Armenian Genocide: The French Constitutional Council’s Mistake by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Huffington Post | March 6, 2012
Armenian Genocide: The French Constitutional Council’s Mistake by Bernard-Henri Lévy
The Washington Post reports, “France’s Constitutional Council has ruled that a law concerning the mass killings of Armenians a century ago violates the country’s constitution.” An Armenian Weekly article states that President Sarkozy will reintroduce the bill with changes. There is a fear that the ruling could endanger France’s law which criminalizes Holocaust denial.
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
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:
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.
Despite aggressive threats and protests from the Turkish Government, France’s Senate passed a bill outlawing Armenian Genocide denial. In Turkey it is against the law to speak about the Armenian Genocide. Ironically, Turkey’s leaders accused the French of trying to stifle free speech.
France and several other European countries already have laws against Holocaust denial. Webster’s dictionary defines Genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.”
Extensive records documenting the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey, which began on April 24, 1915 and claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, exist in the archives of governments including the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Turkey. Many of the world’s countries officially recognize the mass atrocities committed upon Turkey’s minority Armenian Christian population by its then ruling Ottoman Turkish government as genocide.
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.
If you do not follow the politics concerning the United States Government’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide, you may not realize the news reported by Asbarez is a significant development (see link below). Despite threats from Turkey, President Obama is not actively pressuring Congress to dismiss the resolution. Past administrations have buckled to Turkey’s demands for political purposes, for decades. However, when President Obama was a senator, he made his views clear that he knows a genocide was committed by the Turkish Government at the beginning of the 20th century.
When you begin to learn about the history surrounding the Armenian Genocide, the eyewitness accounts and records locked in the government archives of the United States, France, and Germany, offer overwhelming evidence that genocide was committed by Turkey. Non-Armenian government diplomats, missionaries, doctors, and nurses, are among the individuals who recorded what they witnessed in letters, cables (telegraphs), photographs, and memoirs. The New York Times, National Geographic and other periodicals of the time also documented what journalists saw happening in Turkey.
Armenians all over the world can tell you some of what their grandparents and great grandparents told them. But, like my grandfather, most of what happened to the survivors remained burned into their memories and souls without ever being fully shared with anyone. Tonight, Armenians across America have hope that tomorrow the few remaining Armenian Genocide survivors may live to know that our government finally publicly will recognize the Armenian Genocide. Please read some of the other pages on this blog to learn more.
White House Indifferent on Genocide Resolution
Asbarez.com | December 21, 2010
The following outstanding documentary and books are highly recommended:
If you haven’t called your Congressional representative and the House Majority Leader, it will take you less than one minute to make these calls. All you need to know is your zip code: MAKE THE CALL TO VOTE YES FOR HOUSE RESOLUTION 252
Read the full text of House Resolution 252