Armenian genocide becomes political football —again

Pretty funny that the Turkish Foreign Ministry has officially congratulated novelist Orhan Pamuk, who has just won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, saying the prize would make valuable contributions to promotion of Turkish literature in the world. (Xinhua, Oct. 13) Meanwhile, the Turkish government, which recently put Pamuk on trial for daring to write the truth about the World War I-era Armenian genocide, seems to be doing its best to suppress Turkish literature. And just to complicate things further, France’s move to make denial of the Armenian genocide a criminal offense is meeting with all the predictable reactions…

The government of Armenia welcomed the passage of the law by the French lower house of parliament making it crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I amounted to genocide. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the measure was a “natural reaction” to Turkey’s denial that the killings amounted to genocide. (AP, Oct. 12) Ankara, meanwhile, calls it—perhaps with reason—a French strategy to roadblock Turkey’s entry into the European Union. An Oct. 13 commentary by Howard Eissenstat in Lebanon’s Daily Star notes how the French move actually weakens the push by Turkish intellectuals to overturn Article 301, the law that criminalizes historical truth-telling:

Now, however, discussion of Article 301 has almost completely disappeared from the Turkish public sphere while newspapers endlessly discuss the French proposal. The draft law, moreover, has allowed the most anti-democratic elements in Turkish society to pose as “defenders of liberty.” Turkish intellectuals who had been exerting their energy to develop greater awareness of the Armenian genocide, or simply working for more freedom, have been forced to suspend their criticisms of Article 301 to argue against the French law. They realize that defending the freedom to express unpopular opinions in Turkey requires that they also defend unpopular opinions in France.

These laws are equally abhorrant, and the European fetish for criminalizing historical revisionism is utterly self-defeating. As we recently noted in the case of the vile Holocaust denier David Irving:

The laws against Holocaust denial are motivated (we strongly suspect) by Europe’s (well-deserved) sense of historical guilt–not by any real committment to address the problem, which is a considerably more complicated proposition. The laws are, in fact, counter-productive, as they muddy the moral waters, showing “democracy” as the “real” totalitarianism. They serve as effective propaganda precisely for those they seek to silence. Democracy, if it is worth its name, should take the moral high ground. These geeks should be repudiated, but not persecuted.

See our last post on free speech struggles in Turkey.

  1. Didn’t get it…
    Why is it funny for a government official to congratulate the success of one of citizen of his/her country? And on what basis do you propose that the Turkish government “seems to be doing its best suppress Turkish literature”?