Full-Page WSJ Ad Denying Armenian Genocide Spurs Anger

4-21-16 Armenian genocide commemoration
People attend a rally in New York City to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, on April 26, 2015. A full-page ad denying the Armenian genocide that ran in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday spurred anger. It follows similar billboards in Boston and Chicago. Eric Thayer/Reuters

Updated | A full-page ad denying the Armenian genocide spurred anger Wednesday, appearing in The Wall Street Journal just days before the 101st anniversary of the event’s start on April 24, 1915.

“Truth = Peace,” the ad declared in large font at the center of the page. At the top, in smaller letters, it said, “Stop the allegations,” and directed readers to a website called Fact Check Armenia, which declares as false the idea that “the events of 1915 constitute a clear-cut genocide against the Armenian people” and calls efforts of the Armenian diaspora to gain recognition of the genocide “propaganda.”

The ad shows three hands—a hand making a peace sign in the middle is tinged with red and features the star and crescent of the Turkish flag, and is flanked by a hand on each side with fingers crossed in the hues of the Armenian and Russian flags.

Gary Bass, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, tweeted a photo of the ad Wednesday morning, garnering hundreds of retweets and a slew of reactions, many of which chided The Wall Street Journal for printing it and questioned whether the paper would have printed a similar ad related to the Holocaust.

According to a post on the Chicago Armenian Genocide Centennial committee’s Facebook page, the same ad also appeared Wednesday in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper ads come soon after billboards with similar designs appeared near Boston’s Armenian Heritage Park and in the Chicago area.

“It should be taken down,” Lori Yogurtian, founder of the Armenian Students Association at Suffolk University, told the Boston Globe when the billboard appeared in Boston’s North End in early April. “It’s completely one-sided, completely perpetuating denial of something that has time and time again been proven as a fact.”

The billboard was indeed taken down, the Globe reported, with a spokesman for its owner, Clear Channel Outdoor, saying “the ad was placed there in error.” The Chicago centennial group said in a post on Facebook that the billboards in that area had also been removed.

In response to the criticism, a Wall Street Journal spokesperson said in a comment provided to Gawker that “we accept a wide range of advertisements, including those with provocative viewpoints. While we review ad copy for issues of taste, the varied and divergent views expressed belong to the advertisers.” 

Ab Kaan, a coordinator for The Turkic Platform and Fact Check Armenia, said in an email to Newsweek that “all data in Fact Check Armenia is produced by The Turkic Platform,” which is supported by Turkish companies in Turkey, Europe and primarily in the U.S. He said [sic]:

We are running this campaign to counter false accusastion made by the Armenian Diaspora. Unfortunately the Armenian Diaspora has been running a negative PR campaign perpetuating these false accustations for over 50 years. We felt that it is finally time for the Turkish people to stand up against these false accusations and let their side of the story be told.

As you know, there is not one legal court decisions in the U.S. or international community that has valided the so called “Armenian Genocide” allegations. All Armenian PR is based solely on political decisions and resolutions facilitated by their lobbying and fundrasing efforts. In some states and cities like Boston they portray their opinion as historical truths supported by the entire international community, although more than 170 countries do not recognize the tradgedies that occured more than 100 years ago as “genocide.”

We believe that history and truth cannot be decided by politicans who are engaged in political decisions that have a direct impact on their fundraising and campaign efforts.  We believe that history must be decided by historians or court orders, not by interest groups or politicians supported by those groups.

Several countries, including the United States, have failed to formally recognize the Armenian genocide as genocide, or to use the “G-word” in commemoration ceremonies, despite efforts by lobbyists that intensified leading up to last year’s centennial. However, historians and genocide scholars agree that the events beginning in 1915 constituted genocide.

“There is a near consensus that the Armenian genocide was a genocide, or that genocide is the right word,” David Simon, a professor of political science at Yale University and co-director of its Genocide Studies Program, told Newsweek ahead of the 100th anniversary last year. “The deportations and massacres amounted to a crime we now know is genocide. In 1915, there was no such word.”

[Related: Why Scholars Say Armenian Genocide Was Genocide but Obama Won’t]

The controversy is generated by Turkey, says Armen Marsoobian, a professor of philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University who teaches courses in comparative genocide. Turkey vehemently opposes the use of the term “genocide” to describe the events, and recalled ambassadors to the Vatican and Austria after Pope Francis and Austrian lawmakers did so ahead of the centennial.

“Always around April 24, especially in the United States, there’s this attempt to deny the genocide but in a way that claims that the Turkish people are looking for peace and cooperation,” Marsoobian, a scholar of Armenian descent whose parents survived the genocide, tells Newsweek over the phone from Istanbul, where he is on a fellowship. “It always is very upsetting to the Armenian community, because April 24 is a solemn day,” he adds. It’s like “pouring a little salt in the wounds to do it at this time.”

Similarly, Fatma Muge Gocek, a Turkish-born professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan and author of Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present and the Collective Violence against Armenians, 1789-2009, says in an email: “I have been following the story regarding the billboards in Boston and Chicago with great disappointment, but not surprise.”

As Marsoobian and Gocek suggest, ads of the kind that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday have cropped up close to the annual anniversary and garnered criticism before. In 2015, billboards reportedly went up in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Dallas. The Boston Globe ran a full-page ad very similar to this year’s in the Journal—it cried, “Change for progress,” included the phrase “Stop the allegations” and pointed readers to the Fact Check Armenia website—even as the paper’s editorial board ran a piece urging the U.S. to recognize the genocide just a few pages away.

A different full-page ad appeared that same week in the Washington Post in the form of an open letter from the Turkish American National Steering Committee claiming there is “no academic consensus” about the events and that “the politicization of this historical controversy not only tarnishes the memory of the dead but also thwarts the ultimate objective: reconciliation between Armenians and Turks.”

The New York Times rejected the open letter ad, based on guidelines against “advertising that denies great human tragedies.” The guidelines stipulate that “events such as the World Trade Center bombings, or the Holocaust, or slavery in the United States, or the Armenian Genocide or Irish Famine cannot be denied or trivialized in an advertisement.”

Marsoobian attributes the appearance of such ads to a “lack of knowledge of historical facts” and “a very large well-funded campaign to generate this sort of false controversy that there is [an] alternative interpretation of what happened.”

“Historically, we’re past that,” he says. “The evidence, the scholarship that’s been written on it, the conferences, all of it—it’s clear.”

This story has been updated to include comment from Ab Kaan of Fact Check Armenia and The Turkic Platform.