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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.