Protect free speech for Turk Ragip Zarakolu: Imprisoned for publishing books about Armenian Genocide, Kurds

February 3, 2012

Do you know Ragip Zarakolu? He is in prison in Turkey for publishing books which ‘insult Turkishness’ because they are sympathetic to the human rights of minorities in Turkey. Zarakolu has suffered the wrath of the Turkish government for publishing books, including a Turkish translation of British author George Jerjian’s, The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenians and Turks and Professor Dora Zakayan’s, An American Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922.

Prime Minister Erdogan is Turkey’s leading demagogue (a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument). He twists truths as he shines the spotlight on human rights issues, including inhumane blockades and freedom of speech. Rather than looking in the direction he points (as the media tends to do as if by reflex), learn more about Turkey’s nearly 20-year illegal blockade strangling the Republic of Armenia and look-up Article 301 which renders free speech in Turkey a crime.

Until Turkey acknowledges and apologies for perpetrating the Armenian Genocide, let’s use the publicity surrounding the Turkish Government’s interference in France’s legislative process (protesting France’s pending genocide denial legislation which would give  Armenian Genocide denial the same legal status as Holocaust denial in France) as another opportunity to educate the world about genocide and crimes against humanity.

You can protect the human right of free speech by supporting courageous righteous Turks such as Ragip Zarakolu. Read more about Ragip Zarakolu and his case on the PEN American Center website. Please send a letter on his behalf (there is a link on the PEN webpage).

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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.

 


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