All past presidents of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, in a letter on December 9, challenged Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent apology for addressing Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide and its retraction of a 2008 article that depicted Professor Guenter Lewy as a Genocide denier on the Turkish government payroll.
The October 2010 retraction and apology by the SPLC leaves one to believe that the human rights group was distancing itself from its stated position of recognizing the Genocide.
Below is the text of the IAGS past presidents’ letter:
Dear Southern Poverty Law Center:
We write with serious ethical concern about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s retraction and apology in its Intelligence Report (fall 2010) for its depiction of Professor Guenter Lewy in its article “State of Denial” (summer 2008), concerning the Turkish government’s denial policy on the Armenian genocide.
The SPLC apologized to Professor Lewy in the wake of a suit, filed by The Turkish American Legal Defense Fund, in which Lewy denied that he was in the pay of the Turkish government. An apology for that statement in an otherwise excellent piece of journalism may be justified. Yet, the retraction and apology goes on to make statements that appear to be part of a legal deal and are congruent with the Turkish government’s tactics of denying the Armenian genocide in order to falsify history for the purpose of its nationalist agenda.
Despite Professor Lewy’s claims that the historical records do not support “a premeditated plan,” the archival documents show unambiguously that the Ottoman Turkish government planned and organized the genocide of the Armenians. In addition:
1. In claiming there are two sides to the ethical reality of this history, the retraction/apology ignores the definitive assessments of Raphael Lemkin, who created the concept of genocide as a crime in international law in large part on the basis of the intended group killing of the Armenians by the Turkish government in 1915.
2. The apology ignores the unanimous consensus of the International Association of Genocide Scholars that the Armenian case constitutes genocide in accord with all of the acts and intentions stipulated in the UN Genocide Convention. The IAGS has issued several open letters about the definitive conclusions concerning the genocidal facts of this history.
3. The apology also ignores the entire corpus of decades of scholarship on the Armenian genocide.
Furthermore, the SPLC’s retraction and apology presents a misleading view of Professor Lewy’s work on this subject. Professor Taner Akçam, the leading Turkish historian on the Armenian Genocide, has written a 28-page analysis of Lewy’s book in Genocide Studies and Prevention (vol. 3, no. 1, April 2008). In summary, Akcam notes: Lewy has ignored all the primary sources, including Turkish archival ones, showing the government planning of the genocide; he has no adequate understanding of the concept of genocide; he has invented a narrative without adequate analysis and archival documentation.
In that sense it can be said that Professor Lewy has lent his academic training to the continued denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey, and through this apology, the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose mission statement claims the organization is “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry” unfortunately lends support to this unscholarly and unethical perspective.
The signers are all of the past presidents of the International Association of Genocide Scholars:
- Dr. Joyce Apsel, Global/Liberal Studies Program, New York University
- Frank Chalk, Professor Of History And Director of the Montreal Institute For Genocide And Human Rights Studies, Concordia University
- Israel W. Charny, Retired Professor Of Psychology And Family Therapy,Tel Aviv University And Hebrew University Of Jerusalem, And Executive Director, Institute On The Holocaust And Genocide, Jerusalem
- Helen Fein, Board Chair, Institute For The Study Of Genocide; Associate, Belfer Center, Kennedy School Of Government, Harvard University
- Robert Melson, Professor Emeritus Of Political Science, Purdue University
- Roger W. Smith, Professor Emeritus Of Government, College Of William And Mary In Virginia
- Gregory Stanton, Research Professor In Genocide Studies And Prevention, Institute For Conflict Analysis And Resolution, George Mason University And President, Genocide Watch
In response to the recent challenge, SPLC president Richard Cohen told the IAGS past presidents Tuesday that “Like you, we believe that the weight of scholarly opinion supports the conclusion that the murder of Armenians during World War I should be characterized as a genocide. We said as much in the article we published in 2008, and nothing in our retraction changes our position.”
“We hope that others do not confuse our retraction and apology to Professor Lewy as an endorsement of his view on the genocide question,” concluded Cohen in his response.
However, this position would not have been articulated had it not been challenges by the past presidents and it does not appear on SPLC Web site, where the retraction is prominently displayed above the 2008 article.
“Dr. Cohen’s response to the IAGS past presidents is certainly a step in the right direction,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “In order to clear up any remaining misconceptions – particularly in light of the aggressive efforts by denial groups to misrepresent its meaning to support their lies about the Armenian Genocide – we would hope that the SPLC would display its recent clarification at least as prominently as its initial retraction. In so doing, the SPLC, consistent with its high values and proud tradition, would clearly affirm that its retraction, made under threat of legal action, does not in any way represent an endorsement of Lewy’s scholarship or lend any credence to Turkey’s hateful campaign of genocide denial.”