The River

Monday, May 09, 2005


Democracy Now! Friday, April 22nd, 2005, transcript excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we look the at Armenian genocide. We're joined in our New York studio by Peter Balakian, Professor of English at Colgate University and author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. Here in our Los Angeles studio, we're joined by Zanku Armenian of the Armenian National Committee of America. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!



AMY GOODMAN: Peter Balakian, let's begin with you. If you can simply start off by telling us what happened 90 years ago.

PETER BALAKIAN: I think it's important for people to understand that the plan to exterminate the Armenians of what is today Turkey, then Ottoman Turkey, was implemented by the central government, and it was a very well-organized plan. It involved the formation of mobile killing squads. It involved a central bureaucracy called the Special Organization. The Special Organization put into gear the mobile killing squads, and the killing squads were made up of some 30,000 convicts who had been released from prison, a little bit like the Nazis’ Einsatzgruppen. It's also important to understand that there was emergency executive legislation used to implement this plan, that technology was used to train, to deport Armenians from the western part of Turkey down to the south and into the desert. And it's important to understand that the population was systematically dismembered.

And the reason Armenians commemorate the genocide on April 24 is because on that evening in Constantinople, more than 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were arrested and deported by train to the interior, where they were subsequently tortured and murdered. The idea here is, of course, that you cut the head off the culture, you rip its tongue out, its journalists, its poets, its playwrights, its novelists, its clergy and professors. So this was very systematically done, and it's important to understand that this whole operation, which in the end resulted in the deaths of close to 1.5 million unarmed, innocent minority population citizens of Turkey, this became the template for all genocide to follow. And Adolf Hitler did say eight days before invading Poland in 1939, who today, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians. Hitler was inspired by the fact that the young Turk government had succeeded in doing what they did and also he was inspired by the fact that what had been the most important international human rights catastrophe of the second decade of the 20th century had only 20 years later been sort of washed down the memory hole.


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