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.

 


Armenian Genocide 96th Anniversary Commemoration — Times Square — Sunday, May 1, 2011

April 4, 2011

THEME “TURKEY IS GUILTY OF GENOCIDE: DENYING THE UNDENIABLE IS A CRIME”

(February 25, 2011) NY, NY–For the 26th year, thousands of Armenian Americans and their supporters will gather in Times Square (43rd St. & Broadway) to commemorate the first genocide of the 20th Century: The Armenian Genocide. To be held on Sunday, May 1, 2011 from 2-4 PM, this historic event will pay tribute to the 1.5 million Armenians who were annihilated by the Young Turk Government of the Ottoman Empire. The Commemoration will also celebrate the survival and spirit of the Armenian people, their rich heritage and global contributions.

Presenters will include civic, religious, humanitarian, educational, cultural leaders and performing artists. This event is free and open to the public.

Armenian Genocide experts Dennis R. Papazian, PhD, National Grand Commander of Knights of Vartan, Dr. Arthur Kubikian, former Chairman of the Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square (1999 and 2006) and Dr. Raffi A. Hovanessian, active in Armenian affairs and Vice Chair of the Diocesan Council in N.Y., are available for media interviews via phone and in-person. Armenian Genocide Survivors are also available (with translators) to discuss their eyewitness accounts as refugees from the Armenian Genocide. Their painful accounts of the horrendous horrors and mass destruction they witnessed and lived through are critical contributions to world history.

Dr. Papazian comments, “There is no question that when genocide goes unpunished, it makes other perpetrators discount the possibility of being punished for their transgressions. The Turkish government to this day continues to deny the reality of the first genocide of the 20th Century, the Armenian Genocide, which opened the door to all the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries including the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. In fact, when Hitler sent his Death Heads troops into Poland at the beginning of World War II, he said, “Go. Kill without mercy. Who today remembers the extermination of the Armenians?”

Armenian Genocide experts and survivors available for interviews

Issues to explore with experts:

  • Why do the Armenians and supporters commemorate the Armenian Genocide?
  • What is the historical evidence to support the Armenian Genocide?
  • Why is the Turkish government denying the Armenian Genocide and what would be the outcomes if the Turkish government acknowledged the Genocide?
  • What major world historical events have taken place in the 20th and 21st centuries because of the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish Ottoman Empire and other nations?
  • What are the consequences of countries recognizing the Armenian Genocide?

The Experts

Dennis R. Papazian, PhD, is the National Grand Commander of Knights of Vartan and founding Director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where from 1971-2006, he held the position of Professor of History. He also served four years as Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America in Washington, D.C. In addition, Dr. Papazian was on the Board of Trustees of the American Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern), Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the St. Nersess Armenian Theological Seminary, President of the Society for Armenian Studies and Editor of the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies. He is listed in Who’s Who in America and resides in N.J. with his wife, Mary, who is Senior Vice President of Lehman College, CUNY.

Arthur H. Kubikian, DDS, is the former Chairman of the Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square (1999 and 2006) and is an active member of the Knights of Vartan.  He resides in Long Island, N.Y.

Raffi A. Hovanessian, MD, has been active in Armenian affairs throughout his life and is presently Vice Chair of the Diocesan Council in N.Y.  He has served on the boards of the Armenian Assembly, AGBU, St. Nersess Seminary and the American University of Armenia and is an active member of the Knights of Vartan.  He resides in N.J.

The 96th Commemoration is organized by the Mid-Atlantic chapters of Knights & Daughters of Vartan, a U.S. fraternal organization of Armenian-Americans, and co-sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Assembly of America, Armenian National Committee of America, Armenian Council of America and ADL-Ramgavars.

Participating Organizations: Diocese of the Armenian Church, Prelacy of the Armenian Church, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Catholic Eparchy for US and Canada, Mid-Atlantic ACYOA, AYF, Armenian Youth Organizations, Armenian University and College Clubs.

                                                                                    ###


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.


April and Genocide commemorations for Jews, Armenians, and Rwandans

April 30, 2010

In New York City, the public television network WNET ran genocide-themed programming during the month of April. I saw a program about a man seeking (and finding) ‘righteous’ Moslems who helped Jews survive during World War II. Thanks to WNET, I also finally mustered up the strength to watch the feature film, Hotel Rwanda, based on a the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda. I highly recommend the film.

And, as an Armenian, I wanted to attend the excellent programs commemorating the Armenian Genocide here in New York, including a reading of literature written by several of the Armenian intellectuals arrested by the Turkish Government on April 24, 1915. Most of the Armenian leaders and intellectuals were subsequently murdered and their voices silenced. In fact, this organized act of brutality has been described as ‘decapitating’ the Armenian nation. But, we owe a debt of gratitude to the dedicated staff of the Zohrab Center, who made it possible for the audience to hear the words of our poets, writers, and representatives in parliament come to life again, in the sanctuary of St. Vartan’s Cathedral.

I encourage you to learn about the histories of all three genocides and make it your business to know about the genocide being committed in Darfur. Of course, no one wants to look at the dark side of life, but it is important to know about man’s inhumanity to man, so we can recognize the signs and break the cycle of genocide. And, please make your voice heard for all those who can’t speak out.

Please read this excellent article written by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean of Rwanda:

April and Genocide
The Globe and Mail | April 30, 2010


Tufts University Confronts Genocide April 21st

April 12, 2010

Click image to enlarge

Roughly equivalent to Kristallnacht, April 24th marks the 95th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Many events are planned to commemorate this important date for Armenians all over the world.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2010, at 7:00 PM, Tufts University is hosting:

An Examination of Genocide
Across Generations, Continents and Cultures

Lenna Garibian, the granddaughter of an Armenian Genocide survivor, will join individuals who survived the Holocaust, Cambodian and Rwandan genocides at Tufts University’s upcoming program. Ms. Garibian will share her grandmother’s story at the event. The program also includes a panel discussion among genocide experts.

To RSVP for the event or for more information, please contact Laura Tashjian:  laura.tashjian@tufts.edu

Tufts University
Cabot Auditorium
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

160 Packard Avenue
Medford, Massachusetts

(Street parking is available on Packard Avenue and Boston Avenue.)


Armenian Genocide “Battle Over History” story to air on CBS 60 Minutes Sunday February 28th

February 27, 2010

[Ed Note (February 28, 2010):  See the program that aired on CBS 60 Minutes here]

The Diocese of the Armenian Church wishes to alert the public that the long-running CBS news program 60 Minutes will air a segment on the Armenian Genocide during its broadcast of Sunday, February 28, at 7 p.m. (EST). (The scheduling information comes via the official website of CBS News, www.cbsnews.com; please consult your local listings for broadcast times.)

The segment will feature an interview with Professor Peter Balakian, author of Black Dog of Fate and The Burning Tigris, and co-translator/editor of Armenian Golgotha. Reporting the story is senior correspondent Bob Simon, whose recent 60 Minutes work includes a segment on the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

A description of the Armenian Genocide segment, posted on the CBS News website, reads:

“The Armenians call it their holocaust – the 1915 forced deportation and massacre of more than a million Armenians by the Turks. But the Turks and our own government have refused to call it genocide.”

See the preview


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