Armenian genocide denial: The case against Turkey

June 6, 2007
Source: Cleveland Jewish News (Ohio)

By Alan S. Rosenbaum

The official policy of the government of Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide ever happened.

The genocide occurred in the twilight years of the Muslim Ottoman Empire at the outset of World War I.

Jews ought to be in the forefront of those who condemn this policy of denial because many scholars refer to the Armenian genocide as "a dress rehearsal for the Holocaust." (In fact, a number of officials in the Nazi Reich got their early training by helping the Ottoman Turks deal with their so-called "Armenian problem." In addition, the Jewish community grasps well the malicious, cynical effects of government-sponsored Holocaust denials.

The deliberate falsification of historical realities denies to an aggrieved people (the Armenians) the right to have their history publicly validated and to have claims for restorative justice fulfilled. Yet, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abraham Foxman, recently advised against our involvement in this matter since it is between Turkey and Armenia. Unlike Foxman, I believe no political considerations are sufficiently worthy to falsify or ignore genocide.

The Turkish Penal Code (Art. 301) makes it officially punishable to "insult Turkishness." This code has been used to prosecute prominent Turks like Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk (2006), who write or speak about the Armenian genocide; some, like journalist H. Dink, have even been killed. The Turkish government insists that Turks, Armenians and Kurds were all victims of killings and of the chaos that enveloped the region as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Countries like Canada, Germany and Austria criminalize the teaching or preaching of Holocaust denial. In France, it is now illegal to deny an instance of genocide when history proves otherwise. The European Union has just ratified a law "banning incitement to or denial of genocide" (arguably including both the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide).

In a full-page statement in The New York Times (June 9, 2000), I and 125 other scholars, including Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, historian Yehuda Bauer, and sociologist Irving Horowitz, signed a document "affirming that the WW I Armenian genocide is an incontestable historical fact and accordingly urge the governments of Western democracies to likewise recognize it as such." We called the genocide "a dark chapter of Ottoman-Turkish history."

Subsequently, the U.S. Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to pass a non-binding resolution to ask the government of Turkey to acknowledge this reality.

In any case, a true friendship between Turkey and America, Israel (with whom it often shares military exercises and intelligence), and some other nations should not be based on sidestepping or supporting a deliberate falsification of history as important as genocide.

Like promoting hate speech, it degrades the humanity of the truly "victimized" by denying them the right to possess their own history.

Alan S. Rosenbaum, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy, Cleveland State University and editor of Is the Holocaust Unique? (2nd edition)