“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.


Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.

Loose Ends

Two local self-published books [“DIY Books,” Nov. 17, 2005], Saving Troy and The Long Stair, have defied conventional wisdom by selling enough to enter second print runs. . . . Infuriating Mayor Gerald Jennings, the New York State Legislature took out $322 million in state aid that Gov. Pataki had promised the city of Albany through 2038 from a local government aid bill, the Times Union reported Tuesday (March 28). Much of that money was to support the hotel portion of Albany’s convention center plan [“Convention Wisdom,” March 2]. The Legislature is offering one year of extra aid, and legislators disagreed with Jennings’ assessment that this move would kill the convention center project. . . . Publishing house Crown Books has donated $100 to the Albany Public Library in memory of the late author Rodney Whitaker, aka Trevanian [“Assumed Identity,” May 26, 2005], confirming his identity. A library spokesman told the Times Union they were “delighted” with the gift

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