Armenia, Revisited; Amid Protests, PBS Slates Film and Panel Show

Armenia, Revisited

Amid Protests, PBS Slates Film and Panel Show

The Wall Street Journal
April 14, 2006
Page W2

The mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I
still elicits both rage and denials — as the controversy over two new
PBS programs shows.

On Monday, the public broadcasting network will air “The Armenian
Genocide,” a one-hour documentary that details both the horrors of that
ethnic-cleansing campaign and the Turkish government’s efforts to deny
that what occurred qualifies as genocide. Narrated in somber tones by
celebrities such as Juliana Margulies, Ed Harris and Natalie Portman,
the film presents evidence that the slaughters were planned centrally,
including letters from U.S. government officials and others who
witnessed parts of the campaign. They describe forced deportations,
during which many Armenians were killed or died, and government death
squads that mopped up stragglers.

The film includes some of the first statements from Turkey-based
academics agreeing that the genocide occurred, as well as oral histories
from Turkish people who recall their own families’ involvement. “There
is something my grandfather did personally,” one man, filmed on a
Turkish street, says. “They caught Armenians and put them in a barn and
burned them. My grandfather says their voices didn’t leave his ears for
years.” (According to many scholars, more than one million Armenians
died in that period, though Ankara says the toll was much lower.)

In Turkey, one of the professors involved in the film says he faced
death threats when he spoke out in a Turkish newspaper about the
genocide. In the U.S., the topic rouses passions as well. Filmmaker
Andrew Goldberg, fearing a partisan protest, says he has hired off-duty
police officers for added security for Monday’s premiere of the
documentary in a Los Angeles movie theater. Meanwhile, a separate
discussion panel that PBS commissioned to run after the documentary is
causing an outcry among pro-Armenian groups because it includes two
academics who reject the label “genocide.” PBS says it has received more
than 8,600 letters and phone calls opposing the broadcast.

While the documentary itself will be accessible to about 93% of U.S.
television households, most major PBS affiliates in the top 20 TV
markets aren’t airing the panel show. That program will nevertheless
reach about 58% of U.S. households through smaller PBS affiliates. A
spokeswoman for WGBH in Boston, which is among the channels not airing
the panel, says the station felt the documentary “stood on its own.”

(“The Armenian Genocide” airs in most markets on Monday, 10 p.m. EDT;
check local listings)

[PHOTO CAPTION] Century-old wound: Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in a
scene from the PBS documentary “The Armenian Genocide.”