Michael Doylem, Sacramento Bee, September 29, 2010
The storied Southern Poverty Law Center has agreed to formally apologize to a scholar it accused of being a Turkish agent because of his views on the long-ago slaughter of Armenians.
The public apology by the civil rights group ends a multimillion-dollar libel lawsuit filed by historian Guenter Lewy, author of the book “The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide.” The settlement does not, however, end a debate that still entangles lawmakers from regions with large Armenian-American populations.
The settlement of the 2-year-old lawsuit includes a confidential financial payment to Lewy as well as a three-paragraph apology and retraction that the Southern Poverty Law Center will be making public within a week.
In its negotiated statement, the Alabama-based group said it “misunderstood” Lewy’s scholarship and admitted it was “wrong to assume that any scholar who challenges the Armenian genocide narrative necessarily has been financially compromised by the government of Turkey.”
The organization further stated that it was “wrong to assert” that Lewy was part of a genocide-denying network financed by Turkey.
“We’re very pleased with this,” David Saltzman, one of Lewy’s attorneys, said in an interview Wednesday. “This shows it’s possible for people like Guenter Lewy to research controversial topics and reach their conclusions.”
An 87-year-old emeritus political science professor from the University of Massachusetts, Lewy concluded through his research that the murders and deportations of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 did not amount to a genocide. Lewy said in his extensively footnoted book that while many died, the Ottoman Empire’s actions were not a premeditated effort to wipe out the Armenians.
Following 2005 publication of his book, Lewy was criticized sharply by Armenian-American activists. This was not unexpected. For years, questions of motivation and assertions of Turkish influence have shaped the Armenian genocide debate.
Founded in 1971 and subsequently made famous by its work researching hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center entered the debate in 2008 with its Intelligence Report magazine. An article titled “State of Denial” enumerated Turkish lobbying and investment in academic think tanks, among other efforts.
“Lewy is one of the most active members of a network of American scholars, influence peddlers and website operators, financed by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the government of Turkey, who promote the denial of the Armenian genocide,” the periodical stated.
Lewy said the assertions distressed him.