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

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.

 

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