Turkish prime minister vows fight against genocide label for killings of Armenians


October 10, 2006
Source: The Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkey's prime minister vowed Tuesday to fight against what he called a "systematic lie machine" pushing to label Turkey's World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide. The remarks were made in reaction to a proposed French law that would make it a crime to deny that the killings of as many as 1.5 million Armenians amounted to genocide. The proposed law has sparked outrage in Turkey against France and the European Union, both of which have sharply criticized Turkey for not permitting freedom of expression, particularly on the highly emotional Armenian issue. "Let no one doubt that the Turkish Republic state and its people are capable of breaking this systematic lie machine and of dispersing these clouds of disinformation," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address to his party. "There can be no legal justification for making it a crime to say a lie is a lie."

Turkey's official policy is to acknowledge that large numbers of Armenians were killed by Turks, but to reject the overall figure of 1.5 million as inflated and to say the deaths occurred in civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Saying otherwise in Turkey can lead to criminal prosecution. Erdogan repeated his past calls to Armenia to jointly research the killings by opening the historical archives of both countries to historians, complaining that Armenia had not responded to his requests to do so. He said the proposed French law was inconsistent with the principle of freedom of expression, and accused France of ignoring its own history while trying to legislate the facts of Turkey's.

"Let the lie and slander machines look at their own history," he said, listing 11 African countries in which France has a colonial past. France's lower house of parliament is to debate the bill on Thursday. Under the bill, people who contest that there was an Armenian genocide would risk up to a year in prison and fines of up to €45,000 (US$57,000). Some Turkish legislators have proposed tit-for-tat measures such as erecting statues to an "Algerian genocide" committed by France and to passing a reciprocal law that would make denying it a crime. Turkey's foremost Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, who has been tried repeatedly in Turkey for saying Turks committed genocide against Armenians, said passing the French law would be a mistake. "Even if it appears that the Armenian genocide denial law acts in the principle of universal human rights and responsibilities like the struggle against genocide, we believe it erases the basic principle that makes human rights possible, the principle of free expression," he said in a statement issued in both French and Turkish. "Moreover, we think there is no need to support with laws the historical truths of what the Armenian people have lived through in the past. Because looking correctly at history does not require a law, but conscience and morality." Dink's letter was signed by two other journalists at Agos, an Istanbul-based bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper. Some 100 Turks representing two different political parties gathered in front of the French Embassy in Ankara Tuesday, calling for a boycott against French goods. Erdogan had previously called on French companies with interests in Turkey to lobby against the proposed genocide bill.