When the French were discussing passage of a law in 2006 to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide, Hrant Dink was being tried under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalized claiming Turkey had committed genocide in 1915.
As soon as he heard of the intention of the French to pass this so-called genocide denial bill, Hrant Dink expressed his intention to go to France and challenge this law. His remarks were quite thought-provoking.
“When this bill appeared first, we were fast to declare as a group that it would lead to bad results. … As you know, I have been tried in Turkey for saying the Armenian genocide took place, and I have talked about how wrong this is. Yet, at the same time, I cannot accept that in France you could now possibly be tried for denying the Armenian genocide. If this bill becomes law, I will be among the first to head to France and break the law. Then we can watch both the Turkish Republic and the French government race against each other to condemn me. We can watch to see which will throw me in jail first. … I really think that France, if it makes this bill law, will be hurting not only the EU, but Armenians across the world. It will also damage the normalizing of relations between Armenia and Turkey. What the peoples of these two countries need is dialogue, and all these laws do is harm such dialogue.”
I take exactly the same position as Dink towards this genocide denial bill. It is hypocritical in that it only gives strength to Turkish nationalists who would like to return to the old days in which discussion of the Armenian genocide would only be associated with serving the cause of Turkey’s external enemies.
There is already a huge continuing debate about history, about past atrocities in Turkey. Let me give you a specific example. I write two columns a week in English for Today’s Zaman and two columns in Turkish for the Radikal daily. You know how many times I have discussed and tried to look at 1915 and its affects on today’s Turkey in this column for Today’s Zaman. In just the last couple of weeks, I also wrote at least six or seven articles in Radikal that directly or indirectly discuss Armenian genocide and other past atrocities. And I am not the only one who brings these subjects to the attention of the Turkish audience. How do you think this French bill affects all those discussions? The answer is simple: It will just kill them. While writing this article, I refused two invitations from two television channels to discuss “1915 events and the French bill.” You see, the context has already been changed: “The French bill” has started to become an inseparable part of this discussion. It is now a subject for nationalists to discuss.
Another thing is that I really hate when human rights issues and human suffering are used as a political tool by people who really are not concerned about them at all. What has human rights to do with Sarkozy and his government? Were it not they themselves who stop the passage of this law before? What has been changed now as they press for the passage of this law? Is it the upcoming elections? Is this not the same France that attempted to pass a law that required school history teachers to stress the “positive aspects” of French colonialism and further criminalizes insults or defamatory statements aimed at “harkis”(Algerians who fought alongside the French army in Algeria)? Can France serve as an example for Turkey on how to deal with past atrocities?
The reactions of the Turkish government to the French move are also extremely embarrassing. They seem to forget that we still have Article 301 in Turkey and yet they condemn the Armenian genocide bill, saying it will violate freedom of expression.
Everyone should try to look at the skeletons in their own closets before saying anything to others. When it comes to confronting past atrocities, the most dangerous serial killer is insincerity, which always come to the fore wherever and whenever political interests are involved.