Saturday, March 10, 2007

Swiss convict Turkish politician for denying Armenian genocide

According to today's New York Times, the Swiss have convicted a Turkish politician of denying the Armenian genocide. I am pretty sure that, given that the guy was a Turkish politician, he was a traditional Armenian genocide denier. These folks are not much different than Holocaust deniers.

However, what if the person had been an historian who, while not denying the barbarity of the Turks towards their Armenian victims, questioned whether it should be termed a genocide? [I, by the way, believe it should be.] The person might take this position because Armenians in other places in the world were safe from the Turks.

Would that person be sentenced as well? What kind of chill does this put on academic discourse? This is a dangerous Pandora's Box.


Landwehrkanal said...

It's really a pain that the EU is planning to adopt and universalize the anti-holocaust denial laws already in effect in some European countries such as Germany. It seems to me, however, that such laws do not only reflect worries about "wrong views" being spread further and their possible uses for instigating violence or furthering racism (including that special variant of it, anti-semitism). I think a major problem that isn't being discussed too much is that the denial of past wrong-doing by some groups, including the denial of any responsibilit for the past, is directly related to the inability of dealing with the present -- a multicultural present fractured by massive inequality and a lack of integration of many immigrants to Europe.

In my view, Michael Haneke's quite moving recent film Caché illustrates this issue in a very sophisticated way. The film's character Georges may be right in claiming that he was too young (five years old) to be held accountable when he told lies about his recently adopted brother of Algerian origin -- lies that caused his parents to send the boy to an orphanage instead of raising him. Georges's self-defense also implies that he was too young to understand the catastrophe that led to the death of his adoptive brother's parents, namely a racist murder in the context of an anti-colonial demonstration by French Algerians. While we may want to accept Georges's defense, the problem with it is that as an adult, Georges does not take over responsibility for the French history that in fact privileged him while it marginalized his adoptive brother Majid. The problem is that he never asked what happened to Majid or how precisely Majid's parents were killed. The problem is that he probably never visited Majid's home in the banlieu's before the film's cataclysmic events reunite the brothers.

This film elucidates in a brilliant way why there are so many people in Europe -- and particularly Germany -- who insist on not having to deal with any unpleasant history anymore. They understand analyses and discussions of National Socialism and the holocaust as personal accusations and are too busy rejecting them to realize that understanding what happened then might help us act differently in the present. I think that a defensive attitude in relation to the past often signals that people are unable to deal with issues in the present: immigration, anti-semitism, engagement with different faiths such as Islam. I believe that only open and controversial discussions of all these (and more) issues will allow us to address sympathies with holocaust deniers. While it is crucial to get the facts right -- and the book by Deborah Lipstadt appears to do so, for instance -- there are other levels as well at which sympathizers with professional holocaust deniers need to be engaged as well.

Armen said...

I just came to know about your blog. I like the bloggers (clanaphilia) and you seem to be a likable one.

I was wondering how much you tried to learn about the Turkish side of the story.