Armenians in the U.S. are renewing their calls for the popular left-wing news show The Young Turks to change its name, saying it acts as a painful reminder of the Armenian Genocide.
The genocide, which officially took place in Turkey under the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923, resulted in the deportation, rape, and murder by starvation, torture, massacre, and death marches of about 1.5 million Armenians. Most of the Armenian diaspora today exists because of genocide, which was planned and executed by a nationalist offshoot of the Young Turks movement.
“Many of our community members who have been protesting The Young Turks through social media have made a fair equivalence between the Young Turks and Hitler Youth,” said Alex Galitsky, a communications director with the western region for the Armenian National Committee of America.
“If a group decided to call themselves ‘the Young Nazis’, and pitched themselves as a disruptor or anti-establishment news outlet, people would be rightly outraged,” he told VICE News.
The new demands to change the name come as Armenia is embroiled in war with Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which sits within Azerbaijan but is led and populated by ethnic Armenians. Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey, the perpetrator—and now denier—of the genocide. Many Armenians around the world see the conflict as an extension of it.
The Young Turks bills itself as the "largest online news show in the world." While its primary audience is on YouTube, it's available on iTunes, Hulu, and other platforms.
The Young Turks did not respond to VICE News requests for comment. But the site defines a Young Turk as a “progressive or insurgent member of an institution, movement, or political party” and a “young person who rebels against authority of societal expectations.”
“The selection of this name does not refer to any specific, historical incarnation of the Young Turks,” the site says.
In a Twitter exchange, one of the show’s hosts, Ana Kasparian, who is also Armenian, condemned the critiques.
“We’ve explained the name a billion times. You know what it means, and you know the type of coverage we do,” Kasparian tweeted. “To perpetuate the same lies over and over again, which of course directs harassment and disinformation toward me, is an odd move. Especially right now.”
Galitsky said the justification, which he’s heard hosts Cenk Uygur and Kasparian repeat over time, doesn’t acknowledge historical context. “You can't truly be a progressive insurgent if you're sanitizing a term that causes so much pain and trauma to the Armenian community,” Galitsky said.
Los Angeles-based Armenian-American organizer, Sophia Armen, responded to Kasparian by saying that while she admires TYT’s content, the show’s name inevitably keeps Armenians from engaging with it.
Armen told VICE News, “The Young Turks massacred and deported my entire family.” She said until the show changes its name, it will always remind Armenians of their painful shared history.
“The name is very personal,” she said.
Razmig Sarkissian’s grandfather was 5 years old when he had to hide under corpses to evade capture during the Armenian Genocide. He then escaped the region, but the rest of his family was killed, said Sarkissian, an L.A.-based activist and law student.
“It is exactly that traumatic history that is evoked in our minds every time we see (the show’s) name,” Sarkissian told VICE News. “For a show to signal so many progressive values yet fail to apply those very principles to themselves, to me, is unconscionable.”
U.S.-based Armenian activist and scholar Kohar Avakian told VICE News when you Google the Young Turks, search results are flooded with information about the show—not the historical party or genocide. That’s a problem because it prevents education about recent historical events, Avakian said.
Avakian acknowledged that the show’s hosts have stood with Armenians against genocide denialism in the past, but said the decision to keep the show’s name is telling.
“A name is a statement…we cannot stand by idly, especially not while our relatives are still being killed on their ancestral land as we speak,” Avakian said. “It is time to change the name.”
Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.