The Case Against Legitimizing Genocide Deniers: Scholars Speak Up

[The] willingness to ascribe to the deniers and their myths the legitimacy
of a point of view is of as great, if not greater,
concern than are the activities of the deniers themselves.

—Deborah Lipstadt


WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)— The participation of a number of Armenian studies and genocide studies scholars in “The Caucasus at the Imperial Twilight” conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, organized by Prof. M. Hakan Yavuz of the University of Utah and sponsored by the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), has generated great controversy in the diaspora as well as in Armenia over the enabling of genocide denial.

The individual and organization at the heart of this conference have, for much of the past decade, been actively engaged in efforts to extend the denial of the Armenian Genocide into academia as well as in the political realm in North America.

Since 2009, the TCA, which was established in 2007, has pumped at least $900,000 into the Yavuz-directed Utah Turkish Studies Project as a continuation of the decades-long campaign to deny, diminish, or otherwise distort the history of the genocide. Denial within academia has reached new heights through the publication of genocide-denying books by the Utah University Press and other outlets, as well as the organization of four (2010-13) conferences, including the most recent in Tbilisi.

The TCA has also lobbied aggressively to block recognition of the Armenian Genocide and has engaged in legal actions against, most notoriously, the University of Minnesota and its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS). The suit alleged defamation because the CHGS website had identified the TCA as an “unreliable” source on the Armenian Genocide that engaged in genocide denial. The suit was dismissed and the dismissal upheld, with the decision stating that “the Center’s statement about the TCA is true and, therefore, not actionable.” In addition, in 2011 the U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee ruled that the TCA had provided some $500,000 in improper gifts in the form of legal counsel to now-former Ohio Representative Jean Schmidt.

A key element of the TCA’s mission is to normalize the presentation of denial of the Armenian Genocide within academia. This approach seeks to establish the Turkish state’s denialist narrative as a legitimate historical viewpoint, as just another scholarly “perspective.” In order to succeed, however, they need legitimate scholars to function as “the other side.”

By participating in the Tbilisi conference, scholars, whether intentionally or not, are providing that “other side” of the “debate” over the Armenian Genocide, according to several prominent scholars contacted by the Armenian Weekly.

Prof. Richard Hovannisian

“I learned a long time ago that providing a platform for deniers, under any guise, is a serious mistake because it affords them a claim to legitimacy. It is no less harmful to the cause of serious scholarship to participate in a conference organized and sponsored by a deceptive university professor and an organization that has repeatedly supported the publication of denial literature and initiated legal proceedings against institutions that exclude denial materials from their programs,” said Prof. Richard Hovannisian, the former holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA.

“No matter how well intended it may be, participation in such a conference confers on those behind it an unmerited status as partners in a scholarly dialogue when, I believe, the real purpose is to create doubt and undermine honest scholarly investigation,” he added.

Prof. Roger Smith

Prof. Roger Smith, a founding member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and a former president of the association, concurred. “Invitations to conferences such as the one organized by Hakan Yavuz of the University of Utah, a university that has numerous graduate students who are churning out denial of the Armenian Genocide, are simply lures and traps,” he said. “Lures in the sense that it gives the appearance of welcoming dissenting views and appears to offer an opportunity to refute the narrative upheld by ‘historians who hold other views of what took place in 1915.’ It suggests a debate and an assessment of the evidence: a normal process in scholarly inquiry. Some scholars may, not unreasonably, jump at the bait, and hope to dislodge the claims of those who argue that the genocide never took place, that the Young Turk regime is not responsible for whatever happened, and that, in any case, the term ‘genocide’ is not applicable for a variety of reasons. But the trap is when such well-known, non-denialist scholars participate in such conferences, they inescapably offer legitimacy to the whole conference, to its framework. And that is precisely what the organizers seek: the appearance of legitimacy for bogus history,” he said.

Marc Mamigonian

Marc Mamigonian, the director of Academic Affairs of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), said, “Deniers have already hijacked the discussion of the Armenian Genocide to an unhealthy extent through their efforts to manufacture doubt about established historical facts. Participating in forums organized and funded by individuals and entities who promote the Turkish state’s denial of the Armenian Genocide only contributes to the myth of a scholarly debate.  This also undermines scholars who strive to create honest scholarship in the face of denial and intimidation. Denial—even if it carries a university imprint—must not be legitimized and granted a place at the same table as scholarship, because it does not belong there.”

Prof. Keith Watenpaugh

Prof. Keith Watenpaugh, an associate professor of Modern Islam, Human Rights and Peace at UC Davis, said, “The Turkish Studies Project (TSP) at the University of Utah, which is the sponsor of this conference, is funded by the Turkish Coalition of America. As a federal judge recently ruled, the TCA is a denialist organization. It uses its money and relationship with the University of Utah to support Armenian Genocide denial through publications and through conferences like the one in Tbilisi. Given the genocide denial framework established by the TSP and its director, the political scientist M. Hakan Yavuz, the participation by scholars—Armenian or otherwise—cannot help but lend legitimacy to its broader denialist enterprise. I would not participate in something like this. I am reluctant to criticize the few Armenian scholars who did participate, because I stand in solidarity with all those who resist denial and its corrosive effects, even if I don’t agree with the way they go about doing it.”

Watenpaugh added, “Instead we should be asking questions about the continued relationship between the University of Utah and the TCA. It is hard for me to understand why an important American research university would lend its good name to a political organization that seeks to violate academic freedom by, for example, bringing suit against the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, and by promoting the falsification of history through its grants and political advocacy. The real issue here is the fact that the University of Utah has provided an institutional home to genocide denial.”

“Armenians and others should be confident that there are more and better venues of interchange between Turks and Armenians in which elements of their shared past can be examined honestly and in a framework of legitimate historical enquiry. In fact, scholarship on late-Ottoman Armenian society and history is one of the most vital fields of history today, and the Armenian Genocide is firmly established in the global history of human rights and genocide studies,” Watenpaugh concluded.

Prof. Debórah Dwork

In turn, Prof. Debórah Dwork, the director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, told the Armenian Weekly that “there is no reason—none!—to engage genocide deniers, whether they are deniers of the Armenian Genocide or of the Holocaust, or of any other genocide.” She explained, “A conference or debate offers them an arena to make their arguments. Why would I offer them such an arena? Speaking to them, or arguing with them elevates them to the status of legitimate scholars, and their positions to the status of legitimate history. We are not equals and there aren’t two legitimate, equally historically valid ‘sides.’”

According to Dwork, “engaging with deniers allows them to set the issues to be discussed; it allows them to hijack the historical account. Why should I talk about the points they wish to raise? And please, would someone tell me why I should I waste my time refuting their arguments? Time is the coin of the scholarly realm, and if we spend it on deniers, we are not moving our research forward.” She concluded, “Engaging with deniers thus undermines history thrice over: It offers them a platform; it confers legitimacy upon them, and it diverts scholars from their own research which, of course, plumbs precisely the genocide the deniers refute.”


  1. Professor Watenpaugh writes: “It is hard for me to understand why an important American research university would lend its good name to a political organization that seeks to violate academic freedom by, for example, bringing suit against the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, and by promoting the falsification of history through its grants and political advocacy.”
    The answer is simple: Money. $900,000
    Professor Dwork is correct in stating: “We are not equals, and there aren’t two legitimate, equally historically valid ‘sides. And please, would someone tell me why I should I waste my time refuting their arguments?”
    Right on, Professor.

  2. The Turkish government was not able to totally destroy the Armenians and write the history. There were too many witnesses. Here lies the difficulty for the Turks. They are trying to rewrite the history counting on the passage of time. Then there are some misguided, self-aggrandizing and profiteering Armenians pretending to be diaspora’s intellectuals who are trying to capitalize on this. The Armenian so called representative s to this conference (I don’t want to call them scholars since they are not) are trying for varying response to participate and get themselves in the spot light. There are also some self-hating Armenians who support them. The Armenian community and intellectuals should distance themselves from these people and expose them for what they are. Their attendance of this conference is an insult to the memory of 1.5 million Armenians who perished in the hands of the Turks and Kurds. At least the Kurds acknowledge their deeds.

  3. For those who are more familiar with this sort of conferences, do the participants get paid for presenting. If so, then in my simple logic, these so called “Armenian scullers” are nothing more than TRAITORS – Դավաճաններ.

  4. Why add fuel to their diminishing fire? The excuse will always be “well it is academic” or “it is an open discussion of academics discussing what took place.” Just like the excuse some musicians provide “well I am performing music and I am a professional musician.” Does that mean morals are replaced with professionalism? That one’s professional background is always used as a good excuse for feeding into events such as the one mentioned above.

  5. Dear Minister,
    I have the honor, in the name of the Armenian National Delegation, of submitting to Your Excellency the following declaration, at the same time reminding that:
    The Armenians have been, since the beginning of the war, de facto belligerents, as you yourself have acknowledged, since they have fought alongside the Allies on all fronts, enduring heavy sacrifices and great suffering for the sake of their unshakable attachment to the cause of the Entente:
    In France, through their volunteers, who started joining the Foreign Legion in the first days and covered themselves with glory under the French flag;
    In Palestine and Syria, where Armenian volunteers, recruited by the National Delegation at the request of the government of the Republic itself, made up more than half of the French contingent and played a large role in the victory of General Allenby, as himself and his French chiefs have officially declared;
    In the Caucassus, where, without mentioning the 150,000 Armenians in the Imperial Russian Army, more than 40,000 of their volunteers contributed to the liberation of a portion of the Armenian vilayets, and where, under the command of their leaders, Antranik and Nazarbekoff, they alone among the peoples of the Caucassus, offered resistance to the Turkish armies, from the beginning of the Bolshevist withdrawal right up to the signing of the armistice:
    Translation of the letter from Boghos Nubar, Head of the Armenian Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference (1919), to the French Foreign Minister.

    • Denialist Turk:
      The Armenian Genocide of 1915 started on April 24, 1915.
      The French Armenian Legion was formed after the French-Armenian agreement of October 27, 1916.
      About 4,000 men total in 1916-1918, 10,000 men total in 1920-1921.
      It was formed to try to prevent more massacres of Armenian civilians by Genocidal Turks.
      The Genocide of Armenians was underway for 1 ½ years by the time the Legion was formed.
      Do you understand that 1915 comes before 1916 in this Universe ?
      After signing a secret pact with Germany, Turkey entered WW1 by attacking Russian Black Sea ports on Oct 28, 1914.
      It was an unprovoked, sneak attack.
      In response Allies Russia, France, England declared war on Ottoman Turkey in November of 1914. Allied forces counterattacked and started dismantling the decrepit Ottoman Empire. All subjugated peoples of Ottoman Turk invaders – Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians, Serbs, …..- rose up to throw off the centuries long yoke of the foreigners.
      I am sure genocidal Turks would have liked very much for no Armenians to have taken up arms to defend themselves, so the nomadic savages could exterminate 100% of the Armenian race.
      To the extent that any Armenians were saved was thanks to armed resistance.
      Nobody invited your savage Seljuk Turk ancestors to Armenian Highlands or Asia Minor.
      Your Turkic ancestors were foreign invaders in 1000AD, and were still foreign invaders in 19th century, and 20th century.
      Still are.
      Your nomadic Denialist savage brains can’t comprehend the difference between killing Armenian armed men in battle and murdering unarmed, uninvolved, defenseless, peaceful Armenian old men, women, children and babies – who were nowhere near any war zones.
      For centuries Armenians were being massacred by foreign Asiatic nomadic Turkic tribes who had invaded Armenians’ homeland.
      The Genocide of Armenians started long before 1915.
      300,000 were massacred in 1895.
      30,000 were massacred in 1909.
      Who knows how many hundreds of thousands were massacred from 1000AD till then.
      Just like in every country the Genocidal Nazis invaded, where heroic Resistance sprung up and fought the invading savages, so too resistance was formed everywhere Turkic savages had invaded, massacred, destroyed, and displaced the indigenous populations.
      Fortunately Nazi invaders were crushed and disappeared into Hell.
      Unfortunately Turkic Fascist Nazi invaders are still around and occupying the lands of others.

    • Point goes to Avery. Does the one hiding behind the name ‘Boghos Nubar’ have a comment that supports the notion that it is ‘traitorous’ for a people to stand up and defend their community when their own government has turned against them? I’m waiting…..but don’t worry, I am not holding my breath.

    • So its like saying that the American Indian revolted as well? Or the Jews revolted in the ghettos? Same dumb Turkish logic. Did the Assyrians revolt? How about the Greeks that were also murdered at the same time?

      The purpose of the genocide was theft and plunder. Henry Morganthau, US ambassador DURING THE GENOCIDE who witnessed it first hand, attested to that fact. Its in the US archives. That’s not changing. ITS JUST A MATTER OF TIME.

  6. Avery: thanks for including the following acknowledgment in your response to the Turk. “To the extent that any Armenians were saved was thanks to armed resistance.” You are absolutely correct. Far fewer of our people would have survived without the bravery of our resistance movement. Our men volunteered their own lives in the face of a well-armed enemy, who were not only far greater in numbers, but also supported and fed by their government. I remind the Turk that, first they killed as many of our unarmed men as they could. Then they raped, pillaged, murdered, exiled, our women and children. Without our resistance movement, far fewer of our women and children and unarmed men would have survived. Here are primary source excerpts from the diary of a resistance fighter, written at the time.

    “In the afternoon, Turks attacked Sebouh’s Eighth Regiment in Mocugh. Enemy attacks began with a blaze of machine guns and cannons that were using shrapnel shots. These shots exploded metal balls of fragments before they even struck their target. We did not have shrapnel. Our cannons had very old Russian case-shots, and we had very little of even those. To every twenty strong cannon volleys from the enemy, our men could only answer with one fire.”

    Here is another excerpt – different battle:

    “The Turk’s cavalry were already surrounding us when their foot soldiers came up from behind and formed a thick circle around us. Their remaining squads ran down toward the village of Bash where the battle had already reached its peak of intensity. Our main forces gave way in front of their much larger numbers, and retreated.

    Since we were in a very high location, we could see the battles taking place in and around Bash. The enemy conquered Bash, and excited by their victory, they began pursuing our retreating troops. In front of Bash village, the Turkish troops fell into the trap that Toytoyian had prepared. It is difficult to adequately describe the brilliance of the military expertise used by Toytoyian. As our main forces began leaving, Toytoyian took one battalion of soldiers with him to a nearby valley and ordered the rest of his men to retreat. Enemy forces spilled out in three directions after our retreating men.

    The weapons of Toytoian’s remaining battalion then roared as loudly as machine guns. Surprised, the Turks panicked and fled, leaving their injured, who were pleading to be saved. Their cavalry fell into Toytoyian’s trap, and our bullets chased them, thinning their ranks. Squeezed between two rocks, Haroutyoun closely watched the battle taking place in the field in front of us. Suddenly, he shouted with great force, “Boys, don`t wait! Strike! Victory is ours!”

    Only if you have lived with the terror of imminent death, and suddenly you are told that your life is spared, can you imagine how great our relief and happiness was. Hamazasb shouted out above the screaming of guns, “They are retreating! They are retreating!”

    The dark, shrunken world of just a short while ago once again brightened and widened. The Turks were now running back in unorganized panic, escaping from the inadequately armed Armenian soldiers, who were ten times fewer in number than they were. We seized back our positions. The enemy left fifty-five dead and wounded.

    The next day, we stood at attention in the Bash village square in front of the bodies of our eleven martyred compatriots. We carried them up to the spring on our shoulders and placed them in a large open trench. Our guns roared in salute as the black soil covered the blood-soaked bodies of our heroes who had died for the protection of our fatherland and its people.”

    • To laughable symbiosis of a Christian sacred name “John” and denialist ethnonym “Turk”:

      Point One. The hypothesis of ape to human evolution is heavily debated nowadays and no missing link has so far been found to prove man’s evolution from an ape.

      Point Two. Non-denialists, as well as people who don’t post under laughable pennames “john the turk”, understand the difference between pre-historical migration of human populations about a million years ago and explicit armed intrusion of uncouth Seljuk Turkic nomads into already established civilizations of Asia Minor just 1000 years ago.

      Point Three. Proto-Armenians and Armenians have been in the region from the beginning of the 1st millennium BC (Confederation of Urartu centered around Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands). By the year 1071, when they fought Invader Alp Arslan’s army of Seljuk Turks in the Battle of Manzikert, Armenians have already created a thriving civilization: their own alphabet, language, script, officially adopted religion, architecture, arts and sciences.

      What did nomadic Seljuk Turks bring with them except for swords and fire?

  7. My suggestion to any Armenian frustrated by the denialist mentality or looking for responses to this revisionism……. Study the commentary of Avery. His responses are direct , fact filled and addresses the core of denialist thinking… A refusal the reality,and enormity of,the crime against the Armenian people. The responses are inspiring. Don’t be distracted Armenian people by the rhetoric and distortion of,those who deny thet truth of genocide. Thank you Avery . You are a patriot. The souls of our martyrs rest knowing that our nation produces heirs such as yourself.

  8. Thank you Boyajian, Perouz, and Stepan for the kind words.
    Perouz: what books are those passages you cited from ?

  9. Avery; the book will be published later this year. I’ll keep you posted. It is the 7 year diary of a fedayee who witnessed and participated in all the events. He fought alongside Antranig, Do, Soghomon Tehlirian, many others, as well as all the major front line generals. It’s primary documentation that can be cited in university papers, not a fictional account. Not only are there locations of fields of bodies, but, at times, who murdered them and how. It makes a laughing stock of the Turks who are going around measuring skulls or placing their “kurans” around skeletons they claim are Turks murdered by Armenians.

  10. Why doesn’t one, just one Turk admits that he wants all Armenians dead? Necati? John? Robert? Don’t worry, we won’t demand you move out of your houses or inspect the family tree too closely.
    Why doesn’t one, just one, say to us what Turks say to each other in laughter, disgust, and while posing for pictures under the blood red flag:that “they” [meaning unarmed Christian civilians, grandmothers, babies, old men, young girls] deserved murder, rape, starvation, whippings, beatings, more rape, cruelty of every imaginable type, bayoneting babies, drowning civilians, setting girls on fire] deserved it, and that you would gladly do it again, if not to Armenians, Greeks, Pontic Greeks and Assyrians [you ran out of them] than to Kurds, Alevis, liberals, Sufis, Shias, Arabs, human rights advocates, non-nationalists, the whole kit and kaboodle.
    Your culture will improve when you worship God, and value peace and human life. Until then, you are barbaric, like the Hitler you inspired. Your only achievement in a history that came to an end at the Gates of Vienna, where Sobieski, protected by a bodyguard of Armenians, ended your expansionist dreams.

  11. Enjoy this article in Zaman, saying:
    “The participation of intellectuals like Garabet K. Moumdjian and Ara Papian—both open to compromise—helped make this meeting ideal.”
    “This technique to block peace by setting Armenians against one another was used a century ago, with disastrous effects for all Armenians. In any case, this time around many prudent Armenians decided to ignore the propaganda and reacted negatively to attempts to stop people from expressing themselves at conferences. It now looks like Yerevan will have to leave behind these despotic stances as well as its critical approach to Turkey, and instead behave more reasonably.”
    Good job Ara Papian and Garabed Momjian!

  12. Some pretty revolting anti-Turkish racism has been displayed by some of the people making comments. What about the Turkish civilians who were subjected to ethnic cleansing in Anatolia and the Balkans before and during the First World War? Why is there no mention of them? Is it that they just don’t matter because they are Turks and therefore don’t count as really human in the eyes of some? Anyway, Europeans are fine ones to lecture the Turks about barbarism when you consider the Holocaust of the Jews which was carried out by Europeans, or the brutal exploitation of the Congo carried out by Belgians which resulted in up to 10 million deaths. Turks are just like any other people, there are good Turks, bad Turks and indifferent Turks. I have to say that I have generally found the Turks that I have met to be kind, polite and hospitable people. Sprouting vile anti-Turkish racism will do no good to the Armenian cause whatsoever. Let as not forget that the massacres occurred nearly a century ago. All the perpetrators are now dead. We have to grow up, move on and put the past behind us. As a British person I don’t hate German or Japanese people because of what happened in the Second World War.

    • As an Armenian, I don’t hate Turks. I acknowledge that there are good and bad among all nationalities. I acknowledge that Turks suffered in the Balkans. However none of this changes the fact that I hate the injustice that my people suffered at the hands of the Young Turk government ‘nearly a century ago’ and that official Turkey has yet to admit to or pay for. Yes, the perpetrators are long gone, but the insidious denialists live among us and deny justice to millions. What is reasonable about this? What is unreasonable about wanting to see justice done?

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