Armenians Should Counter
Pro-Turkish Guest Editorials
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Despite the impressive advances registered by Armenian-Americans in recent
years in the field of political activism, one area that remains almost
completely overlooked is the use of newspapers in publicizing their cause to
the American public. Political messages could be disseminated through a
newspaper's news items, editorials, op-ed columns (commentaries or guest
editorials), letters to the editor, and advertising.
Given the fact that several pro-Turkish guest editorials have appeared in
recent weeks in major American newspapers, I will present here the
importance of countering these columns by similar efforts on the Armenian
Naturally, newspapers prefer to publish the opinions of prominent
individuals on the hottest issues of the day. Individuals who are not well
known, regardless of how brilliant their insights may be, have a much harder
time finding a willing publisher.
Public relations firms in this country are paid large sums to place such
op-eds in newspapers. These firms sometimes have their own experts write a
column, find a prominent person to sign it, and then, using their contacts
in the press, have the column published in a major newspaper. I won't be
surprised if one or more of the P.R. firms hired by the Turkish government
had a hand in the recent placement of op-eds in newspapers. The
Armenian-American community, on the other hand, has rarely availed itself of
the professional services of a P.R. company. This is one of the reasons why
most of the op-ed columns appearing in American newspapers parrot Turkish
Last month, two specific op-eds drew the ire of the Armenian-American
community, not only because they were replete with pro-Turkish propaganda,
but also because they contained distortions and lies about the Armenian
Genocide. The first one, written by Seyla Benhabib, a professor of political
science and philosophy at Yale University, appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of
The New York Times. The second, written by Norman Stone, a professor of
international relations at Ankara's Bilkent University, was published in the
Nov. 24 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Both pieces were written by
relatively unknown authors who would normally have very little chance of
seeing their opinions published in such distinguished publications without
any outside assistance. Is it a mere coincidence that both articles have
similar headlines? The first is titled, "In Turkey, a History Lesson in
Peace," while the second is titled, "In Turkey, With Turkey."
Benhabib, a native of Istanbul, describes in lavish terms the friendship
between Turks and Jews in Istanbul going back to 1492 when her ancestors
settled in that city fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. She conveniently
ignores the various episodes of discrimination that Jews had to endure in
the Ottoman Empire and subsequently in Turkey during the past 500 years.
Amazingly, she even glosses over the Turkish government's mass rounding up
of Jews and other minorities during World War II, while acknowledging,
"Turkey sent Jewish men, including my father and uncles, to camps in the
interior...." She minimizes this massive violation of human rights by
describing these concentration camps as "only labor camps."
Having taken such liberties with the history of her own people and family,
it is no wonder that she feels much more comfortable in completely
distorting the history of others. Benhabib writes: "To be sure, some of
Turkey's other minorities, the Greeks, Armenians and Kurds...have fared less
well." She is shamelessly describing their deportations, massacres and
genocide as having "fared less well." One does not know whom to blame more -
Seyla Benhabib for writing such garbage or The New York Times for accepting
to print her lies?
The op-ed column written by Prof. Norman Stone for the Wall Street Journal
is even worse. He not only claims that there is "no overt anti-Semitism in
Turkey nor was there any in the former Ottoman Empire," but asserts that
"when the Armenian Diaspora, quite counterproductively, in my opinion, tries
to blame today's Turks for massacres backing 1915, the Israeli Turks come to
Turkey's defense, saying, entirely accurately, that what happened then was
the outcome of a civil war."
Adding insult to injury, Stone specifically mentions that "the only problem"
that the Jews have "is that the main brothel of Istanbul...is too close to
one of the synagogues. There are regular complaints, but the owner, a
formidable Armenian woman, defies them, saying she pays more taxes than
anyone else in the country." Contrary to Prof. Stone's false assertions, the
Armenian owner is not defying anyone, since she passed away several years
ago. What Prof. Stone has done in his column is far more immoral than
anything done by the woman who owned a legal brothel under Turkish laws.
Unless Armenian-Americans hire P.R. firms to place their own op-eds in major
American newspapers, they will have a hard time countering such false and