Lemkin Discusses Armenian Genocide In Newly-Found 1949 CBS Interview
  • By Harut Sassounian Publisher, The California Courier Dec. 8, 2005_

We are so absorbed in the fast pace of day to day events that we often overlook the fact that many of today’s issues have their roots in important developments that predate our short-term memories.

For example, as we speak about the Armenian Genocide of 1915, not everyone realizes that “genocide” is a word that was not coined until 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish jurist. Turkish propagandists know this well. They point out that what happened to the Armenians could be a massacre or a tragedy, but not genocide, simply because the term genocide did not exist back in 1915. This argument is as ridiculous as saying that Cain could not have murdered Abel because the word murder was not yet invented at that time.

Mr. Lemkin had repeatedly mentioned in his writings that as a young man he was so troubled by the Armenian mass murders and the then on-going Holocaust that he coined the word genocide and worked tirelessly until the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, on Dec. 9, 1948.

A recently discovered half-hour CBS program, first broadcast in 1949, includes a rare TV interview with Lemkin on the UN Convention and the Armenian Genocide. A short segment of that interview was shown last month by documentary filmmaker Andrew Goldberg during a ceremony held in New York City, awarding Peter Balakian the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize for his book, “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response.”
We were able to obtain a copy of that entire TV program which was moderated by CBS’s Quincy Howe. He begins the show with a recap of various genocides throughout history. Here is the transcript of his narration on the Armenian Genocide as well as the interview with Lemkin:
“Modern man too -- man in the last 100 years -- has been guilty of this crime of group murder. Choosing so-called modern reasons and using modern methods, men of our own time have persecuted and destroyed other men, singling them out because of the group to which they belonged. We all remember some of these instances. Do you also think of them as cases of genocide?”
 Over scenes of Ottoman Turkish soldiers on horseback chasing down and killing unarmed Armenian men, women and children, the moderator continues:
“Yes, these folks are not playing games. They are running for their lives. Men on horseback. It doesn’t matter much who they are. Let’s say they are modern cavalry out on orders of their commanders. They are huntsmen out on the chase. Only, the prey doesn’t happen to be a fox. The prey is people. These [showing film footage of a group of Armenians] were the victims. They are Armenians and the place is in Asia Minor. But that doesn’t matter either. They could be anyone, anywhere. Of course, it mattered to them. Nearly 2 million of them were driven from their homes to perish in the desert or die before they got there. Why? Well, the reason given was that they were friendly to the enemy of their rulers; that they were a fifth column; that they were spies. Every one of the 2 million of them….”
 Raphael Lemkin then explains to the moderator how his interest in genocide began: “I became interested in genocide because it happened to the Armenians; and after[wards] the Armenians got a very rough deal at the Versailles Conference because their criminals were guilty of genocide and were not punished. You know that they [the Ottoman Turks] were organized in a terroristic organization which took justice into its own hands. The trial of Talaat Pasha in 1921 in Berlin is very instructive. A man [Soghomon Tehlirian], whose mother was killed in the genocide, killed Talaat Pasha. And he told the court that he did it because his mother came in his sleep ... many times. Here, …the murder of your mother, you would do something about it! So he committed a crime. So, you see, as a lawyer, I thought that a crime should not be punished by the victims, but should be punished by a court, by a national law.”

Cong. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), who was also interviewed in that same CBS program, added: “Pres. Wilson, a great democratic leader, tried to save the Armenian people from genocide during the First World War and shortly thereafter.”

This newly discovered tape has great historical value. It defines the Armenian Genocide as a genocide just a few weeks after the adoption of the UN convention on genocide and shows Raphael Lemkin explaining how he was influenced by the tragic events that befell the Armenians in 1915. Anyone seeing this interview with Lemkin and the accompanying film footage would have no doubt that genocide is the most appropriate term to describe the mass murder of Armenians.


From a letter to Mrs. Thelma Stevens, Methodist Women’s Council, July 26, 1950

“This Convention is a matter of conscience and is a test of our personal relationship to evil. I know it is very hot in July and August for work and planning, but without becoming sentimental or trying to use colorful speech, let us not forget that the heat of this month is less unbearable to us than the heat of the ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau and more lenient than the murderous heat in the desert of Aleppo which burned to death the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Christian Armenian victims of genocide in 1915.”

From “Totally Unofficial, The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin.”

“In 1915 the Germans occupied the city of W. and the entire area. I used this time to read more history, to study and to watch whether national, religious, or racial groups are being destroyed. The truth came out only after the war. In Turkey, more than 1,200,000 Armenians were put to death for no other reason than they were Christians… . After the end of the war, some 150 Turkish war criminals were arrested and interned by the British Government on the Island of Malta. The Armenians sent a delegation to the peace conference in Versailles. They were demanding justice. Then one day, the delegation read in the newspapers that all Turkish war criminals were released. I was shocked. A nation was killed and the guilty persons were set free. Why is a man punished when he kills another man? Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of a single individual?

“I identified myself more and more with the sufferings of the victims, whose numbers grew, as I continued my study of history. I understood that the function of memory is not only to register past events, but to stimulate human conscience. Soon contemporary examples of genocide followed, such as the slaughter of Armenians in 1915. It became clear to me that the diversity of nations, religious groups and races is essential to civilization because every one of those groups has a mission to fulfill and a contribution to make in terms of culture… . I decide to become a lawyer and work for the outlawing of Genocide and for its prevention through the cooperation of nations.”

“…A bold plan was formulated in my mind. This consisted [of] obtaining the ratification by Turkey [of the proposed UN Convention on Genocide. Ed] among the first twenty founding nations. This would be an atonement for [the] genocide of the Armenians. But how could this be achieved?… The Turks are proud of their republican form of government and of progressive concepts, which helped them in replacing the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The genocide convention must be put within the framework of social and international progress. I knew however that in this conversation both sides will have to avoid speaking about one thing, although it would be constantly in their minds: the Armenians.”

[Lemkins’s papers are from the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.]

  • armeniapedia.org - Conference UCLA Saturday, April 8, 2000 : Rabbi Steven L. Jacobs, Temple B'nai Shalom, Huntsville, Alabama, and Martin Methodist College, Tennessee, who has researched the papers of international lawyer and human rights advocate Raphael Lemkin, creator of the term genocide, "Lemkin and the Armenian Genocide".
  • Convention contre le "génocide" ( Extrait) :

    "Cependant, ce ne fut qu'après l'extermination de 1.200.00 Arméniens au cours de la première guerre mondial que les Allies victorieux promirent aux survivants de cet abominable massacre une loi et un tribunal adéquats. Mais il n'en fut rien.

    Il ne serait cependant pas correct de dire que rien ne se passa, car il est impossible de faire un jeu politique de la souffrance humaine sans éveiller au moins quelques réactions. Le génocide impuni de la population arménienne eut une conséquence directe. En 1921, dans une rue de Berlin, un jeune étudiant arménien, dont la famille entière avait été anéantie par les Turcs, prit sa revanche sur l'ex-ministre de l'intérieur de Turque, responsable du massacre. Le jeune Arménien, Teliran, tua l'homme d'Etat turc, un certain Talat Pasha, qui s'était réfugié à Berlin après la guerre, et y jouissait de l'immunité accordée aux réfugiés politiques.

    Le tribunal de Berlin qui jugea la cause fut si ému par le récit que fit Teliran de la tragédie et du deuil national de ses compatriotes, qu'il l'acquitta comme "irresponsable." Ainsi un homme, pour avoir agi au nom de la conscience humaine -- une conscience qui n'avait pas encore trouvé son expression juridique dans le droit international -- était déclare fou. Quelle ironie dans un onde soidisant civilisé "

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