WATERTOWN–Mass.–Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Armenian Caucus–and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) released separate letters Wednesday expressing concern about the National Park Service’s controversial decision to reject a series of photos documenting the Armenian Genocide from inclusion in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum because of their "gruesome and gory" nature.
Describing the Park Service’s decision as an act of "apparent censorship," Rep. Pallone said: "Like millions of other immigran’s–Armenia’s came to America with the few possessions they could carry and the dream of making a better life for their children in the New World. The people of Armenian descent–however–came to these shores because their lives literally depended upon escaping from their homeland in what is present-day Turkey. Those immigran’s–and their children and grandchildren–who have contributed greatly to this country–remain very grateful to the promise represented by Ellis Island. It would be a most unfortunate turn of events if that same Ellis Island were now to be responsible for erasing–concealing or minimizing the true reason that Armenia’s were forced to leave their native lands."
Rep. Kennedy stressed the "particular importance of the Armenian Genocide that occurred early in this century–yet has been repeatedly denied by the Turkish government." He noted that the photos in question "depict the violence and torture of this time. It is important for the truth about this Genocide to be known–and an exhibit at the Museum would provide such an opportunity."
"We share the deeply held concerns of Congressman Pallone and Kennedy regarding the National Park Service’s decision to censor photographs documenting the Armenian Genocide," said an Armenian National Committee-Eastern US spokesperson. "Censorship–whether uninformed or as the result of pressure from the State Department and the Turkish government–is never acceptable. We must learn from the past if we are to avoid repeating its tragedies."
Last week–similar concerns were expressed by Peter Vallone–Speaker of the New York City Council–in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Speaker Vallone urged officials of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum to display "the complete exhibit pertaining to the Armenian massacre–including the photographs and any text that was censored. I have personally viewed these photographs in their entirety and believe that they are appropriate for public display."
News of the Park Service’s decision first broke in the September 11 edition of The New York Times. In a letter to editor in response to this article–Colgate University Professor Peter Balakian wrote–"That the Ellis Island Immigration Museum would want to take down photographs of the Armenian Genocide because they are ‘too gory’ and ask the curator to excise text like ‘in 1915 a well-planned genocide began’ is compromising the essential moral issues of the century’s first genocide: the extermination of the Armenia’s by the Turkish Government in 1915."
The Armenian Genocide exhibit was designed by the Margaret Tellalian Kyrkostas–Director of the Anthropology Museum of the People New York–co-founded by Margaret Mead and affiliated with Queens College of the City University of New York.