29 January 2008

2312) A Controversial Genocide by Robert ELLIS*

Presidential candidate Barack Obama has jumped onto the Armenian bandwagon and pledged to recognize the Armenian genocide, should he be elected, and Hillary Clinton has just done the same. No doubt the prospect of wooing a potential one and a half million Armenian votes plays a role in this . . pledge.

Elsewhere, however, politicians are being more cautious. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, in a reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee, recently said this was not a matter for government policy but an issue that must be left to historians to decide.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that this historical event continues to have present consequences. Turkey refuses to recognize the forced removal of the Armenians as genocide, and anybody who dares question this understanding risks prosecution or even death. In this context, the prosecution of authors such as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Safak is well known, and one year ago the Turkish-Armenian editor, Hrant Dink, was murdered for the same reason.

Another example is the murder of the Turkish-born academic, Fuat Deniz, who researched the massacre of the Assyrian Christians in Turkey during the First World War. Deniz was a lecturer at Örebro University in Sweden, and although his assailant turned out to be a relative, the murder spread shock waves in academic circles.

In May 2005 the Turkish minister of justice, Cemil Çiçek, accused participants in a conference on the Armenian question held at Bosphorus University in Istanbul of “stabbing the Turkish nation in the back.” The conference was postponed.

The Turkish Penal Code is tailor made for the same purpose. The notorious Article 159, which penalized those who openly insulted and deríded Turkishness and Turkish institutions, was amended in 2005, so that “insult” was replaced by “denigration.” A loophole was added: “Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime”, but this has had no practical effect.

To placate the European Union yet another cosmetic change is being prepared, but this has already been branded as “deception” and “fascism disguised as liberalism.”

The EU Commission has in its latest report on Turkey mentioned attacks against clergy members and places of worship of non-Muslim communities. Last April three Protestants at a Bible publisher's in Malatya had their throats cut. The Turkish police recently uncovered a plot to murder a clergyman in Antalya, but a teenager in Samsun who threatened to kill a Protestant pastor and to massacre his congregation has been released.

Unfortunately, there has been a rise in xenophobia in Turkey, and this mood has been exacerbated by a popular TV series, “Kurtlar Vadisi” (“Valley of the Wolves”), which glorifies violence committed on behalf of the nation. Another sign of this disturbing development is the group of 20 students from a high school in Kirsehir who sent a Turkish flag painted with their own blood to the Chief of the General Staff to express their patriotism. The youth unemployment rate, at 16.7 percent, is a contributory factor to this growth of nationalism.

But as the Armenian ambassador remarked at a conference on the Armenian genocide held in Copenhagen in May 2005: “Present-day Turks don't share the guilt of the perpetrators unless they identify with them.”

January 28, 2008
* Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish press. He can be contacted at meltem@get2net.dk.