Letter to The Associated Press, August 24, 1999

American Hellenic Media Project
P.O. Box 1150
New York, N.Y. 10028-0008

August 24, 1999

Sally Jacobsen
International Editor
Associated Press

Dear Ms. Jacobsen:

I wish to bring to your attention an inaccurate and highly inappropriate assertion contained in your August 10th report, "Eclipse Chasers Gather in Turkey", by AP Writer Harmonie Toros. Reporting from the village of Harput in Turkey, Toros asserts that "Armenians say the village was cleared out by Turkish authorities in 1915 during the alleged genocide of Armenians here" (emphasis added).

In reaction to ongoing attempts by the Turkish government and its apologists here to deny the Armenian Genocide, over a hundred prominent American scholars, writers and notable thinkers recently came together to sponsor a petition affirming that the systematic extermination of Asia Minor's ancient Armenian population by the Turkish state is not only one of our century's imponderable evils but a historical fact.

The petition, which was posted in major U.S. newspapers, reminded readers that the Armenian Genocide was the most dramatic human rights issue of its time and was reported regularly in newspapers across the United States. It has been abundantly documented by Ottoman court-martial records, by hundreds of thousands of documents in the archives of the United States and other nations around the world, by eyewitness reports of missionaries and diplomats, by the testimony of survivors, and by eight decades of historical scholarship. The United Nations, the European Parliament, the Association of Genocide Scholars, the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide (Jerusalem), and the Institute for the Study of Genocide (New York) have unequivocally reaffirmed that the extermination of the Armenians by the Turkish government was a genocide.

When Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide in 1944, he cited the 1915 annihilation of the Armenians as a seminal example of this, humanity's most inhuman act. When news organizations of AP's stature lend credence to genocide denial, what is intended to be an instrument of knowledge and education becomes an instrument of what Elie Weisel has called a "double killing": denial of genocide seeks to reshape history in order to demonize the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators and is in effect the final stage of genocide.

As well-stated by Stanley Cohen, Professor of Criminology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem:

"The nearest successful example [of "collective denial"] in the modern era is the 80 years of official denial by successive Turkish governments of the 1915-17 genocide against the Armenians in which some 1.5 million people lost their lives. This denial has been sustained by deliberate propaganda, lying and coverups, forging documents, suppression of archives, and bribing scholars. The West, especially the United States, has colluded by not referring to the massacres in the United Nations, ignoring memorial ceremonies, and surrendering to Turkish pressure in NATO and other strategic arenas of cooperation."

Law and Social Inquiry, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter 1995, pp. 7-50.

One wonders whether AP's correspondents would have exercised the same sensitivity to a German government that continued to deny the Holocaust by citing to "the alleged genocide of Jews". Toros' statement is thus even more disturbing given its ethics implications concerning journalists reporting from Turkey.

In Turkey, dissidents, journalists and intellectuals are routinely imprisoned and subjected to torture for their views. The International Pen: Writers in Prison Committee Case List disclosed that Turkey had more writers in jail than any other country. In March of 1996, The New York Times cited Turkey as the country leading the world in imprisoned journalists ahead of China and Syria, and Amnesty International called Turkey "one of the world's most dangerous countries in which to pursue a career in journalism."

The case of Metin Goktepe, a young Turkish reporter who was beaten to death by police in 1996, became a rallying point for European pressure on Turkey to reform its violent censorship of journalists. Yet this March, the Committee to Protect Journalists maintained that "for the fifth consecutive year, Turkey held more journalists in prison than any other country."

Significantly, Turkey's censorship and violent repression of free speech has extended to western journalists in Turkey. Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times' Istanbul Bureau Chief, was detained and assaulted while on an assignment in southeastern Turkey by Turkish security forces.

In March of last year, an Italian journalist, Damiano Frisullo, was arrested and deported from Turkey for participating in the Kurdish spring festival of Newroz despite a resolution by the European Union Assembly stating that it was "outraged by the behaviour of the Turkish police".

American journalist Andrew Finkel, who has been a correspondent for CNN, Time magazine, and The Times of London, is currently being criminally prosecuted for "insulting the army". Finkel faces up to six years in prison for an article he wrote citing the term "occupying army" when discussing Turkey's military presence in Kurdish areas.

After badly beating a protester in May of last year, Turkish riot police and the Grey Wolves -- a neo-fascist paramilitary organization whose political arm, the Nationalist Action Party, emerged this April as the second-largest party in Turkey -- forced reporters and camera crews away from the scene of the beating, seized a Reuters journalist's notebook, and beat journalists in a side street during the incident.

This repressive and stifling environment for both Turkish and foreign journalists alike undoubtedly compromises the integrity and accuracy of reporting by correspondents stationed within Turkey. Statements by AP Writers that conform with the Turkish government's agenda of genocide denial only serve to validate the reality of this influence exerted by an authoritarian government.

That Turkey has among the most abysmal records with regard to free speech, affecting even foreign journalists reporting from Turkey, places the reliability and the integrity of reports from your correspondents stationed in Turkey in serious doubt. In addition, it compromises the integrity of free speech and the quality of journalism here in the U.S.

Your failure to correct this and many other comparable instances of disinformation contained in your reports from Turkey, and your unwillingness to institute mechanisms to ensure the integrity of these reports, in effect serves to export the Turkish state's policy of censorship, through the agency of your news syndicate, to American shores and beyond.

Very truly yours,

P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.
Executive Director

cc: John Wollman, Managing Editor

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