Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Denying the Right to Deny

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Denying the Right to Deny

Article excerpt

A French law threatening deniers of the Armenian genocide with a fine or jail is politically inept and ethically objectionable.

The decision of the French Senate to give final approval to a bill that threatens deniers of the Armenian genocide with a fine of EUR 45,000 or one year in jail, or both, is politically inept and ethically objectionable. Although France's Constitutional Council has yet to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the law, it is not too early to denounce the limitation it sets on freedom of expression.

No serious scholar can deny the appalling losses suffered by the Armenians during the 1915 genocide, following the systematic slaughter of tens of thousands of them throughout eastern Anatolia in the 1890s. But it is not the place of a legislative body to prescribe what is a politically correct attitude toward the Armenian bloodbath, let alone impose a jail sentence and/or heavy fine for a dissenting opinion.

In this respect the position of the French Parliament is hardly more commendable than that of the Turkish authorities, for whom references to the Armenian genocide are seen as an insult to "Turkishness" and thus treated as a criminal offense under section 301 of the Turkish penal code. Asserting the reality of the Armenian genocide is no less risky in Istanbul than is contesting it in Paris.

Oddly, France envisions no such penalties for denying other cases of genocide. By fixating upon the Armenian genocide and leaving out of the accounting other instances of mass murder, one is led to conclude that neither the killing of about half a million Assyrians nor of tens of thousands of Pontic Greeks before, during and after World War I qualify as genocides. Which, in effect, is another form of denial.

There is no logic to this. Neither the greater scale of the Armenian carnage (1.5 million) compared with that of other Christian communities nor attempts to underscore its particular circumstances are plausible explanations. A meticulous study of the Assyrian tragedy by Hannibal Travis leaves no doubt about the genocidal nature of those killings. The same could be said of the deliberate extermination of Greek communities.

Could the key to the political puzzle lie in the potential electoral support of half a million French citizens of Armenian origin? The price of this misguided legislation, ranging from the cancellation of economic contracts to suspended military cooperation and diplomatic irritants, will far exceed the gains.

This latest attempt at brandishing legal sanctions against deniers is in keeping with a well-established tradition. No country as far as I am aware has passed as many laws aimed at regulating the nation's collective memory, a trend beginning with the Gayssot law of July 1990, which makes the denial of the Holocaust a criminal offense. …

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