Cenk Uygur, The Young Turks, and The Denial of The Armenian Genocide

Cenk Uygur, host of the online show The Young Turks, has a dark history of both denying the genocide of the Armenian people, and subsequently naming his show after its Turkish perpetrators.

By Lalo Dagach

The Armenian Genocide

In 1908, under the Ottoman Empire, a political group named the Young Turks waged a rebellion against Sultan Abdul Hamid II forcing him out of political office. By 1915, this political party would become the perpetrators of what has come to be known as the Armenian Genocide, in which up to 1.5 million were estimated to have been systematically dislocated, tortured, and massacred. This event culminated on 24 April 1915, when Young Turk members arrested, and later killed, 250 various Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople. The evidence confirming the Armenian Genocide is not only abundant, but also dishearteningly tragic.

In 1915,  The New York Times alone published 145 articles describing the Armenian massacres as "systematic" and "authorized and organized by the government.Leslie A. Davis, American Consul to the US Ambassador to Turkey, wrote: 

"Practically every male Armenian of any consequence at all here has been arrested and put in prison. A great many of them were subjected to the most cruel tortures under which some of them died. Another method was found, however, to destroy the Armenian race. This is no less than the deportation of the entire Armenian population, not only from this province, but, I understand, from all six provinces comprising Armenia. For people travelling as these Armenians who are going into exile will be obliged to travel it is certain death for by far the greater part of them."

American Ambassador Henry Morganthau Sr. said in his memoirs: "When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact." U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt described the massacres of the Armenian people during WWI as, "The greatest crime of the war." Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish lawyer who coined the term ‘Genocide’ in 1943, stated in 1949 that he was partly inspired to create the term after having learned of the Armenian Genocide. And in 1997, the Association of Genocide Scholars of North America passed a resolution in which an assembly reaffirmed the mass murder of over a million Armenians in Turkey in 1915, declared that the event conformed with determined characteristics of a genocide, and lastly, condemned the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government. 

Even today, despite an abundance of evidence, any mention of the Armenian Genocide is illegal under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which states that insulting Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions is not permitted. People such as Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, and prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink were both charged with violating the law after having spoken about the Armenian Genocide. Dink also received death threats for years and was subsequently assassinated in 2007. 

Cenk Uygur

In November 1991, while Cenk Uygur was on the Student Activities Council representing the Turkish Students Association at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, he published an article in the The Daily Pennsylvanian titled 'Historical Fact or Falsehood?' In the article Uygur wrote:

"The claims of an Armenian Genocide are not based on historical facts. If the history of the period is examined it becomes evident that in fact no such genocide took place… there cannot be any harm in taking a closer look at history to find the truth. After all, if the genocide did take place it should be relatively easy to prove. It is kind of hard to miss the planned extermination of 1.5 million people, isn’t it?"

Towards the end of the article Uygur states:

"Once you really examine the history of the time it becomes apparent that the allegations of an Armenian Genocide are unfounded. So the question arises of why the Armenians would bother to conjure up such stories, and even go as far as committing approximately 200 acts of terrorism since 1973 to further their cause, resulting in countless deaths and injuries to government officials and civilians. The answer is that they want their demands met."

In June of 1999, in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section of Salon, Uygur wrote:

"The United States helped to sponsor war propaganda against Turkey during World War I as part of an official campaign to smear its enemies, as it did with Germany. Part of this propaganda was the evil butchery of the Turks against the defenseless Christian Armenians. This is what has been rooted in the popular memory of America, with very few Turkish-Americans to combat the insinuations of savagery, yet this is not propaganda?"

Uygur concludes this letter by stating:

"I once asked a professor of mine who taught a class on the laws of war and war crimes at Columbia Law School to deprogram me from all the propaganda I had received growing up Turkish. I asked him to please find me evidence of the genocide by neutral scholars so I could know the truth.

After investigating the issue, he came back and said that he could not find one non-Armenian scholar who believed this was a genocide, but since ‘it looked like a duck, it walked like a duck and it talked like a duck, it must be a duck.’ If that’s not the product of excellent propaganda, I don’t know what is."

*I encourage everyone to read the full context of what Cenk Uygur wrote, as it is only worse in its entirety.

The Young Turks

A few years later, in 2002, Cenk Uygur started a talkshow on Sirius Satellite Radio called 'The Young Turks'. Of course, no one who has actually read Uygur’s previous statements could believe that the naming of the show could be completely unrelated to the history of Turkey and Armenia, yet this is what Uygur and his co-hosts at the Young Turks are attempting to have their audience believe.

During an appearance at a California State Democratic Party convention in 2012, Uygur found himself confronted by protesters who were upset by Uygur’s past comments on the Armenian genocide. To this Uygur responded that he completely understood the tremendous pain the Armenian community feels about the "historical situation that happened in that era", and that he could sympathize with the concerns about the name of the show. He further excused himself, and his past denial of the genocide, by stating that "It (The name ‘Young Turks’) has no historical reference what so ever", and that the dictionary definition he "looked up" said "young progressives looking to overthrow an established system". Uygur promised that he would "work with the Armenian community further, and at a different time, to resolve the issue". So how did Cenk resolve the issue? By sweeping it under the rug.

When searching for references to ‘Armenian Genocide’ or simply ‘Armenia’, no entries come up on the The Young Turks channel, except for some videos about the Kardashians (notice how in this video Cenk and Ana are careful to avoid mentioning the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide when speaking about the Kardashians’ visit to Armenia, despite that being the main reason for their visit). Furthermore, The Young Turks channel made no videos highlighting the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015. However, Uygur’s Armenian co-host Ana Kasparian, made a video commemorating the Armenian Genocide on her own personal YouTube channel, whereby she ironically complains about the denying of the genocide by the US government and Turkey. Why Kasparian’s video could not be featured as an official segment on The Young Turks one can only speculate.

On an episode of TYT on November 18th, 2015 (at minute 41), Ana Kasparian angrily said: 

"People are such clowns on the internet. Like 'Did you know that the name of the show is the Young Turks?' 'How can an Armenian work for the Young Turks?' It’s crazy I had no idea. Did you know Rod Stewart also had a song called The Young Turk? Do you think he was endorsing the Turks of like a century ago? Are you fucking kidding me right now? You think that an American show would name itself Young Turks because it’s paying homage to these fucking terrible people from a century ago? Get the fuck out of here with your dumb bullshit. Grab a dictionary, read, educate yourself.

Well, Rod Stewart isn’t a Turkish immigrant who has written Armenian genocide denial articles for open publication, and Cenk Uygur is not Rod Stewart. Though, this does beg the question, are Armenians offended by the name?

Here is a statement from Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America and what he has to say about Cenk Uygur and the show’s name: 

"Denying a genocide, belittling its survivors, and then naming your political show after its perpetrators should be troubling not only to Armenian Americans but anyone concerned about human rights. Cenk Uygur not only did just this, but after hearing numerous concerns about the name of his show, went on to support two [0102] of the most virulent Armenian Genocide denying organizations (ATAA and TCA) in the country, both of which have, as primary objectives, denying the Armenian Genocide and preventing its teaching."

I would ask Kasparian, should Aram Hamparian also "get the fuck out of here with his dumb bullshit"? I actually did ask a similar question to another TYT co-host, also of Turkish background, Hasan Piker:


The Hypocrisy

Besides all this, The Young Turks seem to have no problem holding others to a moral standard that they themselves do not practice. The Young Turks have done multiple videos expressing their belief that the American football team ‘The Redskins’, should change their name because it is offensive to an entire community. Uygur and Kasparian even went as far as to agree with the passing of a law that would ban the name ‘Red Skins’. Uygur asserted that anyone who complained about the law was "Stuck in 1955". When referring to the offensiveness of the name, Uygur said that if we won’t stand for a football team named 'The Chinamen', then we should not stand for the name 'The Redskins'. True enough. Though equally, if we would never tolerate a show named 'The Third Reich', due to the systematic massacres they committed against a specific ethnic group, we should also not tolerate a show entitled 'The Young Turks' for precisely the same reasons. Uygur, however, is taking advantage of the fact that most people are ignorant of the history of the Ottoman Empire and The Young Turks political party, whose members were responsible for the torture and deaths of over a million Armenians.

There are of course many more examples of this moral hypocrisy from The Young Turks channel. Ben Mankiewicz, when speaking about Saudi Arabia, thought that the Saudi multinational construction conglomerate called The Binladin Group, had "some balls" for keeping the name, because of the family connection to Osama bin Laden. Uygur did a segment on the offensiveness of the town seal of the village of Whitesboro, in which he expressed understanding for people’s attachment to names and symbols, but sometimes it’s best to "let it go". In a video produced for Columbus Day 2015, Uygur explained that once one learns about the massacres Columbus had committed, it makes celebrating Columbus Day seem "childish". Uygur added:

"You are making an active choice to deny facts and history, and say ‘I like to be ignorant’… but now that I know the facts, well obviously I change my mind on Christopher Columbus, cuz no one ever told me what the real facts were. You would have to be a monster to want to celebrate this guy."

Though hypocritically Uygur chooses to remain ignorant on the facts of the Ottoman genocide of the Armenian people, and does not feel it is monstrous to celebrate The Young Turks.

Even if Uygur was ignorant of the historical meaning of the show’s name, the name itself is offensive to an entire community. Yet, who could honestly believe that Cenk Uygur, an immigrant from Turkey who has written articles denying the Armenian genocide, and only a few years later named a show after the perpetrators, was oblivious to the historical connotations of the name ‘The Young Turks’, and had solely the literal dictionary definition in mind when choosing a title?

The Young Turks channel is not a news outlet, but a YouTube based commentary show in which Cenk Uygur holds the entire world up to very high standards of scrutiny, which in itself is perfectly fine. Everyone should keep very high standards of ethics and morality for themselves, as well as for others. However, Uygur can not expect to be a public voice on cross-cultural matters and not have his audience hold him up to the same standards that he projects onto everyone else on a daily basis. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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