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      Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide

Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide   8/12/2005

Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide In Newly-Found 1949 CBS Interview
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

We are so absorbed in the fast pace of day to day events that we often
overlook the fact that many of today’s issues have their roots in important
developments that predate our short-term memories.

For example, as we speak about the Armenian Genocide of 1915, not everyone
realizes that “genocide” is a word that was not coined until 1943 by Raphael
Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist. Turkish propagandists know this well. They
point out that what happened to the Armenians could be a massacre or a
tragedy, but not genocide, simply because the term genocide did not exist
back in 1915. This argument is as ridiculous as saying that Cain could not
have murdered Abel because the word murder was not yet invented at that

Mr. Lemkin had repeatedly mentioned in his writings that as a young man he
was so troubled by the Armenian mass murders and the then on-going Holocaust
that he coined the word genocide and worked tirelessly until the United
Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime
of Genocide, on Dec. 9, 1948.

A recently discovered half-hour CBS program, first broadcast in 1949,
includes a rare TV interview with Lemkin on the UN Convention and the
Armenian Genocide. A short segment of that interview was shown last month by
documentary filmmaker Andrew Goldberg during a ceremony held in New York
City, awarding Peter Balakian the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize for his book,
“The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response.”

We were able to obtain a copy of that entire TV program which was moderated
by CBS’s Quincy Howe. He begins the show with a recap of various genocides
throughout history. Here is the transcript of his narration on the Armenian
Genocide as well as the interview with Lemkin:

“Modern man too -- man in the last 100 years -- has been guilty of this
crime of group murder. Choosing so-called modern reasons and using modern
methods, men of our own time have persecuted and destroyed other men,
singling them out because of the group to which they belonged. We all
remember some of these instances. Do you also think of them as cases of

Over scenes of Ottoman Turkish soldiers on horseback chasing down and
killing unarmed Armenian men, women and children, the moderator continues:

“Yes, these folks are not playing games. They are running for their lives.
Men on horseback. It doesn’t matter much who they are. Let’s say they are
modern cavalry out on orders of their commanders. They are huntsmen out on
the chase. Only, the prey doesn’t happen to be a fox. The prey is people.
These [showing film footage of a group of Armenians] were the victims. They
are Armenians and the place is in Asia Minor. But that doesn’t matter
either. They could be anyone, anywhere. Of course, it mattered to them.
Nearly 2 million of them were driven from their homes to perish in the
desert or die before they got there. Why? Well, the reason given was that
they were friendly to the enemy of their rulers; that they were a fifth
column; that they were spies. Every one of the 2 million of them….”

Raphael Lemkin then explains to the moderator how his interest in genocide
began: “I became interested in genocide because it happened to the
Armenians; and after[wards] the Armenians got a very rough deal at the
Versailles Conference because their criminals were guilty of genocide and
were not punished. You know that they [the Ottoman Turks] were organized in
a terroristic organization which took justice into its own hands. The trial
of Talaat Pasha in 1921 in Berlin is very instructive. A man [Soghomon
Tehlirian], whose mother was killed in the genocide, killed Talaat Pasha.
And he told the court that he did it because his mother came in his sleep
... many times. Here, …the murder of your mother, you would do something
about it! So he committed a crime. So, you see, as a lawyer, I thought that
a crime should not be punished by the victims, but should be punished by a
court, by a national law.”

Cong. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), who was also interviewed in that same CBS
program, added: “Pres. Wilson, a great democratic leader, tried to save the
Armenian people from genocide during the First World War and shortly

This newly discovered tape has great historical value. It defines the
Armenian Genocide as a genocide just a few weeks after the adoption of the
UN convention on genocide and shows Raphael Lemkin explaining how he was
influenced by the tragic events that befell the Armenians in 1915. Anyone
seeing this interview with Lemkin and the accompanying film footage would
have no doubt that genocide is the most appropriate term to describe the
mass murder of Armenians.


© 2010 - La Lettre de l'ADL
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