Today's Zaman , Turkey
Jan 1 2012

Armenians expect justice, not tolerance

by Alin Ozinian*
1 January 2012 / ,

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 Erdo?an'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

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

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.