Beyond Stories of Survival

Published in The Armenian Weekly
19 August, 2012
By Houry Mayissian

Hatoun is sitting up still with her back against a tall palm tree, her head bowed as though she’s asleep. She has seated a doll she received as a present from an American aid worker up in the same position against another, smaller tree close by. She has torn the doll’s head off and placed it, face up next to its body.

Hatoun is one of the main characters in Chris Bohjalian’s recently released masterpiece on the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls. Hatoun is a child of not more than 7 or 8. Hatoun is a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. And in this scene, Hatoun is re-enacting the murder, by decapitation, of her mother and older sister which she witnessed on the long march from Adana to Aleppo.

No scene in any other book has haunted me to this extent. And certainly, no other character I’ve come across has pierced through me with the same intensity. Ever since I came across it, this scene has taken a life of its own in my mind, epitomising the millions of untold stories of suffering, of trauma, of feelings experienced both by those who perished during the Genocide and those who survived.

I have reflected on this moment over and over in the past ten days since I put the book down. How did Genocide survivors deal with and try to overcome the trauma they had experienced? What did they feel on those marches, in the concentration camps, witnessing the brutal murder of family members, throughout the starvation, the deprivation, the humiliation? How were raped women and young girls ever able to love and have sex again? What type of parents did orphaned children manage to become? How did their experiences during the Genocide impact their day-to-day life as survivors?

I tried to recall stories about my own ancestors who had survived the Genocide in hope of remembering a habit, an incident, a characteristic, anything of theirs that would tell me something beyond their story of survival, beyond the chronology of how they ended up where they did.

I remembered that my maternal great grandmother, who suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s at old age, would stand in front of a mirror, stare at herself in horror and ask her grandchildren to give “this poor starving orphan” some bread and water. My great grandmother was a survivor of the Genocide, rescued by a Turkish man who adopted her somewhere along the march from Harput.

I recalled hearing about other survivors and their stories. A friend’s grandfather, also a Genocide survivor, would have an anxiety attack if ever he walked into the living room and saw there was no food on the table. There always had to be food on the table. The horror an Armenian American friend managed to inflict upon his grandmother while she babysat him one day, when he innocently opened the door to a stranger. After all, isn’t this how it started for many—with an unannounced visitor at the door?

I spoke with my parents, I spoke with my husband to try and dig out more memories that would help me understand how Genocide survivors dealt with their trauma—something we might have overlooked or forgotten. How did my husband’s grandfather, a survivor with a remarkable story that took him from Hassanbey to Australia, overcome seeing his father, along with all the other men in the city, rounded up in the city square, their beards set on fire until their bodies turned to ashes? Some of these stories we will never know.

I remembered Suzanne Khardalian’s “Grandma’s Tattoos” and the story of a grandmother as told through the eyes of her grandchildren: A woman rendered cold, distant, and strange after her experience being raped as a child while escaping the Genocide.

Too often when we’re busy advocating for Genocide recognition and fighting denial, are we prone to “forget’’ the names and faces behind the numbers. Too few are the survivor accounts that take us so deep into the psyche of the survivors themselves beyond the story, beyond the events, beyond the facts.

The Sandcastle Girls brought a forgotten or neglected aspect of the Genocide to life for me. It reminded me that our ancestors were not only stories of survival. They were flesh and blood, heart and soul, they felt, they hurt, they struggled, they loved, they lost and they loved again—they were.

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Nalbandian on a cruise in Sydney

I don’t like criticising. I really don’t. I much rather focus on the positive I see in people and situations – however little that positive may be – with the hope that it multiplies. Unfortunately, the visit to Sydney by the Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia this Sunday, as I saw it, bore almost no positive elements to it.

Minister Edward Nalbandian’s first official visit to Australia was initiated by an invitation by his Australian counterpart, Bob Carr. The visit was part of a four-country tour that also included Indonesia, New Zealand and will take him to the Philippines next. The official agenda for the visit included a meeting with Minister Carr in Canberra today. The Minister also set aside some of his free time on Sunday to meet with the Armenian community in Sydney.

The first encounter with the community was during lunch on a Sydney boat cruise, to which state and federal parliamentarians and ministers – long-time friends of the Armenian community – were invited along with community representatives. The second was a meeting open to all members of the community. Both events were organised by an individual from the community, whom the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had found appropriate to approach for this purpose, bypassing all community structures, including and foremost Archbishop Aghan Baliosian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand. The visit very much had the hallmarks of a private function than a proper community visit and the Foreign Affairs Minister could not have been further removed from the realities of the community.

As the cruise made its way through the choppy waters of Sydney harbour on this windy day, the Australian officials delivered welcoming addresses in honour of Nalbandian. All three speeches by Minister Victor Dominello, MP John Alexander and MP Jonathan O’Dea acknowledged the efforts of the Armenian Australian community aimed towards the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Dominello expressed his hope that these efforts will culminate in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at the federal level, while O’Dea confirmed that a delegation of NSW parliamentarians is planning to visit Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh next year. This generated quite a bit of excitement during the otherwise uneventful reception.

When Nalbandian took his turn, he spoke of Armenia’s plans to expand its presence in the region and emphasised the country’s commitment to establishing peaceful relations with all countries of the world – including two of its neighbours with which bilateral relations remain tense, Turkey and Azerbaijan. It was all very noble and I’m not being sarcastic. From thereon, however, everything went downhill.

With respect to Nagorno Karabakh, Nalbandian maintained that Armenia was committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on the principles offered by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and accepted by the international community, while failing to even mention the right to self-determination as the main principle to which Armenia adheres for a resolution of the conflict. Listening to Nalbandian’s speech was the first Australian parliamentarian to visit Nagorno Karabakh, Walt Secord, who also lent his support for the right of the people of Karabakh to self-determination while in Stepanakert late last year…

Remarkably, Nalbandian also managed to go through his whole speech without once uttering the words Armenian Genocide even as he spoke about the Armenia-Turkey protocols and Turkey’s failure to ratify them without preconditions.

Nalbandian did affirm both of the above-mentioned positions in his speech during the meeting with the broader community later that day. The moment, however, had passed and while it was lost on some, many of us understood that the Minister chose to pass on a perfectly good opportunity to reiterate these positions in front of Australian parliamentarians and ministers who themselves have stood up in parliament to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and support the right of the people of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination.

Today, Minister Nalbandian was due to meet with Carr in Canberra. It was during Carr’s tenure as premier of NSW that the state parliament passed a motion recognising the Armenian Genocide. Whether Nalbandian used the occasion to press him on this issue today is not known (not yet at least) but perhaps what he chose to say and not say yesterday was an omen for what was to come.

There had been much speculation in the lead-up to the visit about the possible establishment of an Armenian Embassy in Australia. The Minister put our minds ‘at ease’ on this one too, announcing that the Republic of Armenia would be opening two embassies next year – one in Jakarta, one in Vietnam but not one in Canberra. Meanwhile, the 50,000 or so Armenians living in Australia – where in the absence of frequent and tangible links with Armenia, staying Armenian is a day-to-day struggle – were told to not feel neglected but also to not expect an embassy in 2013 or 2014 for that matter. The best the Minister could deliver was a pledge for an embassy at some point in the future, possibly 2015, and maybe an Honorary Consul at a sooner but yet unspecified date.

Having seen Nalbandian on TV, I had an impression of him as someone who was brought in to do the job few other people would do. In real life, my encounter with the man who signed the most important documents of the Republic of Armenia in its 20 years of independence, painted the picture of someone unable to persuade, impress or inspire. It saddens me to be so painfully honest about the person who occupies the position of Foreign Affairs Minister of our independent Republic, when I have enormous respect for the position itself and all that it represents.

No matter, the harsh reality remains that when all was said and done, Nalbandian’s visit delivered too little too late for this community.

On the Genocide Conference in Yerevan, H.Res.252, and the Armenian Government

Originally published in The Armenian Weekly
January 6, 2011
By Houry Mayissian

The Armenian government recently hosted an international conference on genocide prevention, condemnation, and elimination in Yerevan. Genocide scholars from around 20 countries gathered in Yerevan in what could be considered as one of the Armenian government’s rare acts aimed at proactively seeking international acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide. While we can’t but applaud this initiative, we also can’t help but say it was a belated effort and not enough on its own.

The conference was helpful in inviting public attention to the issue not only in Armenia and the diaspora but also internationally, given the level of international participation in it. Once again, it dealt a blow to denialists in Turkey and abroad by providing an opportunity for high caliber genocide scholars of different nationalities to throw their support behind the truthfulness of the Armenian Genocide. It was a slap in Turkey’s face and its attempts to undermine the historical truth of the Armenian Genocide through such attempts as setting up a historians’ commission to discuss historical issues between the two nations.

However, the initiative was belated, because while successive Armenian governments since Robert Kocharian’s presidency at least have declared that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda, this can be considered as the first major proactive (emphasis on the word proactive) initiative of its kind undertaken by Yerevan.

More than coming late, however, this conference is not enough effort on the part of the Armenian government to show that it takes this matter seriously. Notwithstanding public declarations on the importance for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, little government action has been seen on this front so far. Yes, almost all official dignitaries, diplomats, and foreign government officials who visit Yerevan are taken to the Genocide Memorial in Dzidzernagapert. Yes, the issue has been raised on a few occasions in presidential speeches to the international community, including at the UN. However, little has been seen or at least made public in terms of consistent and serious efforts to pursue genocide recognition.

Robert Kocharian’s administration at least smartly avoided falling in the cunning Turkish trap of “leaving history to the historians” by rejecting a proposal for setting up a commission of historians that first surfaced in a letter by then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in April 2005. It’s silly to say Sarkisian was not smart enough to avoid the trap. By then, the idea had been discussed so much that no one in their right mind could deny its implications on the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Sarkisian did it anyway, though. In 2009, he signed the infamous Turkish-Armenian protocols, one of the stipulations of which was the formation of exactly such a commission. His reasons? Unprecedented international pressure, continued blockade and economic isolation, continued deadlock in the Nagorno-Karabagh peace talks, coupled with intense militarization in Azerbaijan, awareness of growing Turkish influence in the region, and perhaps to some extent a gradual shift in Russia’s attitudes due to military and energy deals with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

With the failure of the protocols in the face of consistent Turkish efforts to tie Armenian-Turkish normalization to the resolution of the Karabagh conflict and what Sarkisian has started to consider as a lack of sincerity towards reconciliation in Turkey, the genocide conference could have signaled renewed effort on behalf of the Armenian government to assure that it stands on moral high ground when it comes to this issue. Could have, but as far as I’m concerned, it did not.

In fact, only a few weeks after the international conference in Yerevan, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) started pushing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on H.Res.252, a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution had previously been adopted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2010. The ANCA assured that Pelosi had the opportunity and the majority to schedule a vote on the resolution just before the House adjourned its session for the year.

In the final days of the sitting, Washington witnessed one of the most intense confrontations between the Turkish and Armenian lobby groups in history.

On the Armenian side it was the ANCA, the Armenian schools, the church, the individuals in our community, anti-genocide activists, and Armenian celebrities the like of Kim Kardashian and Serj Tankian. Advocating the Turkish “cause,” however, was a state-sponsored lobby machine channeled through such influential mediums as the Congressional Turkish Caucus.

Moreover, Turkish pressure was exercised directly by Turkish government officials. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called his American counterpart Hillary Clinton, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, both with the intention of getting senior U.S. officials to pressure the House Speaker into avoiding a vote on the resolution. The Turkish ambassador in Washington, Namik Tan, used every tool at his disposal, including Twitter, to lobby against H.Res.252. All of this demonstrates the vigilance of the Turkish administration on issues related to the Armenian Genocide, and their preparedness, time and again, to go above and beyond in their efforts to block any measure that might lead to its recognition.

The question that begs itself: Where was the Armenian government? Where was our ambassador in Washington when Armenian students, clergy, community members, and celebrities were working day and night sending emails, calling Pelosi’s office, publicizing the issue to fellow Armenian Americans and American citizens at large? Was a statement of support deemed too much? Where was Eduard Nalbandian? Was he worried that if he were to publicly support the resolution and ask the American administration to take the right stance on this issue normalization efforts with Turkey would go even further downhill? If so, why make declarations on the need to recognize the Armenian Genocide in general? Why organize a conference in Yerevan? Whatever the calculations of the Armenian government were, and it is not too difficult to guess them, the bottom line is it missed yet another perfect opportunity to translate statements into action on the issue of genocide recognition.

That being said, it is never too late. More resolutions dealing with Armenian Genocide recognition will be presented to the U.S. Congress and legislative bodies in countries across the world in the future. It is not unreasonable to expect that while the groundwork is done by Armenian lobbying organizations, the Armenian government should throw its weight behind these efforts even if at the ambassadorial level only. This would provide moral support to our activists. It would demonstrate to foreign governments that this is Yerevan’s fight, too, and not just that of the Armenian people. And by doing so, add a new kind of legitimacy to the struggle for genocide recognition.

Turkey legalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide – Part V

Originally published in NewropMag
June 09, 2005
By Houry Mayissian

The Clear and Present Danger test, as it is called, was first proposed in 1919 by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in his interpretations of the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution (1). In order to determine whether the speech at hand is constitutional, “the Clear and Present Danger test asked not whether the words had a bad tendency but rather ‘whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.'” (1)

Advocates of this theory of freedom of expression believe that it is “the best available judicial test for striking a proper balance between protection of the marketplace of ideas and the need to protect the national security and the publics order.” (2) The opponents to this theory, on the other hand, argue that the test is “open to widely varying interpretations” and provides “little or no protection to radical speech in times of political stress” (2). While this argument makes a logical point, I personally believe, that if exercised with care, the above test would be efficient in both securing freedom of expression to the citizens of a country and protecting its national security, especially in times of war.

Although the Clear and Present Danger test is an interpretation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, it can be applied to other countries as a means of regulating government intervention in the right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, using this test in the case of article 305 is appropriate, because the article itself is based on the need to protect “fundamental national interests.” Thus, based on this concept, article 305 would have been justifiable if recognition of the Armenian Genocide truly constituted a “clear and present danger” for Turkey. Not only the recognition of the Armenian Genocide constitutes no such danger to Turkey, its denial threatens one of the country’s basic national interests as announced by Turkey itself: its membership to the European Union. Recent developments show that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey will be one of the issues on the agenda of accession talks. In fact, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told the French RTL radio in December that France will include the issue of the Armenian Genocide in the accession talks that are due to start with Turkey in October 2005 (3). Similar statements by other EU officials and member countries indicate that denial of the Armenian Genocide might in fact become a headache, causing more danger to Turkey, than its recognition.

In conclusion, the adoption of article 305 of the Turkish Penal Code has no justification; the argument that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a threat against national interests has no basis. In addition, the article contains serious shortcomings that might lead to its abuse by the government. The article has been criticized by the European Parliament and Commission, as well as a number of non-governmental organizations and has been regarded as an infringement on freedom of expression. The article is not the only attempt by the Turkish Government to deny the Armenian Genocide, but its significance lies in the fact that it legalizes this denial. Finally, the article violates the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, a document Turkey has ratified and is obliged to respect. For all the above reasons, the explanatory report citing the Armenian Genocide example (this paper has not dealt with the Cyprus issue) should be deleted.

(1) Kersch, K. I. (2003). Freedom Of Speech: Rights and Liberties Under The Law. California: ABC-CLIO
(2) Cohen, J. & Gleason, T. W. (1990). Social Research in Communication And Law. California: Sage Publications
(3) France to Include “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey’s EU bid talks: FM. Retrieved 19-01-2005.

Turkey legalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide – Part IV

Originally published in NewropMag
June 08, 2006
By Houry Mayissian

Vagueness in the article

The problem with article 305 of the new Turkish Penal Code is not only the limitations it imposes on freedom of expression; the law is flawed in itself, because it is vague. In its November 13th 2004 issue, The Economist writes: “… an article of the new penal code approved in September … provides for up to ten years’ jail for those who engage in unspecified ‘activities’ against the ‘national interest’. What might such activities be?” (1) The article mentions the examples included in the explanatory report and questions their validity.

The fourth paragraph of article 305 specifies that the term fundamental national interests means “independence, territorial integrity, national security and the fundamental qualities defined in the Constitution of the Republic.” (2)

The explanatory report mentions that the function of this last paragraph is to serve as a “limiting criterion”, because “the concept of ‘fundamental national interests’ may be very wide both from the point of view of its content and its scope.” The definition given for “fundamental national interests” is unclear. Furthermore, even though several limiting criteria are mentioned in the law, the explanatory report in no way illustrates how affirmation of the Armenian Genocide would jeopardize any of the above-mentioned criteria. Moreover, the law talks about benefits and promises, but does not mention or clearly define what such benefits might be.

A Violation of freedom of expression

In addition to being flawed, article 305 of the new Turkish penal code constitutes a serious violation of freedom of expression, an essential pillar for a democratic society. By legalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide the Turkish Government not only distorts historical realities, it also prohibits discussion and affirmation of the fact of the Armenian Genocide.

The document this article depends upon to make its argument is the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights for several reasons: Turkey adopted the new penal code as a condition by the European Union to start accession talks; Turkey has ratified this document in 1954 (3); the European Commission and the Parliament have regarded the article in violation of the said convention.

Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” (3) Thus, by banning affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish Government infringes on the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas, which violates the above article ratified by the Turkish government itself. Moreover, the article casts doubt on how seriously the Turkish government respects the conventions of the European Union, a body it has been trying to join for long.

Having said the above, it should be acknowledged that in no country in the world absolute freedom of expression can be ensured. Furthermore, the concept of freedom of expression in itself is broad and subject to many interpretations. For this purpose, in addition to the above Convention, I also base my critique of article 305 on the theory of Clear and Present Danger.

(1) Haunted by the past. The Economist (2004, November 13). 34-37
(2) Haraszti, M. Review of the Draft Turkish Penal Code: Freedom of Media Concerns. Retrieved 19-05-2005.
(3) Human Rights Watch. (1999). Violations of free expression in Turkey

Turkey legalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide – Part III

Originally published in NewropMag
07 June, 2005
By Houry Mayissian

On 4th October 2004, the office of US Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who also is the co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, informed in a press release that the congressman had urged the State Department to condemn article 305 of the Penal Code (1). The congressman wrote a letter to the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, urging him to condemn the article and pointing out that its adoption is “an imprudent step on the part of a nation that is desperately trying to establish an image of having a free and democratic society.”

Given that the new penal code was adopted by demands from the European Union and considered “one of the key elements in the country’s bid to start membership negotiations with the European Union” (2). The European Union also made references to article 305 in several reports on Turkey’s membership.

On 30th November 2004, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted a proposal for a resolution on the “2004 regular report and the recommendation of the European Commission on Turkey’s progress towards accession.” In its report the Foreign Affairs Committee adopted an amendment welcoming the reform of criminal procedure, but considered that “article 305 of the new Turkish penal code which sanctions alleged ‘threats to fundamental national interests’ and the explanatory statement of which targets freedom of expression, in particular related to the Cyprus and Armenia issues, is incompatible with the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (3). The Committee called for the repeal of the article. In December, prior to the European Union summit that would give the green light for accession talks with Turkey, the European Parliament adopted the parliamentary report on Turkey’s progress toward accession. In its report, the Parliament included the amendment mentioned above (4).

The OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media Haraszti, described article 305 in his May 2005 review as a de facto censorship provision, given that it can be used to punish any speech that is not in conformity with the views of the Government on the issues listed in paragraph 4 (5). Referring to the clause about receiving benefits for spreading propaganda, Haraszti pointed out that the article does not “exclude any interpretation of journalistic salaries as pecuniary benefits for spreading propaganda.” (5)

The article was also criticized by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN, the International Publishers Association (IPA) and Amnesty International. RSF considered that article 305 “specifically targets freedom of expression” (6). The IPA sent letters to the EU Dutch presidency, Romano Prodi (then president of the European Commission) and Jose-Manuel Barroso, its new president, calling on them to urge the Turkish Government to abandon the criminalization of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide (7). IPA considered the article a move that jeopardizes freedom of expression and the freedom to publish. IPA and PEN issued in December a joint guide entitled “New Turkish Penal Code: A Long Way to Freedom of Expression”. In the guide, the organizations called for the repealing of the explanatory report of article 305 that includes the examples on the Armenian Genocide and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. The organizations pointed out:

“Allegations of genocide against Armenians and Kurds is a ground that is sometimes brought against writers and publishers. This was for instance the case of publisher Ali Varis and writer Mamo Bayram for the book entitled: ‘Kocgiri – Northwest Dersim’. This book was banned. Mr. Varis faced the risk of imprisonment. We are not sure whether the case is still pending or not. However, Article 305 of the New Turkish Penal Code will provide prosecutors with a new legal device to prevent an open and democratic debate from taking place in Turkey on two fundamental issues: the Armenian Genocide and the presence (occupation) of Turkish troops in Cyprus” (8).

Amnesty International issued an action alert on May 13 considering that the imposing of criminal penalty for statements that acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as a historical fact or call for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus “would be a clear breach of international standards safeguarding freedom of expression.” (9)

(1) Pallone urges state department to condemn new Turkish Penal Code punishing Turks who object to government’s policy toward Armenia & Cyprus. Retrieved 14-12-2004.
(2) Lungescu, O. Turkey’s quest to join Europe. Retrieved 01-01-2005.
(3) Turkey: The Foreign Affairs Committee against the European Parliament. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(4) European Parliament calls on Turkey to explicitly recognize the Armenian Genocide. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(5) Haraszti, M. Review of the Draft Turkish Penal Code: Freedom of Media Concerns. Retrieved 19-05-2005.
(6) Turkey still far from European standards of Press Freedom. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(7) IPA calls for amendment to Penal Code to allow for free expression on Armenian genocide. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(8) New Turkish Penal Code: A long way to freedom of expression. Retrieved 02-01-2005.
(9) Turkey: Freedom of expression/torture/prisoners of conscience. Retrieved 19-05-2005.

Turkey legalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide – Part II

Originally published in NewropMag
June 06, 2006
By Houry Mayissian

One of many Turkish Efforts to Deny the Genocide

Article 305 is one of the most recent moves in a campaign the Turkish government has embarked upon to deny the Armenian Genocide. A prominent historian on the Armenian Genocide, Richard Hovannisian, has argued that during the years that followed the Armenian Genocide, the strategy of the perpetrators of the Genocide and their successor, the Turkish Republic, was “to avoid public discussion of the genocide believing that in the course of time the survivors would pass from the scene, their children would become acculturated and assimilated in the Diaspora, and the issue would be forgotten.” (1) Hovannisian has analyzed Turkish denial strategies and pointed out that one often-used method is denial under the guise of historical debate. The historian has examined in detail how the Turkish government attempts to present a distorted version of historical realities.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan’s proposal to Armenia for setting up a joint committee of Armenian and Turkish historians, to examine the issue, might be considered as the latest such effort. The proposal was rejected by the Armenian government based on the premise that historians have already made their statements on the Armenian Genocide. Instead, Armenian president Robert Kocharian proposed steps towards establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries (2).

Another historian, Rouben Adalian, has talked about three lines of arguments advanced by disputers of the Armenian Genocide: The denial thesis “reverses the course of history and depict the victims as the victimizers”, the revisionist thesis does not deny the fact, but tries to explain them in a way as to dispute that genocide occurred, the justification thesis defends “the policy of genocide by regarding the policy as an acceptable solution to a political problem.” (3)

Article 305 of the Turkish Penal Code is only one example of the denialist policy of the Turkish Government. Its significance, however, lies in the fact that it “legalizes” such denial and sanctions punishments against those who affirm the fact.

Reactions to article 305

The reactions to the article have not been many. Moreover, no justification has been given by any Turkish official or the government for the adoption of the article. The only explanation for it is included in the article itself, which considers affirmation of the Armenian Genocide to be against “national interests.”

First news about the existence of the article broke before the adoption of the Penal Code, when the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD), a Brussels based lobby group, issued a press release, warning that the new Turkish Penal Code would criminalize affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and calling on the “European Commission to end its silence in the face of Turkey’s denial campaign.” (4) The federation warned that the article is “fundamentally incompatible with the European values of free expression” and called on political parties, governments and human rights organizations across Europe to urge the European Commission to demand justice for the Armenian Genocide.

Nevertheless, the Penal Code was adopted and with it the article. Press releases issued by the EAFJD, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a US-based lobby group, and a couple of non-governmental organizations condemning the article, attested to its adoption.

In early October 2004, the EAFJD issued a press release informing that it has submitted to the European Commission a detailed report about the strategy of the Turkish Government vis-à-vis Armenian issues. The report had a “special focus on the recent adoption of article 305 which criminalizes the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.” (5) The executive director of the federation warned in the press release that “this attack on liberty clearly contradicts accepted international laws dealing with freedom of speech, specifically articles 10, 11 and 14 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

(1) Hovannisian, R. G. (1999). Introduction. In R. G. Hovhannisian (ed), Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide (13-29). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
(2) Danyelyan, E. and Melkumian, H. Kocharian rejects Turkish offer of joint Genocide study. Retrieved 06-06-2005.
(3) Adalian, R. (1992). The Armenian Genocide: Revisionism and Denial. In M.N. Dobkowski and I. Wallimann (ed), Genocide in Our Time: An Annotated Bibliography with Analytical Introductions (85-105). Michigan: The Pierian Press.
(4) The new Turkish Penal Code would criminalize recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Retrieved 01-01-2005.
(5) EAFJD delivers report on Turkey to the European Commission. Retrieved 06-10-2004.