By David Boyajian
Recent years have witnessed an increasing number of writers who blatantly favor Turkey and/or Azerbaijan and are hostile to Armenians. Some enlistees in this pro-Turkic brigade include Justin Amler, Richard Falk, Alexander Murinson, and Brenda Schaffer.
Another such enlistee is American journalist Stephen A. Kinzer.
Throughout his career, Kinzer has not only diminished the factuality of the Armenian genocide committed by Turkey from 1915-23 but also misrepresented the Armenian people and their homeland.
He spoke at the Watertown, Massachusetts Library on February 21, 2017. His presentation, titled “U.S. Foreign Policy: Intervention or Restraint? What can we expect from President Trump?”, focused on his new book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.
His previous books include Crescent & Star: Turkey between Two Worlds (2001), Reset Middle East: Old Friends and New Allies: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and Iran (2010), and A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It (2008) about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Kinzer himself is descended from Dutch Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment and the Cambridge-based Massachusetts Peace Action sponsored his talk.
I attended and questioned him. More on that later.
Once termed “Turkey’s Goodwill Ambassador to the US,” he’s a Turkophile. Kemal Ataturk, says Kinzer, would have made a great United Nations leader today. At times Kinzer has, as its friend, criticized Turkey.
He has conceded that in the 1915 period — though not in the 1919-23 Ataturk period — Turkey committed massacres and atrocities against Armenians. He thinks Turkey should acknowledge these. However, he repeatedly explains away the murders, never recognizes them as ‘genocide,’ doesn’t cite the voluminous evidence for that genocide, and often misrepresents Armenians and Armenia. He has visited the latter and eastern Turkey/Western Armenia.
Kinzer has written many thousands of words about 1915, Armenians, and Turkey. We have space to expose only a fraction of his countless distortions.
Diminishing the Genocide
“There are troublesome questions,” Kinzer has written, “about the fate of Ottoman Armenians” in 1915. These events are, in his words, “debatable,” “hotly debated,” and “still unclear.”
Kinzer never acknowledges that the vast majority of non-Armenian specialist historians long ago concluded that Turkey committed genocide.
He writes about an “orgy of ethnic violence” in 1915. Translation: Armenians were about as guilty as Turks.
Moreover, the “Ottoman atrocity” must be placed “in the context of other 20th massacres.” Kinzer probably makes meaningless assertions like that to obfuscate the real issues.
Ottoman authorities “ordered the expulsion of Armenians from eastern Anatolia.” Kinzer doesn’t mention that central and western “Anatolia” and Istanbul were also the sites of Armenian “expulsions” and mass murders.
Kinzer considers 1915 “highly emotional for Turks and Armenians.” Translation: The victimizer nation’s anger is as appropriate as that of its victims.
The US House is “foolish,” wrote Kinzer in 2010, to consider an Armenian genocide resolution. It would “harm US-Turkey ties.” He won’t admit that three successful House resolutions (1975/84/96) on the Armenian genocide haven’t harmed US interests.
Congress “has neither the capacity nor moral authority” to judge 1915. “Among all killers of the 20th century,” the resolution “[singles out] Turks for censure.” Congress must first “investigate other modern slaughters — [such as] the one perpetrated by the British in Kenya during the 1950s?”
Yet, one or both houses of Congress have officially recognized the ‘genocides’ in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda, Ukraine, the present Christian ones in Syria and Iraq, and have approved considerable Holocaust legislation. Indeed, the “Uncompensated [Holocaust] Survivors Today Act” was just recently introduced in Congress.
I can find no evidence that Kinzer opposed any of that legislation.
Kinzer says no president has ever termed the Armenian episode “genocide.” Actually, President Reagan did so in 1981 in Proclamation 4838.
Countless principled Jews have been in the forefront of those who have researched 1915 and acknowledged the Armenian genocide. Sadly, though, some Jews and Jewish organizations — notably the ADL, AJC, AIPAC, and JINSA – have a self-inflicted syndrome I call Holocaust Hypocrisy.
Kinzer dedicated his book Reset to his Jewish grandparents, Abraham Ricardo and Jeanette De Jongh Ricardo, who died in Nazi Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
Naturally, Kinzer approves of the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. It “documents an effort to destroy an entire people … the story it presents is beyond dispute.” He disapproves, however, of the proposed Armenian Genocide Museum in DC because “the [Armenian] events of 1915 are still a matter of intense debate.”
The title of Kinzer’s 1998 article, “Armenia Never Forgets, Maybe it Should,” perfectly expresses his belief that Armenians should put aside their past, especially their genocide. Yet the Armenian genocide and Holocaust are separated by no more than 18 years.
Kinzer, you see, allows himself to dredge up the past — German concentration camps, the Holocaust, Kenya, Rwanda, America’s sins going back to the 19th century, and more. Armenians, on the other hand, should simply “forget” and patch things up with Turkey. You decide if that’s Holocaust Hypocrisy.
Employing a well-known Turkish tactic, Kinzer also attempts to split Armenia from the Armenian diaspora. In so doing, he contradicts himself.
Armenia vs. Diasporans
In Crescent and Star, Kinzer says Armenia’s citizens “want to rebuild their country’s relationship with Turkey and … look toward a better future for both peoples.”
In contrast, the genocide acknowledgment campaign “is waged not from Armenia itself but from Armenian communities abroad.” Diasporan Armenians are “anti-Turkish”, and some are “more nationalistic than most Armenians in Armenia.” They are motivated by “a long-delayed revenge” for the genocide, he claims.
His readers wrongly conclude that Diasporans are fanatics while Armenia is relatively non-nationalistic and cares little about the genocide.
Elsewhere, though, Kinzer declares that it’s Armenia which clings to “ethnocentric nationalism.” And “national thinking is the dominant and almost all-inclusive ideology” there.
Armenia, he claims, views the world through the “prism” of the genocide even though Kinzer had alleged that it was Diasporans who were genocide-obsessed.
“1915 has cut into the Armenian psyche” and “plays an emotional role” in keeping Armenia and Turkey “apart.” Yet Kinzer previously asserted that Armenia was eager to rebuild its “relationship with Turkey.”
Nationalism in Armenia, contends Kinzer, is quite “out of fashion” in the modern world. He doesn’t tell his readers that every one of Armenia’s neighbors — Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia, and Turkey (Kinzer’s favorite) — is also highly nationalistic.
As you’d expect, Kinzer is also pro-Azerbaijani while giving short shrift to Armenian Artsakh/Karabagh.
In “Armenians, Bitter over Enclave, Let the Oil Boom Pass By” (NY Times, Dec. 6, 1998), Kinzer says — sneeringly, in my opinion — that Armenians could have prospered had they simply agreed to Baku’s proposal of an oil or gas ‘peace pipeline’ and placed Artsakh/Karabagh back under Azerbaijan, supposedly as an “autonomous” region.
Kinzer does acknowledge that Armenians would never trade Artsakh for oil. But there is scant evidence that Baku and Ankara would ever have allowed their oil and gas pipelines to cross Armenia. Even had they been so inclined, they would probably have demanded a raft of concessions that Armenia could never agree to.
In other of Kinzer’s writings that continually tout Azerbaijan, I can find only a few short references to Azerbaijan as an autocracy whereas its repression of Artsakh goes unmentioned.
I asked Kinzer two questions after his Watertown presentation.
1. Some Jewish American lobbying organizations — ADL, AJC, AIPAC, and JINSA — and Israel have long colluded with Turkey to defeat Congressional resolutions on the Armenian genocide yet have successfully pushed Congress to enact Holocaust legislation. Do you consider this hypocritical?
Appearing uncomfortable, Kinzer avoided the question. What Jewish groups do, he replied, is not his “business.” Yet his writings have criticized “pro-Israel lobbies” and AIPAC. Maybe Kinzer approves of the Jewish lobby’s Holocaust Hypocrisy but hesitated to admit it publicly?
2. Your writings express doubt about the Armenian genocide though it’s been widely recognized by scholars, countries, and more. You also believe Congress shouldn’t recognize that genocide. Do you still feel that way?
Kinzer replied that he recognizes the Armenian genocide. That’s inconsistent with his writings but didn’t totally surprise me. His audience was, after all, comprised of politically progressive activists in a town with a sizeable Armenian community. Watertown had also thrown out the ADL in 2007 because it wouldn’t acknowledge the Armenian genocide and opposed its recognition by Congress. In any case, Kinzer’s acknowledgement is now a matter of public record. Kinzer added that he still opposes Armenian genocide resolutions.
The lesson here is that Armenians must continually fight to ensure that their genocide and other issues are treated fairly and factually by journalists and media. And Armenians shouldn’t shy away from confronting those who assault their rights and history.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Massachusetts. Many of his articles are archived at www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/David_Boyajian.