97 years after 1915

April 24, 2012

Every April 24th Armenians around the world answer Hitler’s question, “Who remembers the Armenians?” This day is the anniversary of the rounding up, imprisonment, and eventual deportation and murder of Armenian intellectuals in Turkey in 1915.

Ninety-seven years after 1915, Armenians and non-Armenians, world leaders, governments around the world, and more and more Turkish intellectuals condemn the Turkish Government for its choice to actively deny the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish Government’s immoral genocide denial campaign extends beyond its borders. The Turkish Government’s propaganda has insidiously infiltrated the highest levels of many democratic governments, including the United States.

At least one and one half million Armenians (two-thirds of Armenians) died in the Armenian Genocide. Over six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Many believe Hitler was emboldened to carry out his plan to exterminate the Jews because he was inspired by Turkey’s near success with its systematic destruction of the country’s indigenous Armenian population.

Ninety-seven years after 1915 the world community continues to stand by and monitor genocides (e.g. Rwanda, Darfur). An evil dictator such as Syria’s Assad takes license to kill within his country’s borders because he believes he can get away with his crimes.

In a world in which the Iranian President can deny the Holocaust and incite fanatics to wipe Israel off the map, we must look inward and ask ourselves how we allow this behavior. We must vote out government leaders who enable genocide denial and genocidal regimes. We must mean what we say, when we declare “Never Again”.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of every Armenian victim of the massacres, pogroms, mass deportation and genocide committed by the Turkish government.


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

 


Passage of France’s Armenian Genocide Denial Law is an Opportunity for Education

January 24, 2012

According to the organization Genocide Watch, the last stage of genocide is denial. Seen through the prism of any Southern Poverty Law Center newsletter, yesterday’s passage of the Armenian Genocide Denial law by France’s Senate is easier to understand. Holocaust denial and genocide denial laws are not a new concept. Similar laws to the one passed yesterday in France already exist in several European countries (including France) and Israel. 

As I was seeking answers to address the multitude of questions raised by France’s historic genocide denial vote, I came across this paper, “Holocaust Denial Laws and Other Legislation Criminalizing Promotion of Nazism“, written by Michael J. Bazyler. Professor Bazyler is a von Oppenheim Research Fellow International Institute for Holocaust Studies, Yad Vashem, and Professor of Law, Whittier Law School. Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem is committed to four pillars of remembrance:

  1. Commemoration
  2. Documentation
  3. Research
  4. Education

Unfortunately, the Turkish Government is the primary perpetrator of Armenian Genocide denial. Its intense and emotional reaction to yesterday’s vote in France includes lashing out at France’s leaders with accusations of racism and being ‘anti-Islam’. Once again, Turkey’s elected leaders are inciting Turkish nationalist sentiment, rather than doing what is necessary as a nation to make amends for the crimes against humanity committed almost a century ago. This counterproductive behavior ensures that Turkey’s shameful Armenian Genocide history remains very much alive in the present and in our collective consciousness.

Within Turkey, a major obstacle to real solutions for moving forward is Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which is used to prosecute individuals who “insult Turkishness”. In Turkey, acknowledging and discussing the Armenian Genocide is grounds for imprisonment and large fines. Nobel Prize winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted for a statement he made in an interview, which referenced the Armenian Genocide.

While it remains a challenge for Turkey to acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian Genocide, the time must come. This is necessary for Turkey to take the place it aspires to have on the world stage, and as a member of the European Union. After reading about last week’s groundswell of Turkish outrage at the outcome of Hrant Dink murder trial in Istanbul, I do believe such a time is not far off. It is also not fanciful thinking to imagine the day when Turkey passes a law forbidding Armenian Genocide denial.

France, Germany, and Spain are among the countries that have apologized for their countries’ past atrocities. They are also setting an example for Turkey to follow regarding how to educate the world about the evils of genocide, hate speech, racism, and xenophobia. In a past blog post, Armenian Genocide denial doesn’t make it go away, I mentioned seeing the topic of slavery incorporated into the educational displays at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall historical sites in Philadelphia, which are part of the U.S. National park service.

Sadly, I do not hold out hope that Holocaust or Genocide denial will be outlawed in the United States, because the right to free speech is a value which Americans cherish more than safeguarding the rights of victims of hate speech, as the US Supreme Court 8-1 decision in the matter of Snyder v. Phelps clarified.

 


The late Christopher Hitchens on Turkey’s Armenian Genocide denial

January 2, 2012

In December 2011, the world lost the brilliant voice of Christopher Hitchens. Earlier this evening I came across this article Hitchens wrote for Slate Magazine (Slate.com) in April 2010:

Shut Up About Armenians or We’ll Hurt Them Again
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s latest sinister threat.
Slate.com | April 5, 2010


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.


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.


Turkey working to prevent Armenian Genocide Resolution vote by Congress in 24 hours

December 20, 2010

TAKE ACTION NOW: http://www.anca.org/endthegagrule/

Search Google News for ‘Armenian Genocide Resolution’ and read the media reports concerning Turkey’s efforts to stop the Armenian Genocide Resolution vote from going before Congress in the next 24 hours. And, please pass this message on to your family and friends. Thank you.

Letter Sent to My Congressional Representative:

Dear Representative Lowey,

I am one of your constituents living in Westchester County. If H.R. 252 comes before the U.S. House of Representatives, please consider my plea for you to vote to recognize the Armenian Genocide. I am the direct descendant of Armenians who faced brutality and the loss of most of their family (most of my grandfather’s family and many of my grandmother’s family) during this event.

My grandfather wrote a letter before he died, which I have in my possession, describing what he witnessed and experienced. His account matches everything that I have been able to verify in scholarly texts and memoirs written by survivors.

My grandfather came to the United States as a 15-year-old boy, through Ellis Island, and eventually rose to prominence as a dentist practicing in New York City. He loved this country and owed his life to America. He was a Mason and one of the founders of my family’s parish in Bayside, Queens — The Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs. He contributed a great deal to the Armenian and New York communities through his time, charity and profession.

Unfortunately, during his lifetime politics enabled Turkey to evade its responsibility to acknowledge its past. It remains inexcusable that the world’s leading democracy, the US failed to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide for what it was then and now. The Holocaust, Darfur, and Rwanda are all crimes against humanity, which is the phrase coined to describe the Armenian Genocide.

Now, only a few Armenian Genocide survivors are still alive in their adopted homeland, the USA. They should not die until they know their leaders simply acknowledged the atrocities committed by Turkey in 1915. We must not allow another government to dictate foreign policy to us to the extent Turkey has for so long.

If you wish to know more about this subject, I have collected a great deal of information and would be proud to share what I’ve learned.

Thank you for your time and consideration. (I hope you will receive this email before tomorrow’s vote.)

Sincerely,

Sheri Jordan


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