By Jocelyne Zablit, AFP
A panel-discussion about the Armenian genocide to be aired on U.S. television has prompted protests among Armenian Americans outraged by the presence of two genocide deniers on the program.
The panel discussion is to be aired by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on April 17 following a one-hour documentary -- "The Armenian Genocide" by Andrew Goldberg -- which describes the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
The four panelists invited to discuss the issue include Justin McCarthy, a University of Louisville professor, and Omer Turan, a Turkish historian. Both men question whether the 1915 mass killings could be classified as genocide. PBS said it had invited the two scholars in a bid to offer an alternative viewpoint and encourage discussion.
"We don't step back from controversy just because it's controversial," Lea Sloan, vice president of media relations at PBS, told AFP. "In this case, because there has been such heated debate about the topic, we thought that further debate could help illuminate the issue." She said the network had no plans to cancel broadcast of the 30-minute panel discussion.
Armenian Americans say McCarthy's and Turan's presence on the show amounted to inviting Holocaust or civil rights deniers to air their views. "One would think that if there was a documentary on the Holocaust or civil rights movement, that there wouldn't be a follow-up panel discussion where you have Holocaust deniers or Ku Klux Klan members sitting down and discussing these issues," Elizabeth Chouldjian, spokeswoman for the Armenian National Committee of America, told AFP.
Chouldjian said while Armenian Americans welcome the airing of the documentary, the community felt offended that two deniers of the genocide would be given a platform on national television. "If somebody wants to do an analysis of why denial of genocide occurs in general and bring in the case of the Armenian genocide, that's certainly understandable," Chouldjian said. "But bringing in deniers ... is ludicrous.
"It will be misleading the viewing public on this topic and it's a disservice to viewers."
An online petition calling on PBS to cancel the broadcast has gathered nearly 7,000 signatures and Armenian Americans, estimated to number 1.5 million, are being urged to write letters of protest to PBS.
The U.S. administration has consistently stopped short of callings the killings a genocide. However several other countries, including France, Canada and Switzerland, recognize them as such.