Most news reports and commentary on the adoption by the French Senate of the Bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915 seem to miss the main aim the French legislators intended for it to achieve. I will argue in this Article that France’s decision should be seen as a giant step forward in the protection human rights, international law and order, historical and scientific integrity.
Dealing with clichés:
It is a great shame that most of the hundreds of repetitive articles on the issue in the recent days, seem to focus on the French-Turkish political controversy and the alleged violation of the ‘freedom of speech’, rather than exploring the reasons why such bill became necessary.
Some of this journalism seems to be more about ‘copy’- ‘paste’ rather than research and one cannot help the anger at the unprofessionalism of the authors, who fail to make an effort to see the larger picture.
The main critique of the Bill is summarised in the rather correct statement that, ‘history should be left to historians’. This catchy line is repeated in parrot fashion by every other commentator on the issue, without giving much thought to what this actually means in the current scenario. Let’s see.
Historians have indeed done their job and they found in their overwhelming majority a genocide to have taken place in Turkey in 1915, taking the lives of around 1,5 million innocent Armenians. The Turkish government not being able to bring itself to accepting the outcome of leaving history to historians, invests heavily into creating the industry of denial of what the historians have established, hiring London and Washington based professional lobbying groups, paying pseudo-historians for scientifically incorrect articles and, most importantly, applying political pressure on other governments to refrain from accepting what the historians are saying.
So, it is actually Turkey that is against leaving history to the historians and the main culprit of the further international politicisation of the issue.
Then, it is argued in almost every report on the issue, that the French Bill was a political move on behalf of the Sarkozy’s government to win 500,000 Armenian votes. Numbers are a great way to make an impression, are they not? 500,000 – any politician would want that number of votes, if it could be achieved through a single piece of legislation, right?
Now, 500,000 is not very accurate, it is an estimate. But lets accept it as a true number of people of Armenian decent in France.
Around 100,000 of those will not eligible to vote in the next elections not having achieved the required suffrage age.
Many of these people will vote for Socialists because of ideology, many do not like Sarkozy personally, many do not like his party. This Bill, which was cross-party supported and argued against is not a move that would have made all these French citizens forget every other worry they have with regards to the future of France and always vote for Sarkozy from now on. He has not even done enough to associate himself with the Bill, as not to raise further international tension.
It is rather insulting to the Armenian community in France to treat them as this homogenous mass, almost a totalitarian religious sect, that is making decisions in a centralized way and forcing its members to follow the ruling of the chiefs of the tribe.
And what about Turks living in France? Has a single journalist quoting the 500,000 Armenian votes even attempted to look up their numbers? You might be surprised. By different estimates there is, yes, you have guessed, around 500,000 Turks living in France. When we add the millions of Muslims who could potentially take this Bill as an insult to a fellow Islamic nation, as indeed the Organisation of Islamic Conference has declared, then you get a slightly less convincing argument.
Now, I am getting closer to the more serious point put forward by the more respectable critics of the Bill, who are voicing, sometimes quite convincingly, concerns with regards to the impact this law could potentially have on the freedom of speech in France.
The necessity of the Bill explained:
In the opinion of a number of Genocide scholars, denial is the last component of an unpunished genocide. If states which have committed genocide get away with denying it, they achieve the ultimate goal of the perpetrators.
When a powerful nation, such as Turkey is allowed by its allies to conduct a unequivocal campaign of denial, paying pseudo-historians to rewrite history, this issue needs to be addressed in legal terms.
If someone denies the Holocaust, which as you know is recognised by Germany and taught in its schools, the sheer power of Jewish and pro-Israeli organisations will put an end to that person’s career in any walk of life. However, in many countries, including France, the denial of Holocaust is prosecuted as well. And that is a good thing.
Jewish communities around the world might have enough influence to destroy such people today with non-legal means, however the enhanced power to bring prosecution against them in court, allows better peace of mind for the future.
There is a number of extremist organisations all across the globe who try to justify past crimes against humanity and if they are given a platform under the auspices of ‘freedom of speech’, that will bring end to all freedom in our understanding.
In the case of Armenians who are up against a denialist machine of a G20 country such law becomes a necessity. The undignified approach of Turkish government of cowardly undermining a great tragedy that wiped Armenians of the face of their ancestral land, most probably never to return, is sickening.
What freedom of speech is being protected here, I cannot comprehend. The freedom of expression has never been absolute and limitations on it are in place in a number of democratic societies based on the overriding considerations of public policy.
Arguably genocide denial is just another expression of hate speech and a very dangerous one indeed.
After the September 11 attacks British government introduced a law banning ‘glorification of terrorism’. Why did no one object to that? Because it is immoral to glorify terrorists, one would argue, although all that is being done is expressing one’s thoughts.
However, public policy and safety require such limitation on that freedom.
How is denial of genocide, which can lead to falsification of history, glorification of murderers as national heroes and representation of racist ideology as necessary for national preservation different?
Is it not in public interest to stop this type of expression of extremist views?
Acts such as this adopted by the French Parliament are the powerful tool the free world can impose against such blatant efforts to rewrite history and help to push Turkey closer to an open debate of their not so recent dark past.
As long as their well-paid agents in universities, newspapers and international organisations are allowed to continue creating this industry of denial, the lazy, unprofessional journalists will continue to refer to such works and publications, creating an impression of historical non-clarity. This phenomenon, quite cynically, pictures Armenians and their allies as being politically motivated to harm Turkey and masterfully imposes such views on major world media – which in their polit-correct bid to be ‘impartial’, continue to add to the general public opinion confusion over the issue. This is insulting to the descendants of the survivors and should not be allowed to happen.
This is the type of denial this law is called to address. Drawing false parallels with other historical events and arguing that this might open the floodgates for more similar laws is not correct. Each page of our common history deserves a full examination of all relevant circumstances and the circumstances of the tragic event in question call for such drastic measures in the name of humanity and its common values. No one challenges the historical truth about the slave trade today, but if someone did it would arguably have purely racist motives. If then it grew to be a global political issue and governments started embracing this denial for sinister reasons, hurting the feelings of millions of descendants of the victims of the slave trade, then, yes, a law prohibiting such denial would become necessary in democratic societies around the world.
As Socialist legislator Yannick Vaugrenard told his upper house peers. “The truth is not always strong enough to conquer lies.”
Another misconception of the Armenian question is that it is something belonging to history books, a non-current issue with no implications in the modern times. One could not be more mistaken.
Turkey, needs to face its demons if it plans, as it argues, to become a free, democratic society. As long as Turkey, as a nation, does not have the maturity of a society which can deal with its historical shortcomings, how can other members of the international community treat it with trust and respect? Is such a country ready to be accepted as a full member of the European Union?
More importantly, the Armenian genocide is a current political question that stands between Armenia and Turkey. Unless, Turkey recognises the fact of the genocide to have taken place, there can never be peace and reconciliation between the two nations. How long are Armenians to leave in fear of one day being subjected to the same treatment as their ancestors from a country that proclaims many of the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide national heroes? Modern Turkey was founded on the very racist ideology that was the reason for this genocide and as long as the Turkish establishment refuses to be honest with the world and its own citizens, the Turkish state remains a danger to all neighbouring nations and their own ethnic minorities.
Therefore, I submit that arguments for the ‘protection of freedom of speech’ are rather naïve and counterproductive.
A line must be drawn between true and false. Denial of the Armenian genocide should be prosecuted in the name of preventing hate speech in free societies, in the name of achieving peace between Armenia and Turkey, for the sake of scientific integrity, and the more democratic future of Turkey itself.
The victims of the genocide deserve to rest in peace.
About the Author
Arshak Mkrtchyan (aka Arshakuni) – is a relatively new but very interesting, sometimes controversial blogger from the UK, who blogs only when he really has a point to make.
It is very true! Thanks for your article
Arshak’s article very closely reflects what I feel too, as expressed in an earlier article here https://ditord.com/2011/12/24/denial-and-freedom-of-speech/
True. 100 % agreed. I think any sane person will agree.
Very good piece,
Another challenge, or rather the reason of Turkey’s behavior is Turkish society itself. Oppressed, dogmatized and deprived of basic freedoms.
The society where political prisoners, night visits of secret police and jailed journalists are common… It hard to expect any reasonable or at least tolerant reaction from that kind of society.
Thank you for this post again.
One of the best articles written, thanks.
It’s an interesting article, and I’ll add a few thoughts. There is no such thing as ‘Freedom of Speech’ – not even in the US. It is just an expression with many limitations. For example, you do not have the freedom to make speech that will lead to harming others, and this can even be economic rather than physical harm.
Now as far as ‘leaving history to historians’, this should never be confused with the political nature of the Armenian Genocide and should never be allowed to replace it. Pretty much the only thing Turkey wants with the Armenian Genocide is that it be subject to historical study and debate, EVEN IF history decides it was a genocide, and not be ‘political’.
If it becomes a political issue (which it is), then that’s when Turkey must answer to its crimes because that is the only instance where the Armenian people and the Armenian nation have a case against Turkey as a genocide perpetrator and denier. If it is accepted as fact historically and nothing more, then Turkey will get away with the Genocide. This is what the struggle of the Armenians is all about.
“accepted” principles was meant
Hayaser is right.
From a French point of view, it is a subject of freedom of speech, from an Armenian point of view, it is about Justice and Reparations.
I hope our leaders are actively preparing for filing reparation claims.
Demarcation of the borders is imperative, return of Mount Ararat to Armenia, returning the lands that would secure access to the Black sea, and appropriate financial retribution. There is no escape from this, regardless of how many years Turkey follows a denial policy, the bill would only get more expensive!
You started with a lousy sentence then made a good post.
‘Hayaser’ is most definitely NOT right, because he wants the opposite of what you state in your post: the division and fall of Armenia, and he is a mixed kazkaz nobody, not Armenian like he has fooled you.
I am sorry to say, but anyone who is speaking about the Mount Ararat and access to the Black Sea is dreaming.
This was an invitation for a different type of discussion. I was hoping there would be people who would have some alternative views on battling incorrect and politically cynical views on the subject.
Unfortunately, we can only do one thing well – brag.
Dear Arshak, the freedom fighters who liberated Artsakh did slightly more than bragging and dreaming.
From Monte “It is about time that we loudly repudiate the romantic conceit that. My pen is my gun. Pens are pens and guns are guns. There are more than enough intellectuals in the diaspora. What we need are fighters, soldiers, fedaiis.”
If we are too afraid to join the Armenian Armed Forces, at least we have the duty to go to Armenia/Artsakh, live there and contribute to its prosperity. It is high time for the diaspora to do a bit more than dreaming and talking. The burden on Armenia is too heavy.
Anyway, back to your thoughts, Turks are Turks, they will never change. French have their interests and follow a certain EU driven policy with respect to the bill that was passed, most probably it was a mix of different factors (build walls to inhibit Turkey’s EU entry, pressure on Turkey to apply EU compliant policy in certain middle eastern affairs, presidential elections in france and Armenian lobby pressure).
Does the bill encourage Turkey and Armenia to normalize relations and open talks? I doubt it.
Does the bill encourage Turkey to recognize the atrocities commited by the Ottomans? No!
Does the bill withhold Turkey or Azerbaijan from commiting another genocide? Hell no!
What Armenia needs now is to preserve its independance, secure its borders, improve its economy, eradicate corruption, reverse the negative demographic trend and ensure that Armenia will still exist for the generations to come. I hope we channel our energies in those directions as well.
This comment of your was rather different in style.
First, you bring the freedom fighters into this,which is quite unrelated to my reply, as you see it as a good start to speak from a position of the ultimate patriot.
Then, you change your tone and rather than continue your Mt. Ararat and Black Sea argument, switch to Armenia & Artsakh. A position, which I, by the way, support.
Finally, yet again, you do not really provide any feedback to what the post was about.
I don’t understand why you have to critisize the style and content of what another person writes.
I reminded you of the freedom fighters in response to your outrageous statement that whoever talks about Ararat and Black sea is dreaming and bragging. Artsakh was a prime example how Armenians when determined and unified are able to liberate their ancestral occupied lands. It should not be the final episode though.
On the contrary, whoever talks about Armenia without Ararat and black sea access is dreaming and a surrenderist. Because without Ararart, Armenia is not Armenia. And without black sea access, the long term viability of the state is threatened. A landlocked country, surrounded by enemies almost on all sides (even the south if one considers that northern Iran is populated by ethnic Azeris who might potentially switch their loyalty to Azerbaijan), one also can imagine a potential flare up in Iran and the consequences that might incur on Armenia. You know the border in Gerogia is also tense in terms of customs and control. Georgia actively is encouraging East-West (turkish/azeri supported) infrastructure development while totally ignoring – bypassing Armenian populated Javakhk choking them to poverty, as well as obstructing North-South development, Armenia’s lifeline to Russia.
My feedback actually came fully inline with your article’s section “political importance” and I reiterate.
First, we all know the rhetoric, history belongs to historians, and the Armenian question should be left to Historians, we know to who such statements belong, and I agree that this topic is politically relevant in our times. But I disagree on your further statements.
You make it sound as if the 100 years efforts of Armenians to get the Genocide recognized is for the democratic development of Turkey. Truth is we do not care the least if Turkey’s democracy develops or not, if it joins EU or not, if it faces its demons or not. These are things the Turks should invest on themselves for themselves and it is not up to Armenians to dedicate huge amounts of money and energy in that direction.
Second, the genocide issue is no problem between Armenia proper and Turkey. The normalization protocols between the two states are still open. Flights to and fro Turkey- Yerevan do take place, business is flourishing, and many Armenians are living in Turkey.
The Truth is that Armenia is very keen on opening the land borders and establishing normal relations without any recognition of genocide whatsoever. So your statement that the genocide issue is an obstacle for proper relations between the two states is unfounded. The harsher truth is that Armenia is under blockade by Turkey for geopolitical reasons. Maybe they would want to see Armenia economically suffered and choked, depopulated, and one day Turkish troops march over empty barren Armenian lands straight to Baku and gain direct access to the caspian and beyond, the treasures of turkic central asia.
Now you can tell me perhaps that punishing genocide denial helps in resolving the blockade imposed by Turkey on Armenia? Truth is Turkey stubborn as it is, will implement even harsher anti-Armenians policies and moreoever incite Azerbaijan for more agressive activities in Artsakh. Boost further military support to their Azerbaijani brothers, incite them for increasing sniping activity etc..
My opinion is that prosecution of denial of the Armenian genocide
should be another boost to Hay Tad, if signed by the French president perhaps other countries who have not recognized the events as Genocide might be encouraged to do so. The final aim of the reocgnition is reparations, reparations, reparations…nothing short of that….you think this is also a dream? I hope the files to submit at the Hague tribunal are already prepared, it is only a matter of timing.
Now dear Sir, what kind of reparations would you imagine Armenians would settle for?
There are three possibilities.
1- Armenians, materialist and money worshipping as we are, would rather settle for cash instead of land.
2- Turkey would offer scattered land in Turkey proper under the condition that Armenians would go and live there. ofcourse noone is willing to go and live among kurds and turks.
3- Turkey will have to return parts of the occupied lands back to Armenia. Then comes the question which parts? Access to black sea and Ararat is imperative for the long term viability of Republic of Armenia.
Such is the political relevance of the bill, and not simply “preventing hate speech in free societies, achieving peace between Armenia and Turkey, scientific integrity, and the more democratic future of Turkey itself.” as you have stated
I can see a real patriot in you. I am really sorry to say, but you are dreaming.
It is unrealistic to speak about Black Sea access and Mt. Ararat. If you cannot see it, then you are not looking close enough both at Turkey and at Armenia.
There is no question of repatriations from Turkey. Even if Turkey recognises the Genocide, there will be no Hague Tribunal. Who will you be taking to the Tribunal – Taleat and Enver are dead.
There can be no repatriations as such either. It is not possible legally or politically. Turkey is not a nation defeated in war.
There can be concessions with regards to access to Sea, trade, etc. but this will not be monetary in nature.
Maybe, maybe, if we can apply enough political pressure we can get Turkey to waive their Land Limitation Act provisions and claim some real property back if we can prove the living descendants of these driven out from these properties have a title in law or in equity to them.
The main reason why the Turkish acceptance of the Genocide is important is because in current circumstances it will provide the political capital to pressurize Turkey to give up their support of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh issue.
We can’t claim land back to the West, but we can keep what we have got in the East.
And for the Republic of Armenia this will be a great achievement.
Since you are sorry to say it, I suggest you keep that idea within yourself. For people that think like you, had someone told them in 1987 that they want Armenia to be free including Artsakh, you would say the same thing. Now look what has happened.
The truth remains, for you and others like you, it is a dream, because you are the type that settles for a bone. That does not mean that for the Armenians as a whole that is reality or that it is the path for Armenia. Dreaming is irrelevant. Justice is relevant. Everything else can be worked out one day through law preferably, or war not-preferably.
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