Free Speech and Armenian Genocide Denial

January 31, 2012

A new development has occurred in France concerning the signing into law of a bill passed by both houses of France’s parliament. The spotlight has shifted to the question of free speech rather than the crime of genocide. 

At the moment, the most vocal defender of free speech in France appears to be the Turkish Government. This is because Turkey does not want France’s president to sign the “Armenian Genocide Denial bill” into law. One fact which seems to have been lost in the muddied waters of this spectacle is that France already has a Holocaust Denial law on its books.

France legally recognizes the Armenian Genocide (tens of thousands of Armenian survivors sought refuge in France in the aftermath of the mass deportation of all Armenians from Turkey) and the Holocaust. As the New York Times correctly points out, “the bill criminalizes the denial of officially recognized genocides…The bill does not make specific reference to the estimated 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered under the Ottoman Turks, but France recognizes only those deaths and the Holocaust as genocides and already specifically bans Holocaust denial.

The same Turkish Government who is now France’s newest proponent of free speech in France, does not champion free speech in Turkey. Within Turkey’s borders, the Turkish Government censors the press and the Internet, and criminally prosecutes those who “insult Turkishness” with their words, this includes openly commenting about the Armenian Genocide. While the facts about Turkey’s human and civil rights abuses are well known, Turkey’s aggressive multi-decade, multi-national, multi-million dollar lobbying efforts aimed at blocking Armenian Genocide recognition are less frequently in the headlines.

Do we have free speech when an outside government dictates what we can and cannot say under the guise of foreign diplomacy? Questions raised about free speech are fair and essential. However, we must not limit this discussion to the passing of a law in France. Michael Bobelian’s book, Children of Armenia, which is painstakingly documented, illuminates the dark side of genocide denial and illustrates how it is possible to forget (or never learn) about seismic events in modern history.

If criminalizing genocide denial is not the answer, how do we combat hate speech and state-sponsored genocide denial?

Here are a few articles about today’s news from France:

France’s Armenian Genocide Law Put On Hold
Armenian Weekly | January 31, 2012

Top French court asked to weigh in on bill making it a crime to deny Armenian genocide
Washington Post | January 31, 2012

France Turkey row: Genocide bill faces court hurdle
BBC News | January 31, 2012

 


Yes Turkey, it was Genocide — Vive la France!

December 23, 2011

Yesterday, we received the news from around the world that France’s lower house of Parliament voted to criminalize denial of the Armenian Genocide. Of course, Turkey’s Prime Minister went ballistic. In his tirade against France, Erdogan accused the French of stifling free speech. Ironically (of course), as the New York Times correctly noted, “Turkey’s own penal code makes affirming the genocide a crime on the grounds that it is an insult to Turkish identity. In March, Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel Prize winner, was fined 7,000 lira, about $3,700, for his statement in a Swiss newspaper that ‘we have killed 30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians’.”

As new information concerning the Armenian Genocide occurs, I do my best to report it in this blog in a timely manner. However, yesterday, I was increasingly frustrated as I read articles published in the world’s leading newspapers, most using language which obfuscate the truth about the history of the first genocide occuring in the 20th century. There are official volumes (archives full) of the facts of Turkey’s systematic killing of between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians under the cover of World War I.

Turkish historian Taner Akcam has documented the motivation for this genocide in his master work, “A Shameful Act“. Basically, in addition to racial hatred of the non-Turkish, non-Muslim Armenian Christian minority, Turkey coveted the land the Armenians occupied for thousands of years. The Turkish government also saw an opportunity to create an instant Muslim, middleclass by taking all of the Armenians’ properties and belongings and redistributing the ‘bootie’ (including houses) to its Muslim population.

During the genocide, the United States Ambassador to Turkey was Henry Morgenthau. In his first-person account of the Armenian Genocide, he recalls a conversation with one of the masterminds of the genocide, Talaat Pasha:

One day Talaat made what was perhaps the most astonishing request I had ever heard.  The New York Life Insurance Company and the Equitable Life of New York had for years done considerable business among the Armenians.  The extent to which this people insured their lives was merely another indication of their thrifty habits.  “I wish,” Talaat now said, “that you would get the American Life insurance companies to send us a complete list of their Armenian policy holders.  They are practically dead now and have left no heirs to collect the money.  If … all escheats to the State, the Government is the beneficiary now. Will you do so?”

This was almost too much, and I lost my temper.  “You will get no such list from me,” I said, and I got up and left him.

Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, p. 339. [Source]

In addition to the records in government archives in the U.S., France, Germany, and Great Britain, there was an unprecedented humanitarian relief effort spearheaded by Evangelical and Catholic missionaries, who went to heroic lengths to save the Armenians. Many relief workers documented what they witnessed in Turkey, in brutal detail. There are thousands of eyewitness accounts and so much scholarly work on this subject, that the veracity of the facts cannot be disputed.

However, the Turkish government spends millions of dollars each year to lobby lawmakers in the United States and countries all over the world to vote against recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Turkey has also infiltrated some of the world’s leading universities, ensuring books about the Armenian Genocide are not available in their libraries and endowing chairs. The effort and amount of disinformation Turkey continues to manufacture about the Armenian Genocide is astonishing.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the French government for standing up and saying no to Turkey. It is unlikely the United States and Israel will suddenly become enlightened with moral clarity, but one can always hope.


Does it matter whether Turkey admits it was genocide?

May 6, 2011

Yesterday, I attended a talk by a well-known reporter who has covered the Armenian community and the United Nations throughout her career. At the end of the talk, the question of whether it matters if Turkey admits to the Armenian Genocide came up. I chose to listen to the opinions shared, not offering mine despite being among Armenians in the familiar surroundings of the Eastern Dioceses of the Armenian Church complex. It is interesting to note that Armenians do not share one mind when it comes to the topic of the Armenian Genocide.

Dr. Richard Hovannisian at 2011 Times Square Commemoration of Armenian Genocide

Dr. Richard Hovannisian at 2011 Times Square Commemoration of Armenian Genocide

While there is no doubt in any Armenian’s mind about the veracity of the facts concerning the Armenian Genocide, we do not all agree on what to do with this knowledge.

Many Armenians (like a significant percentage of those attending the commemoration of the 96th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Times Square) want reparations and land. Many only want an official acknowledgment and apology from the government of Turkey.

Opinions also tend to be colored by whether or not an Armenian individual’s family was a victim of the Genocide or not. Present-day Armenians living in Turkey frequently disparage Armenians in the diaspora for our politics, which is something not altogether surprising, because the Turkish government considers the vocal diaspora (especially in the United States) to be a thorn in its side. 

As I’ve come to learn, Armenians from the former Soviet Republic of Armenia and the Middle East have varying degrees of knowledge about the Armenian Genocide. Generally speaking, Armenians living in Europe and the United States have historically had far greater access to the wealth of knowledge about the history of the Armenian Genocide. This, too, informs the opinions Armenians have about the Turkish question.


April genocide remembrance and avoidance

April 20, 2011

April has the unfortunate distinction of being the month in which both the Armenian Genocide and Rwandan Genocide were initiated. I wonder how many Armenians and Rwandans are aware of the striking similarities between the Armenian Genocide and the Rwandan Genocide.

20th Century Mass Killings Remembered
Voice of America | April 18, 2011

April is also the month in which US Presidents seem to dissassociate from their moral convictions concerning the Armenian Genocide:

Obama’s lack of moral clarity on Armenian genocide issue
LA Times | April 20, 2011


Armenian Genocide denial doesn’t make it go away

April 19, 2011

As Turkey is finding out, denying genocide does not succeed in making the issue disappear. Ironically, the government of Turkey continues to indirectly finance awareness of the Armenian Genocide by spending millions of dollars annually to fight Armenian Genocide recognition.

In contrast, Germany, Turkey’s former war ally, is an example of a country that meets its responsibility to educate the world about its role perpetrating the Holocaust, with the hope that education will prevent future genocides.

I recently attended a lecture and exhibit at a Sephardic Jewish center in New York City, and was privileged to see an exhibit of Sephardic Jews in the diaspora commissioned by the government of Spain (which expelled the Jewish people in 1492).

And, in March, on a visit to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia—where the founders of the United States of America gathered to write the Declaration of Independence—I was happily surprised to see the U.S. government’s displays acknowledging slavery in America at this prominent national historic site.

Many of the people of Turkey know what happened in April 1915 in their country. Most of the world also knows that 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish Government. The game of not officially ‘recognizing’ the systematic killings as genocide by certain governments is not a reflection of historical truth, but rather ugly and amoral present-day politics.

German, Spain, and the United States are just three examples of countries who tell the truth about their past crimes and injustices. Although they cannot undo the past, these countries make a serious effort to remember history, so history (of that kind) does not repeat itself.

As long as Turkey denies its genocide of the Armenian people, it will sadly remain stained by its fathers’ sins.  When the day finally arrives that Turkey accepts and apologizes for its past crimes, I believe the world community will welcome the opportunity to view Turkey with greater respect and friendship.


2011 96th Annual Armenian Genocide Commemorations

April 13, 2011

California:

Culver City (Sony Pictures)

April 21, 2011 – 3PM
Sony Pictures
10202 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
818-500-1918 (Call for more information)
YouTube Video

BUSES DEPART 1:30PM from:
Encino – Ferrahian School
Glendale – St. Mary’s Church
Hollywood – R&A Pillbos School

Los Angeles

April 24, 2011 – 4 PM
Turkish Consulate
6300 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Montebello

Genocide Vigil to Feature Element Band, Zulal and Raffi Semerdjian
Asbarez.com | April 12, 2011

Connecticut:

Wright announces Armenian genocide commemoration
StamfordPlus.com | April 13, 2011

New York City:

Armenian Genocide 96th Anniversary Commemoration — Times Square — Sunday, May 1, 2011
ArmenianGenocideBlog.wordpress.com | April 4, 2011

[Please send information about all Armenian Genocide commemorations to the editor via a comment for inclusion in this blog.]


The Questions of Armenian Genocide Denial and Insulting Turkishness

April 12, 2011

I consider myself a reasonable and intelligent person. Yet, I fail to understand how Turkey has succeeded at bullying the world’s most powerful governments and leaders when it comes to Armenian Genocide recognition. 

  • Is it because there is a multimillion dollar industry built upon the lobbying for genocide denial? 
  • If Britain, the US, and Israel actually went on the record using the G-word, would Turkey actually stop all trade and military cooperation?
  • How is genocide denial in any country’s or peoples’ best interests?
  • Who benefits from genocide denial?
  • What greater good does such a policy serve?
  • Are the citizens of Turkey really better off because their government refuses to apologize for the past and thereby keeps its heinous deeds very much in the present?

Today, it is a crime in Turkey to insult Turkishness. At one time, my relatives were proud Turkish citizens. They spoke Turkish, listened to Turkish music, drank Turkish coffee, and loved the soil on which they were born. Is that Turkishness? 

When Sultan Hamid massacred the Armenians and the Ottoman Turks systematically decimating the Armenian Turks, many members of my family were killed because they were Christian and Armenian. Were the Turkish leaders’ acts  Turkishness’? 

My grandfather wrote a letter to his children telling of the Turkish family who risked their own lives to give him and his father refuge until they could escape from the Turkish soldiers hunting them down with the sole intent to kill them. Who was displaying Turkishness: the Turkish family or the Turkish soldiers? 

Who represents Turkishness today: the Turkish people who wish to make peace with their Armenian brethern or the Turkish Government who promotes and perpetuates genocide denial? 

P.S. As an American I am sad to see my government insulting Americanness.


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