[Marxism] Armenian genocide scholarship controversy
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 4 07:04:11 MDT 2009
Going After a Scholar's Critic
May 4, 2009
Guenter Lewy, a professor emeritus of political science at the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is a scholar whose work has been
praised by Turkey’s government. When the embassy of Turkey in Washington
was upset over a PBS documentary on the Armenian genocide during World
War I, the ambassador's statement on the program noted the work of
"respected scholar Guenter Lewy, whose latest book The Armenian
Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide documents the
incomplete historic record and excessive politicization associated with
Lewy does not believe that the slaughter of Armenians during World War I
was a genocide – a position that puts him outside the consensus of
scholars of genocide. Lewy’s 2005 book on the subject argues that while
there were indeed many tragic deaths, there was no attempt by those in
power to commit genocide, and that war was the primary cause of the
deaths. In an interview two years ago, Lewy said that the book -- which
was criticized by some scholars of genocide -- had been rejected by 11
publishers, including 4 university presses, before the University of
Utah Press published it.
Among those who joined the attacks on the book and Lewy was the Southern
Poverty Law Center, a group known for its studies of hate groups -- a
focus that has led the center to criticize Holocaust deniers and those
who deny the attacks or bias experienced by members of various groups.
Lewy featured prominently in an article published by the center last
year, “State of Denial."
Now Lewy -- with backing from the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund --
is seeking millions in damages from the center in a lawsuit for defamation.
The lawsuit asserts a set of facts about what happened to the Armenians
that differ from what many historians say. Generally, the suit
characterizes the question of an Armenian genocide as open to question
"Since the conclusion of World War I and the disintegration of the
Ottoman Empire, an historical and legal controversy has raged over
whether, in the context of war and an undeniable Armenian rebellion
against the Ottoman government in favor of its enemies, the deaths of a
large number of Ottoman Armenians as a result of combat, disease,
starvation, exposure, and massacre constituted the crime of genocide,"
the suit says.
"At present, those who dispute that the genocide label is apt are
characteristically maligned by those who favor the genocide thesis as
indistinguishable from 'Holocaust deniers' who are either bigoted
against Armenians or Christians or are on the Turkish government
payroll. Little solace can be derived from the fact such current
intimidations mark an improvement from earlier decades. Then, those who
defended the contra-genocide thesis could expect physical assaults or
even assassination attempts."
Some scholars fear that the suit is part of a campaign to silence those
who criticize scholarship that Turkey favors. In recent months, the
Turkish American group has sent letters to the presidents of Hampshire
College and McGill University on campus disputes involving the Armenian
genocide, suggested a willingness to become involved with disputes large
and small concerning the way the Armenian genocide is discussed.
Simon Payaslian, who holds an endowed chair in Armenian history and
literature at Boston University, said he was not familiar with the
lawsuit or its specific claims. But he sees it as part of a pattern. “I
think the pro-Turkish scholars have launched a new wave of denialist
Related issues of academic freedom and academic integrity are at play,
Payaslian said. Part of academic freedom should be the right of those
who disagree with scholars to question their work. Payaslian said he
strongly disagrees with Lewy’s book and sees its theories about the
genocide as being wrong, and deserving of strong scholarly scrutiny. He
said that he fears that pro-Turkish groups “are trying to suffocate any
kind of criticisms that these nationalists think is objectionable.”
The lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center says of Lewy that he
"bravely acted pursuant to the highest standards of scholarly integrity
in his research, writing, and speaking about the fate of the Ottoman
Armenians in the midst of a climate hostile to open inquiry and debate."
Two quotes in the Southern Poverty Law Center article are cited as
defamatory. One states: "Lewy is one of the most active members of a
network of American scholars, influence peddlers and website operators,
financed by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the
government of Turkey, who promote the denial of the Armenian genocide. ...”
The other states: “Lewy makes similar revisionist claims in his 2005
book The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide and
in frequent lectures at university campuses across the country. ...
Revisionist historians who conjure doubt about the Armenian genocide and
are paid by the Turkish government provided politicians with the
intellectual cover they needed to claim they were refusing to dictate
history rather than caving in to a foreign government’s present-day
interests.” (The article goes on to mention specific support by Turkey
for research or research centers involving American scholars, but does
not cite an example of Turkey providing funds to Lewy.)
According to the suit, the statements "assert or imply" acts "of moral
turpitude" in that they imply that Lewy "has and continues to compromise
his scholarship on the fate of the Ottoman Armenians and disputes the
genocide characterization of the events of 1915-1916 in exchange for
money from the Government of Turkey" and that Lewy "deceives his readers
and audiences when he addresses the controversy surrounding the Armenian
allegation of genocide by concealing his receipt of money from the
Government of Turkey."
Further the suit says that the statements "individually and taken as a
whole in context of the article ... are defamatory because they falsely
impute to Plaintiff academic corruption, fraud and deceit. ..." As a
result of the accusations, the suit says that Lewy has had his
"scholarly credibility" hurt and has lost book sales and speaking
"The acute stigma attached to failures to disclose the receipt of money
or its equivalent that could distort academic or professional judgments
finds expression in a welter of government conflict-of-interest
regulations and financial disclosure standards embraced by highly
respected professional publications, including the Food and Drug
Administration, National Institutes of Health, The New England Journal
of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association."
The Southern Poverty Law Center declined to comment on the suit, saying
that it was its policy not to discuss litigation.
The issue of whether Turkish support for research in the United States
comes with strings attached has been contentious in the past. Last year,
a scholar who teaches at the State University of New York at Binghamton
went public with his complaint that he was given a choice by Turkish
officials -- after using the word "genocide" to describe what happened
to the Armenians -- of either quitting his position as chair of the
Institute of Turkish Studies, based at Georgetown university, with
support from Turkey's government, or of seeing support for the center
evaporate. (The Turkish embassy in Washington strongly denies these
Lewy's number is unlisted and his lawyer, Bruce Fein, said he is
traveling. Fein said he could not answer the question of whether Lewy
has ever received support from Turkey or from research entities
supported by Turkey. Fein said that was "not a key fact at all" because
the suit is based on the accusation that support from Turkey compromised
Lewy's scholarship, which isn't the same as receiving support from Turkey.
"He could have gotten $10 in tax reimbursements in Istanbul," Fein said.
Asked if it wasn't odd for a lawyer to file a defamation suit focused on
the alleged implications of a scholar receiving support from Turkey,
without knowing if the scholar had received support from Turkey, Fein
said "you can draw whatever inferences you want."
— Scott Jaschik
More information about the Marxism