Tag Archives: Genocide Recognition

Why Genocide Recognition Matters

I was having a discussion with my friend who asked me about the importance of historical and political recognition of the Armenian genocide. “Should people want governments around the world making official statements acknowledging the intentional destruction done by the Athenians during the Peloponnesian Wars?” The difference between the Armenian Genocide and ancient destruction is that there are still victims of the former and their healing is stunted by the active denial of the Genocide.

The reason that the Armenian Genocide matters in modern-day politics is 1) recognizing genocide helps the victims and possible future victims and 2) because the government of Turkey and certain sectors of the Turkish community actively work to silence or punish those that raise the issue.

Recognition helps make any victims whole, whether genocide victims or victims of any other massive crime. When (the lack of) law cannot provide compensation, at least recognition acknowledges to the victims that the world knows they have suffered and provides some solace. Recognition can also help limit the creation of future genocides as the famous Hitler quote of “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?” implies. To engage in human rights is to take a victim-centered approach—to empower those that have been disempowered—and to learn what the victim wants and needs. If the victims want recognition, then it’s not a dismissible idea. Considering the stream of people passing my window to go to the Genocide Memorial, expected at many hundreds of thousands of people today, the Armenian people have made their desire clear.

Feelings of solace and peace are difficult to obtain when some people deny the existence of the genocide and actively attempt to persuade others to their side. The primary culprit here is the Government of Turkey, which has long denied the Genocide. Turkey has pressured Canada to essentially “unrecognize” the Genocide and has frozen all political ties with France when it almost passed a law criminalizing genocide denial. It’s because of Turkey that US Presidents are unwilling to use the word Genocide, even when they accept all events as true. It’s clear that denial of the Genocide is a key part of Turkey’s foreign policy.

Just as criticizing the policies of Israel is not anti-Semitism, criticizing the policies of Turkey is not to hate all Turks. Turks are often unable to learn about the Genocide as speaking open discussion of the genocide often leads to criminal sanctions. Turks learn about the massacres and deportation from government approved history books that paint the Turks as protecting their homeland from inside elements that wanted to destroy it. Unfortunately, the Turkish government also tries to alter the history books of other nations. Are modern Turks responsible for all the horrible things some of their ancestors did? “No, but they are responsible for realizing that they benefited and continue to benefit from those actions and institutions, … and to try to fix that shit.”

Recognition wouldn’t be painful for Turkey, just dangerous for its political leaders. Some people think that Turkey should compensate Armenians like Germany does for the Jews, but with almost no relevant international law on the subject in 1915, no one could force Turkey to provide compensation except for property that was taken from Armenians in violation of Turkey’s domestic law. Recognition would actually ease the pressure Turkey gets from many countries and would allow them to redirect a lot of their diplomatic resources. The only pain would be for the leaders from hard-line elements that flatly reject the Genocide. Unfortunately, fanatical people are the result of a biased history education, so they’ll have to be challenged at one point or another. Fortunately, there are people working on how to resolve this issue as smoothly as possible.

What can non-Armenians and non-Turks do about this situation? Recognize the Genocide as a genocide, regardless of the threats and accusations hurled at them by genocide deniers. That is the way to do justice to the countless victims of history.

Placing Flowers at the Genocide Memorial during the candle-lit march on the night of 23 April.

Placing Flowers at the Genocide Memorial during the candle-lit march on the night of 23 April.

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A Differing View on the new Secretary of State John Kerry

I recently mentioned John Kerry’s appointment to Secretary of State, and how that might be positive for Armenia.  Harut Sassounian of the California Courier has a different perspective.

Sassounian believes that Kerry underwent a shameful about-face for not using the term “Armenian Genocide” and using the euphemisms used by Obama. I believe Sassounian is missing the point that Kerry can use whatever term he wants as a citizen or politician, but as Secretary of State, his job is to enact the foreign policy of the President. If you want to criticize, criticize the source of the policy: the White House. There is no doubt that Kerry hasn’t undergone a transformation—if Armenian organizations supported him before, they should still support him now—but is restrained by the requirements of the position from using terms like “Genocide.” He still believes the “historical fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their death” (his words), and to force a hard-line ideological stance like Sassounian is promoting will simply turn away a potential ally.

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Remembering Hrant Dink

January 19th marks the anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink in Istanbul. On Jan 19, 2007, an extreme rightwing 17-year-old shot Hrant Dink three times, killing him instantly. The reason Dink was killed was his outspoken support for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and recognition of the Genocide.

A lot can be said about Hrant Dink, more than can be said in this one blog post. The fact that over 200,000 people marched in his funeral speaks to the amount of love many people, including average Turks, had for him.

At his core, Hrant Dink fought for compassion and respect for victims and minorities, including Genocide recognition. Because of this, he was prosecuted three times for “insulting Turkishness.” This blatant anti-freedom of speech law has been used against a number of Turkish authors who write in support of Genocide recognition. As long as laws like this are still on the books, the conversations that must precede reconciliation cannot occur. This stifling of speech harms Turkish citizens by not allowing them to discuss a very important part of their history, perpetuating hate on all sides.

The domestic court found the shooter guilty, but also found that he acted alone. This was a shock to many, and many simply don’t accept that as true. Similarly to how Armenian courts found the parliamentary shooters acted alone, this assassination seems too important to not be the work of a larger conspiracy. One Turkish prosecutor believes he has discovered the hierarchy of the criminal network that killed Dink, and it’s possible the case will be re-opened.

Hetq has a copy of Dink’s final publication, published only a little more than a week before his murder.

The umbrellas of mourners remembering Hrant Dink. January 19, 2013.

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Another White House Petition: Recognize the Genocide

The U.S. has come very close to officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide, but each time comes up short because of the political fallout that will occur. With the rise of Turkey and its key role in regard to Syria, it’s unlikely recognition will occur this year. Regardless, people press on and there is a new petition asking for Obama to address the issue and explain why he won’t recognize the Genocide as he promised.

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Genocide Recognition

One of the constant issues on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda, especially for the Diaspora, is genocide recognition. Currently, 21 states in the world recognize the Genocide with countless sub-national entities (e.g. US states). To Armenians, the minimal recognition is the equivalent to state-level Holocaust Denial and must be corrected immediately.*

The big limiting factor on recognition is the pressure from Turkey. Turkey criminalizes recognition of the Genocide and fines people that speak only about it. Turkey is also a populous state, geographically strategic, a NATO ally, a regional powerhouse, growing economy, supporting the West’s view on the Syrian conflict and generally is a state you’d rather have on your side than against it. In contrast, Armenia is a tiny corrupt landlocked country that doesn’t even have a domestic violence law.

While the US is still disappointing Armenia, there has been movement in France and Israel on recognition.

In December 2011, the French National Assembly passed a bill that would criminalize the denial of officially recognized genocides, which includes the Armenian Genocide. This was the second time that the National Assembly took on this topic. In 2006, the National Assembly passed a similar bill but it died in the Senate. This time, the Senate also passed the bill. In response, Turkey suspended military cooperation and threatened to pull out of joint economic deals. Much to Turkey’s pleasure the French Constitutional Court struck the bill down.**

Round two began with the Socialist Hollande promising to bring back the bill in March and Hollande winning the presidency in May. After his election, Hollande promised that the genocide law is on the table but it faced “constraints.” At the same time, Hollande is opening a “new page” in Turkey-France relations by being the first French President to visit in 20 years. In response, Turkey dropped their sanctions and resumed military ties with France. While the Armenian community in France is quite vocal, it’s unclear how much Hollande will pursue the law when it comes with such high geopolitical costs. There are still members of the National Assembly that are working on passing the law, but it’s unclear if they’ll need or have the president’s outspoken support. [Update from July 7: Looks like the law is dead. Update from July 9: Now it looks like the law might make a come back.]

The other state where things are moving is Israel. Israel’s Knesset spent a session discussing whether to recognize the Armenian Genocide. As with France, Israel hasn’t wanted to strain relations with Turkey, but after the Gaza flotilla raid, those relations are already pretty strained. While it may seem natural for the Jewish state to recognize another genocide, the Anti-Defamation League didn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide until after protests in 2007 and is still against official American recognition.

Also important for Israel is its relationship with Azerbaijan and Armenia’s relationship with Iran. Israel and Azerbaijan are close and recognition will undoubtedly anger Azerbaijan (I apologize for the link to a blatantly anti-Armenian website). At the same time, Armenia is never ever going to do anything that could anger its ally Iran. With such little geopolitical benefit and much cost, it’s not surprising that Israel hasn’t and likely won’t recognize the genocide anytime soon.

* Please note that I have no interest in engaging in a historical discussion about whether or not there was an Armenian Genocide.

** For the record, while I am in favor of official recognition of the Genocide, I’m very hesitant to apply criminal sanctions to speech. The American approach of absolute protection of speech protects an excessive amount of socially detrimental speech including genocide denial. The American logic is that good speech can’t be separated with the bad and that no one should be able to judge what is good or bad speech. This, in my opinion, is too cautious of an approach and protects too much detrimental speech for the amount of positive speech that is protected.

Legitimate good-faith attempts to better understand history, which can include challenging core beliefs if those beliefs aren’t supported by evidence, should be protected. My worry is that criminalizing certain speech could stifle too much of this good-faith speech. A more balanced approach is to not criminalize certain speech but not to protect it (e.g. hate speech can be unprotected but not criminal).

The Genocide Memorial in Yerevan

The Genocide Memorial in Yerevan

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