BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The dust-up over the weekend in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, which resulted in the suspension of Garo Paylan from parliament is nothing short of censorship. Yet, despite these hurdles, Paylan continues to move forward undeterred from the infringements on his right to free speech and expression.
On Saturday, during the Turkish legislature’s debate on a new constitution, Paylan, , an Armenian member of the Turkish legislature representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), spoke truths about the Armenian Genocide raising the ire of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) legislators who demanded that his comments about the Genocide be struck and voted to suspend the Armenian lawmaker for three consecutive parliamentary sessions.
Unfazed by the clear attacks on his freedom of speech, Paylan opted to take his case to Turkey’s Constitutional Court and allow the highest judicial body of the land to assess the situation.
The fact that this incident happened mere days before the 10th anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination—the ultimate act of censorship—should give us pause and serve as a reminder that protecting our inherent freedoms are paramount to any fight for justice and human rights.
Of course, curtailing and suppressing speech is nothing new in Turkey, especially since that country was listed as the number one jailer of journalists in 2016. Perhaps, Paylan has become immune to and well-versed in traversing that murky road, having seen his HDP colleagues hauled off to jail at the end of last year, simply for not agreeing with the policies of the ruling AKP.
Despite the United States being an advocate of press freedoms around the world, the new administration of Donald J. Trump seems to be ushering in a new era of intolerance toward press and expression freedoms as was demonstrated last week during the president-elect’s news conference. Trump’s approach was, of course, buoyed by the ebullient embrace by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who praised Trump’s handling of the press.
Resorting to censorship and punishment of free speech by governments and individuals in power only illustrates their insecurities and their choice to resort to such tactics against dissent and divergent approaches exposes their fears.
Paylan’s decision to press on, despite obstacles, should serve as an example of advancing one’s ideals and beliefs. After all, it was Paylan who told me in September, during an interview, that fear has no place when one is fighting for justice, democracy and self-determination.