19 October 2006

1157) Outside View: Armenian Genocide And Turkey

Armenian genocide is in the news again. There are two reasons for this.

First, the Nobel Prize for literature was awarded this year to brilliant Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who had barely escaped prison for publicly acknowledging the 1915 Armenian genocide. This is qualified as treason by Turkish law. . .

He was saved by international solidarity but the pressure exerted on him by the Turkish government had its effect. Pamuk flatly refused to talk on the subject when he arrived in Moscow for the presentation of his book in Russian translation. On a human plane, this is easy to understand -- the author wanted to return home to Istanbul, the main character of all his books.

To sum up, the Nobel Committee's decision has caused mixed feelings in Turkey; it is not often that it gives such a prestigious award to someone who is guilty of "high treason" at home.

The law that has just been passed by the lower chamber of the French Parliament has evoked an even bigger uproar. In a way, this is a mirror image of the Turkish law on Armenian genocide; in Istanbul the crime is to admit genocide, whereas in France it is illegal to refute it.

The adoption of this law in France was generated by domestic pre-election considerations rather than international motives. It is highly dubious that the upper chamber will approve this law, and even less likely that the President will sign it. Moreover, France officially acknowledged the Armenian genocide by passing a relevant law in 2001. President Jacques Chirac was laying a wreath to the monument to the victims of genocide at almost the same time as the Parliament voted for the recent law.

Incidentally, the official date of the Armenian genocide -- 1915 -- is largely a convention. There had been atrocious anti-Armenian pogroms much earlier than that. Thus, the Turkish theory of attributing the events to the excesses of the war is not convincing. Moreover, the Turks were also slaughtering Greeks, Serbs, and many other Christians.

The wave of indignation which has swept Turkey because of Europe's renewed attention to the genocide is remarkable. The recent protests in Turkey suggest many questions. The main one is whether it is worth admitting to the EU a country that does not want to acknowledge its guilt for heinous past crimes and repent for them? Respect for Germany only grew when it was honest about the Holocaust. What prevents Turkey from telling the truth?

I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that the survival of European civilization in the 21st century depends on what decision the EU adopts on Turkey's admission. The excessive flow of migrants is already a heavy burden for Europe. The migrants may contribute to its culture, but every year the Europeans lose much more, and their identity is fading away amidst this carnival of newcomers. If Europe cannot absorb the migrants it already has, what will happen when it flings open its doors to Turkey? Fairy tale writers may hope that Europe stands to gain from this, but others will have to face reality.

On top of it all, there is also the religious aspect, from which Europe is trying to disassociate itself as much as possible. Meanwhile, political correctness is only indispensable in everyday life but very counterproductive when it comes to serious analysis. Looking at life through rose-tinted glasses means deliberately distorting reality, and making wrong decisions.

Speaking Aesopian language may help one avoid the "uncomfortable" word -- Islam. But if you want to survive in the real world, you had better look through old newspapers, recall the names of terrorists, find out who taught them, whom they prayed to, and who gave them money. Only in this way will you be able to protect yourself and your children.

As Orthodox Father Kurayev put it, instead of going into the future, rethinking and reassessing its past, elements within the Islamic world have convulsed under any excuse imaginable. On one occasion, it may be the problem of hijab, on another, the cartoon scandal, and on still other, a deliberate misinterpretation of an ancient quotation mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI. Fits of hatred are frequently directed at Christians, who are attacked and often murdered.

German opera directors have recently decided to cancel a performance with a Muslim motive for fear that Muslim fanatics might go crazy. Angela Merkel made a statement against this decision, but it did not help. Europe is already filled with fear.

Of course, it would be incorrect to say that most Muslim likes these fits of hatred. But the general goal of Islam is clear -- to unite the Muslim world along obvious lines. It is an indisputable fact that in the 21st century the non-Muslim world has developed serious problems with fundamentalist Islam.

Some people believe that these are growing pains rather than the gist of Islamic doctrine. I'd like to hope this is so. But even in this case, it is more sensible to wait until teenage aggressiveness is over before inviting such a guest home.

Others attribute Islamic extremism to impudence towards Muslims on behalf of people professing other religions. This also happens from time to time. Impudence is evil, but it should not be mixed with the right to speak the truth. Hard-line Muslims must learn to appreciate freedom of speech, and respect the opinion of others. Otherwise, we will get nowhere. This is absurdity rather than political correctness.

Still others think that social inequality is the root of all evil. This opinion is justified. We should end social inequality by all reasonable methods.

What we should not do is to fling European doors wide open without first thinking about the consequences. The times have changed.

Pyotr Romanov
19 October 2006
United Press International

Pyotr Romanov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti

French National Assembly makes denial of the Armenian genocide a punishable offence

The decision by the French National Assembly to make denial of the genocide of Armenians in 1915 a punishable offence is a reactionary provocation.

The prohibition primarily serves domestic purposes. In line with the ongoing campaign against Islam, this latest ban uses religious and ethnic issues to divert attention from increasing social tensions. The new bill does absolutely nothing to help explain one of the darkest chapters in the history of the last century. Quite the contrary, the intrusion by criminal law into historical debate is an attack on free speech and actually obstructs the clarification of historical questions.

The law, which was passed by the National Assembly last Thursday by 106 votes to 19, threatens those who deny the genocide of Armenians during the Ottoman empire with one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. The new law supplements a law unanimously passed by the National Assembly in 2001, which officially recognised the genocide conducted against the Armenians.

The new law was introduced by the main opposition party, the Socialist Party. Forty Socialist deputies voted in favour of the bill with two voting against. The law was also supported by the French Stalinist Communist Party (PCF).

The Gaullist government rejected the law on the basis of foreign policy considerations. But the governing UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) cleared the way for the law by freeing its deputies from party discipline and recommending non-participation at the vote. In the event, 49 UMP deputies, led by former minister Patrick Devedjian, who is of Armenian origin, voted for the new bill with 17 voting against. The vast majority of the Assembly’s 577 deputies did not attend the vote.

In order to become law the bill has to be agreed by the second chamber, the Senate. It is up to the government to decide if and when it introduces the bill into the Senate and it may well be the case that this will never happen. Nevertheless, the vote by the National Assembly has already had significant consequences.

Reaction has been particularly pronounced in Turkey, which has its own law making the opposite claim, i.e., affirmation of the genocide of 1915, a punishable offence. The extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had organized demonstrations against the French bill even before the vote was taken. Other organizations have called for a boycott on French goods and the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has threatened to retaliate with economic sanctions, including calling off a planned French-Turkish armaments deal, and a ban on French bids to construct a nuclear power plant.

Significantly opposition movements and representatives of the Armenian community in Turkey have also condemned the French law. They fear that it plays into the hands of right-wing, nationalist forces and could provoke repressive measures against the Armenian people. They are also opposed to the fact that France wants to enforce recognition of the Armenian genocide with the same measures Turkey is utilising denying it—i.e., penal law.

“How can we in future argue against laws that forbid us to talk about a genocide if France, for its part, now does the same thing? That is completely irrational,” commentated Hrant Dink, publisher of the Armenian Turkish weekly Argos. Dink, who was condemned to six months in prison on probation last year over the Armenian question, and currently faces renewed repression over the issue, has even threatened to go to France and, contrary to his own opinion, deny the genocide in defiance of the new law.

Another Armenian journalist, Etyen Mahcupyan, from the daily paper Zaman, sees a danger that the tenuous discussion begun in Turkey over the Armenia question could be jeopardised by the French law. For the first time ever a congress has been held in Istanbul to publicly discuss the Armenian question. Mahcupyan warned: “The action of the French parliament brings the Turkish population nearer to the state, which can then manipulate them more easily.”

Prominent historians in France have also expressed their vehement opposition to the law. In a statement entitled “Freedom for history” they condemned the law as an attack on the “freedom of expression.” The law served to reduce “teachers once more to the status of hostages.”

The French government and the European Commission have expressed objections to the law because they fear a deterioration of relations with Turkey. There is much at stake for French businesses. Should Erdogan stick to his threat then orders of up to 14 billion euros are at risk. Additional losses could be recorded by the French supermarket chain Carrefour, which has a substantial share of the market in Turkey, as well as the auto concern Renault, which has a big factory near Istanbul.

Nevertheless, all this has not prevented the National Assembly from passing a law that punishes undesirable opinions on an event which took place 90 years ago and in which France played no substantial role.

The only other similar law in France is one which forbids any denial of the Holocaust, in which the French Vichy regime did play an important role. Other crimes with much more immediate relevance—such as the torture and massacres carried out by French colonialism in Algeria and Indochina—are not subject to legal sanction and are occasionally officially denied.

Just last winter, when the government sought to pass a law emphasising the “positive role” of French colonial policy in school textbooks, the Socialist Party argued that parliament had no right to issue laws dealing with history and that politicians could not determine historical issues. Now they have thrown this principle overboard and are doing the same themselves.

Why this law?

The principal aim of the new law is to garner electoral support. Both Ségol ène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, the probable candidates of the Socialist Party and the UMP for the presidential elections next year, have declared their support for the new law. Both candidates are seeking to win support from the approximately half million Armenians living in France, the majority of whom back the law.

However there is more at stake than the Armenian electorate. The new law is also aimed against Turkey’s plans to join the European Union. President Chirac led the way in this respect 10 days ago when, during an official trip to the Armenian capital of Yerevan, he declared that Turkey must recognize the genocide of the Armenians before being accepted into the European Union—a condition that the European Union does not require.

Right-wing politicians throughout Europe have used agitation against Turkish membership in the European Union as a means of mobilising backward layers of the electorate. In a similar manner to the current campaign being waged against immigrants and Muslims this question is being exploited to encourage xenophobia and divert social fears and tension away from the ruling elite. While Conservative politicians generally argue for the “defence of the Christian civilisation,” French socialists are using the Armenian question for the same purpose.

The fact that the French Socialist Party has undertaken such an initiative with the active support of the Communist Party speaks volumes over the extent of the decline of these organizations. Unable to provide any sort of answer to the growing social crisis, they are both playing the card of xenophobia.

The officer’s daughter Ségol ène Royal, who has been systematically groomed by the media as the Socialist presidential candidate, has sought on a number of occasions to outflank her UMP rival Nicolas Sarkozy on the right—for example with her appeal to entrust the army with the education of rebellious young people. She has now gone even further with her advocacy of the Armenian law.

As usual the Communist Party is seeking to shout even louder. Communist deputy Frédéric Dutoit praised the new law before the National Assembly as an “immense progress for the Armenian cause and for humanity as a whole.” He then threatened, “It is a first step, others must follow.” The newspaper La Marseillaise, which has close links to the PCF, celebrated the “prohibition of denial” as an “expression of respect for universal values.” In the world of the French Stalinists censorship remains the highest form of freedom!

Following a series of strike movements and revolts in recent years directed at both Gaullist and Socialist Party-led governments, the Socialist and Communist parties are prepared to go to any lengths to prevent a further intensification of social protest.

By Peter Schwarz
18 October 2006


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