Armenians expect justice, not tolerance – Turkish Armenian Business Development Council
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Armenians expect justice, not tolerance

Armenians expect justice, not tolerance

by Alin Ozinian*

The bill that criminalizes denial of the “recognized genocide” adopted by the French parliament last week continues to attract attention and spark anger in Turkey.

With the exception of a small group of reasonable people, almost all believe that the French bill prevents discussion on what happened during the period between 1915 and 1917. Unfortunately, there is no satisfactory explanation for the argument that France would really contribute to the deterioration in relations between Turkey and Armenia. How reasonable is to believe that a decision by the French parliament that concerns the French people would have an impact upon freedom of speech in another country?

If any, French citizens may raise objections to this bill, but if they hold similar views, there is nothing you can do. Like it or not, the main basis of democracy is to implement the decision of the majority. Even if this is hard to comprehend for a country like Turkey, which adopted France as the nation-state model for itself under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal and pursued a state and democracy approach based on the tradition of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), democracy means the power of the people to ask for what they need. This is different from the dicta rule by an elitist group that we have been used to.

Even an average politician in Turkey, I think, is able understand what France is trying to do. Everybody knows that the reason for the adoption of the bill is the upcoming French election and an initiative by Sarkozy to attract greater support from the electorate against the Socialists. Besides, the official title of the bill is not the bill on the denial of the Armenian genocide, and the bill criminalizes the denial of all cases of genocide recognized by French law. Because what Turkey is mostly concerned about is the Armenian genocide, the discussion has been intensified on that part. While the Turkish media should have regarded this unnecessary and useless French initiative as something that could be ignored, even sports writers focused extensively on the subject. Was it so difficult to publish the comments and views on the bill adopted by France without resorting to a discourse of hatred and ethnic discrimination? I have given thought to this question, reading dozens of articles every day. The French were accused of hypocrisy and dishonesty. However, it was not necessary to insult the whole French nation because the majority of the French are most probably not even aware of that bill. Great efforts were expended to conclude that Sarkozy’s father was of Hungarian origin. Ethnic remarks were made during this process, where it was stressed that Valerie Boyer, the drafter of the bill, was descended from an Algerian family. Some even discussed why an Algerian would do something like this; however, people now consider their political stance rather than their ethnic origin in their actions.


Cliché questions to the Armenian Patriarchate

Our “intellectuals,” who accused France of taking antidemocratic steps, reminded the French of the fact that they were descendants of Voltaire and criticized them by reliance on his famous remarks also frequently made reference, to their clichés, including “Armenian allegations,” “Armenian lies” and “Armenian plot.” They even insulted a sizeable ethnic group outside the supporters of Sarkozy in France. Unfortunately, Hrant Dink, who was killed partly because of similar media campaigns and provocations, is gone. The Turkish media does not have a braveheart who, despite his Armenian origin, would defy such initiatives for a better democratic struggle, and for this reason, for them, the best option was to direct some cliché questions to the Armenian Patriarchate. The Armenian clerics summarized the 1915 incidents in shallow and timid statements suggesting that these were painful times, also concluding their statements by saying, “There is no problem between us; most recently, we had Noah’s Pudding together; nobody should stay between us.” This was pleasant. They tried to soothe the reaction of some certain circles by headlines, “The patriarchate slams France.”

In addition to reactions by the ordinary people and media representatives who generally ignore professional ethics, sometimes it is even harder to understand the response of the government figures. Turkey, noting that France is no longer impartial, has taken action at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure that this country withdraws from the Minsk Group, noting that France should immediately withdraw from the mediation efforts and endeavors under the auspices of the Minsk Group set up to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia because it adopted a stance that undermined its impartial and neutral position. Turkey is part of the Minsk Group, and it has been keeping the Armenian border closed for 20 years because of the Karabakh issue. It also imposes an embargo on Armenia, but despite this it still considers itself impartial.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on cancelling defense and economic meetings should be considered by the French; however, at a time when Turkey has offered to initiate an open discussion based on the archives, remarks stating that “there is no genocide in my history” may not seem credible to those who approach the issue impartially. When I first heard these remarks, I recalled an event, “Discussing Turkish-Armenian relations,” at a university in the Southeast sponsored by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) last month. Within the framework of this initiative, experts travel to a number of cities to deliver speeches and respond to questions by students. The students asked promising questions at the most recent meeting of the series that I attended. It was extremely hard to believe that they were the students of the faculty members who took the stage at the beginning. One of the professors who spoke at the conference said: “We are ready to do research on the alleged Armenian genocide; our archives are open; and our historians are ready.” For half an hour he also made mention of the methods on how to do research on the genocide that he concluded was an alleged one. This came to my mind when listening to the prime minister. Given that we will do research and want to learn the truth, why is our view on this matter unchanged? How would you do research on something you refer to as “alleged”? Why would someone who argued that his ancestors would not have done something like this set up a committee of historians? This means that we will do the research to find out what we actually desire, not for the truth. It is that simple.


Being ‘open-minded’

One of the professors at the same university, at a dinner held after the conference, told me that they were open-minded, that they were able to drink alcohol and that unlike “them,” they were not bigots; I thought it was really sad to attribute alcohol consumption and other similar daily habits to the adoption of a modern lifestyle and freedom of thought; but remarks by another faculty member made me even sadder. He spoke of tolerance, adding that they even had an Armenian professor in their department and that they were not discriminative. He acted as if he deserved a medal just because they hired a member of the Armenian community that was connected to Turkey through the bond of citizenship since Ottoman times. Sadly, the political authorities are only brave enough to be tolerant with respect to freedom of speech. They brag about being the descendants of a nation that was tolerant to Christians, Armenians, Kurds and homosexuals, but they are unaware that this is a reflex of an inferiority complex. They place Turkishness on top and approach everybody else with tolerance; however, what we need is a discourse of equality and justice.

We are complaining that the French bill will restrict freedom of speech, arguing that history should be left to historians. Unfortunately, politics is fed by a number of other sciences; such measures may be taken into consideration in foreign and domestic policy. It would be naive to be surprised by this. Developments in Turkey may be enjoyed by some circles; remarks on Dersim may raise hopes even though we suspect that this was done out of political considerations.

The French bill is something beyond the recognition of genocide; it actually criminalizes the denial of the genocide. And it is a draft that freedom supporters would endorse and that could be implemented in practice. But for whom is denial acceptable in ethical terms? The ongoing policy of denial in Turkey is not limited to preventing the opening of borders and addressing past pains. The most visible part of it is the climate that Dink’s murder created and the criminals that this climate did not convict. France is using history for domestic politics, but what is Turkey doing? Instead of hearing the voice of the conscience in the resolution of an issue that would raise the emotions of the Armenians and the Turks and be used by the rest for political reasons, it is discussing the decisions of foreign parliaments. And Turkey is not taking action to identify the murderers of Dink, a man who could have defied France by his reason and heart instead of Noah’s Pudding.

*Alin Ozinian is an independent analyst.


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