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.

 


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.


Tell New York Times: Armenian Genocide committed by Ottoman Turks in Turkey not in Armenia

March 29, 2011

In the 21st Century, the United States and western allies are finally working to prevent genocide:

An Aide’s Clout Shows in Obama’s Address
New York Times | March 29, 2011

TAKE ACTION

Please call the New York Times to thank them for this article and thank reporter Sheryl Gay Stolsberg for including the reference to the Armenian Genocide. Be sure to ask them to correct an important mistake: The Armenian Genocide was carried out in Turkey, not in Armenia. Call the New York Times, toll-free: 1-888-698-6397. Or email reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, by clicking her name at the top of the article.


More Signs of Genocide in Africa

December 29, 2010

Ivory Coast on ‘Brink of Genocide,’ New UN Ambassador Says
Businessweek.com | December 29, 2010

Genocide is a crime against humanity:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/rwanda/reports/dsetexhe.html

Also see:

Stop Genocide Now


End Turkey’s Gag Rule: Call or Email Congress for Armenian Genocide Resolution Vote

December 19, 2010

Call or Email your US Congress representative for Armenian Genocide Resolution vote Tuesday, December 21st

Find your representative in Congress from the Armenian National Committee of America’s website:

http://www.anca.org/endthegagrule/

Read more about this historic vote which may be scheduled for Tuesday (search 252 on this website):

Genocide resolution nears vote on December 21
Armenian Reporter | December 18, 2010

Please don’t think to yourself that your parents or friends will contact your representatives, so you don’t need to do it to. EVERY VOTE COUNTS. Your call could make the difference to your representative in Congress, and their vote could be the deciding vote. Our leaders need to know that we care and that it’s not okay to buckle to the Turkish lobby. All that we have, we owe to our grandparents and great-grandparents. Tell your member of Congress what happened to your family members in the Armenian Genocide. They need to hear it from you.

Read my letter to President Obama telling him about my grandfather, Dr. John Karnig

The world is owed affirmation of the truth that what happened in Turkey in 1915 was Genocide. Until our leaders have the courage to acknowledge this truth we are doomed to repeat history, including genocides. The Holocaust, Darfur, and Rwanda all happened after the Armenian Genocide because the perpetrators saw that Turkey’s misdeeds were never punished and censured.

Please send this link to everyone you know and ask them to email Congress today:

http://www.anca.org/endthegagrule/

© Sheri Jordan and Aunt Sheri Says, 2009-2010.


I’ve been silent about Turkey’s Erdogan’s hypocrisy and hatefulness long enough

June 4, 2010

In today’s news (see Reuters link below), Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan commands Israel, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”—in English and in Hebrew.

Three questions:

  1. Did you ever wonder why Mr. Erdogan never hesitates to use the words ‘massacre’ and ‘genocide’ when accusing other governments?
  2. Why is Erdogan so outspoken when it comes to the human rights of peoples outside of his country, yet deaf, dumb and blind to human rights violations committed in his own country?
  3. How many times has he used the “G” word freely when accusing the Armenians of such acts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Israel in Gaza?

Turkey clearly set a trap for Israel and unfortunately Israel fell into the trap. Regardless of your politics concerning the Palestinians, it is unconscionable for the world to allow Turkey’s leadership to stir up antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments within Turkey and throughout the Moslem world for political gain. I guess Erdogan is tired of denying Turkey’s past (the Armenian Genocide), so he’s shifting the world’s focus to a tried and true political formula:  Pick on the Jews.

He emphatically denies the Armenian Genocide, which killed 1.5 million Christian Armenians, including babies and elderly women and men. The majority of those who managed to live were driven out of their native homeland (Turkey) to the desert, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Israel (then Palestine), Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Most of the Armenians who remained in Turkey were either forced to convert to Islam or enslaved. Armenians living in Turkey today (as well as all non-Moslem minorities) do not have the same rights as Moslem Turks. Furthermore, Turkey continues to blockade Armenia (don’t even get me started on the trap of the protocols)!

A few months ago, while loudly denying the Armenian Genocide from wherever he was in the world, he embraced Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir (who has committed crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, as determined by the International Criminal Court). Defending al-Bashir as a Moslem, Erdogan said a Moslem would never be guilty of such crimes. I have news for Mr. Erdogan, acts of genocide and crimes against humanity are perpetrated by men of all faiths—and, often in the name of God.

To this day, Turkey has a poor human rights record. Shouldn’t the country’s leadership champion the rights of its own citizens, rather than shouting about the human rights of those outside Turkey?

New Articles:

[Revised 12:29AM - June 5, 2010]

Turkey’s Erdogan bears responsibility in flotilla fiasco | Washington Post | June 5, 2010

Erdogan and the Decline of the Turks | Wall Street Journal | June 3, 2010

Link to Erdogan telling American journalist Charlie Rose ‘Armenian Genocide is complete a lie’ (Transcript and Video)

(If you didn’t see yesterday’s post, click here for the link to the video of a television broadcast of Turkish scholar Taner Akcam discussing the facts of the Armenian Genocide and his book, A Shameful Act.)

The Reuters link that was originally the first link provided here, was changed by Reuters to another news story. I found the content I originally read in the US version on Reuters’ India world news site. The content was cut and pasted in its entirety because of my concern the story will disappear again:

Angry Turkish PM tells Israel “thou shalt not kill”
Reuters | Saturday, June 5, 2010

By Ibon Villelabeitia

ANKARA (Reuters) – Israel’s only Muslim ally Turkey accused the Jewish state on Friday of betraying its own biblical law, escalating its furious rhetoric since the killing of nine Turkish activists on board a Gaza-bound aid ship.

Despite fierce international criticism from friends as well as enemies, Israel said it would block another vessel sent by pro-Palestinian activists, the Rachel Corrie, from attempting to reach the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s words towards Israel were his harshest yet since Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara on Monday, plunging into a melee with activists on board and opening fire.

“I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says ‘thou shalt not kill’. Did you not understand?” Erdogan said in a televised speech to supporters of his Islamist-leaning AK Party.

“I’ll say again. I say in English ‘you shall not kill’. Did you still not understand?. So I’ll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew ‘Lo Tirtzakh’.”

As relations plunged to their lowest point since the two countries forged a strategic relationship in the 1990s, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said military and economic agreements with Israel were now on the table for discussion.

“We are serious about this subject,” Arinc told the Turkish NTV news channel.

“We may plan to reduce our relations with Israel to a minimum, but to assume everything involving another country is stopped in an instant, to say we have crossed you out of our address book, is not the custom of our state,” he said.

Turkey has already recalled its ambassador and cancelled joint military exercises.

A spokeswoman for activists aboard the Rachel Corrie — named after an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 — said they intended to press on. Israel says it will block the ship but expects no more violence.

“We will stop the ship, and also any other ship that will try to harm Israeli sovereignty. There is no chance the Rachel Corrie will reach the coast of Gaza,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel’s Channel 1 television.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered Israeli forces to exercise “caution and politeness” in handling the ship, expected near the waters off Gaza by Saturday.

Together with Egypt, Israel tightened its blockade on Gaza after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave in 2007.

Israel has defended the embargo, saying it stops Hamas from bringing in weapons to fight Israel. Officials said on Thursday Netanyahu was considering modifying the blockade, which would introduce some form of international role in enforcing an arms embargo, while letting in civilian goods.

U.S. CALLS FOR PEACE EFFORTS

President Barack Obama said the incident should be used as an opportunity to advance Middle East peace efforts.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell, mediating in indirect Palestinian-Israeli talks which many observers doubt will achieve a breakthrough, met Netanyahu on Friday.

He held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday which a Palestinian official said were dominated by the ship incident and the Gaza blockade.

The United States has been less critical of Israel than others, expressing sympathy for its security concerns while also saying the people of Gaza must get the supplies they need.

Erdogan, however, compared the Israeli actions to those of Kurdish militants in Turkey and stood up for Hamas, calling them “resistance fighters fighting for their land”.

“The fate of Jerusalem is not different from the fate of Istanbul,” he said, in language reflecting the significance of the holy city to Muslims throughout the world. “The fate of Gaza is not different from the fate of Ankara.”

Turkey, an officially secular state, recognised Israel soon after its establishment in 1948. In the 1990s it forged military and intelligence cooperation agreements with Israel when both had hostile relations with Syria.

Its tough position this week has been popular in the Muslim world. Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah praised Erdogan’s stance in a video-link speech to thousands of followers on Friday.

Organisers had placed nine coffins draped in Turkish flags to commemorate the Turkish victims.

“Israel miscalculated here. It thought after it attacks, kills, detains and commits terror against the Freedom Flotilla, that would make the Turkish leadership retreat, be confused, scared and look for any resolution,” Nasrallah said.

Tens of thousands of people protested across Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state.

About 20,000 people gathered in the port of Alexandria, waving Egyptian, Turkish and Palestinian flags, unusual in a country where public demonstrations are often swiftly suppressed.

“Turkey, a thousand salutations. Long live Erdogan and long live the Turkish people,” the protesters chanted.

Photo caption: A masked member of Hamas stands in front of a banner depicting Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during a protest in Central Gaza Strip June 4, 2010, against Israel’s interception of Gaza-bound ships.


The moral courage to call the near extermination of the Armenian people genocide

April 15, 2010

For the past several weeks, I’ve been reading headlines that Turkish diplomats are confidently declaring that Obama will not use the word genocide on April 24th. Why do I continue to be amazed at Turkey’s power to dictate policy and terms of diplomacy to the US administration? Seeing how countries’ leaders can be bought, blackmailed and de-backboned is chilling.

What will it take for our politicians to do the right thing?

And, while I’m on the subject, where are the journalists who still know how to report the facts without relying on press releases supplied by lobbyists?


Thoughts about Armenian Genocide denial

April 12, 2010

In his Slate article, Christopher Hitchens writes:

“April is the cruelest month for the people of Armenia, who every year at this season have to suffer a continuing tragedy and a humiliation. The tragedy is that of commemorating the huge number of their ancestors who were exterminated by the Ottoman Muslim caliphate in a campaign of state-planned mass murder that began in April 1915. The humiliation is of hearing, year after year, that the Turkish authorities simply deny that these appalling events ever occurred or that the killings constituted ‘genocide’.”

But, the more I read, the more I’m beginning to think that the Turkish government is humiliating its own countrymen and further damaging its country’s reputation in the eyes of the world. Armenians don’t need Turkey to validate our history. We know what happened, as does most of the world.

The problem is that denial of the Armenian Genocide is hurtful and harmful. It is my sincerest wish that the remaining Armenian Genocide survivors could hear Turkey’s apology in their lifetime. But, that is not realistic. Especially, as long as nations, including the United States, Great Britain and Israel continue to look the other way as Turkey continues its multi-million dollar annual campaign to spread disinformation. The leaders of the world must muster up their moral courage and stand up to Turkey (as President Obama had promised he would when he was Senator Obama).

Read Hitchen’s article:

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



When is the right time to condemn genocide?

April 2, 2010

OPEN FORUM: The right time to condemn genocide
SFGate.com | March 30, 2010


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