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Joint Effort... 05/08/2003
Joint Effort Leads to Policy Change
On Genocide at USC Daily Trojan

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Out of the countless commemorations of the 88th anniversary of the Armenian
Genocide organized by Armenian communities around the world, I would like to
single out just one episode for the sake of illustrating that Armenians can
accomplish much more when they work together in pursuit of a common cause.
A few days before April 24, the Armenian Students' Association at the
University of Southern California submitted a paid ad on the Armenian
Genocide to the student newspaper, the Daily Trojan. Mona Cravens, the
Director of Student Publications, even before looking at the text of the ad,
told the students that she had decided to reject the ad on the grounds that
it covered a "controversial subject." The submitted ad had a brief text
including the famous quote from Hitler and a photo taken by Armin T.  Wegner
of Armenian women marching during the deportations of 1915.  Needless to
say, the Armenian students were deeply offended by the rejection of the ad.
They immediately contacted their faculty advisor, Prof. Hrair Dekmejian, who
alerted several individuals on and off campus, including this writer.
Matthew J. Geragos of the prominent law firm of Geragos & Geragos
immediately sent a letter to Ms. Cravens expressing his shock and
disappointment at the decision to reject the Armenian Genocide ad. Geragos
said that her action constituted "a poor use of your office's authority and
discretion over the newspaper of a major university." Furthermore, Geragos
called the blocking of the ad "sight unseen...extraordinary,
anti-intellectual, and un-American."
Several other individuals, including Federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian,
prominent businessman and a member of the USC Board of Trustees Ed Roski,
and the Dean of the USC Law School Matt Spitzer, played important roles in
helping to resolve this issue. Within 24 hours, Patrick Dailey, the
Executive Director for Campus Center and Cultural Programs at USC,
apologized to the Armenian students saying that the Daily Trojan was wrong
to reject the Genocide ad and that the ad would be published in the
newspaper.
Unfortunately, the ad was not the only subject that had upset the USC
Armenian students. On April 22, the Daily Trojan published side-by-side,
under the rubric of "point-counterpoint," an opinion column by Yusuf
Ateskan, a Turkish student in electrical engineering, denying the Armenian
Genocide, and a column by Shant Minas, an Armenian student in mathematical
finance, reaffirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide. Some readers
wondered if the slick opinion column appearing under the name of this
Turkish electrical engineering student might in fact be the product of a
public relations firm hired by the Turkish government. Ateskan had submitted
to the Daily Trojan last year a similar article with almost identical
wording. One of the few noticeable changes was the deletion of his middle
name "Selcuk," from the signature line. This year, Ateskan's name also
appeared in an article written by Daily Trojan reporter Kevin Merickel who
covered the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on the USC campus on
April 23rd. Interestingly, Ateskan responded to Merickel questions in
writing, rather than in a direct interview.  After dozens of angry phone
calls and letters to the editor by USC Armenian students, including
complaints by Armenian Students' Associations from other universities, Blake
Hennon, the editorial director of the Daily Trojan, issued a statement
pledging never again to give editorial space to Turkish students to deny the
Armenian Genocide.
Hennon wrote: "I know the Armenian Genocide happened. I took a class on the
Holocaust in which the [Armenian] genocide was taught. I have seen footage
of A rmenians dying in the desert, led by Turkish soldiers. I have read
articles. I contacted Sharon Gillerman, the professor who taught the
Holocaust class I was in, today. I spoke to her personally. I will be
working with her and other professors to make a written policy about the
genocide so that future Opinions editors will be ready for Turkish pressure
every subsequent April. Until now, it has been precedent to allow a Turkish
rebuttal. That will change. The state of California recognizes the genocide,
the USC Student Senate recognizes it, our professors teach it and I know it
happened. The Daily Trojan will recognize the genocide and will not allow
its denial to again appear in its pages. And, hopefully, Turkey will
acknowledge the genocide the Ottoman Empire perpetrated against the Armenian
people."
Hennon, who pledged to change Daily Trojan's policy on the Armenian
Genocide, is slated to be the newspaper's Editor in Chief next Fall.
This episode clearly demonstrates what Armenians can accomplish when they
work together!
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